Criminals are profiting from the panic and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and fuelling a rise in counterfeit goods, according to the Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC).
The SBRC has reported a spike in counterfeit crime – along with cybercrime and fraud – as a result of the outbreak, with reports of a 40% increase in the number of pandemic-related counterfeit and fraud reports last month.
One of the officers seconded to SBRC from Police Scotland, Angela Brand, said there has been a “marked increase” in the number of phishing emails, scams and counterfeit goods being offered for sale during the pandemic.
Higher demand for a range of products, such as protective goods and pharmaceutical products, has prompted fraudsters and scammers to take advantage of businesses and vulnerable citizens.
Brand commented: “Counterfeit goods are a global problem, used to fund criminal activity. The fear surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic is being exploited by criminals who are seeking to profit from the sale of counterfeit goods.
“When buying goods online, always use reputable sites. It’s important to check the website address to make sure it is legitimate. Look for substitutions such as ‘zeros’ used instead of the letter ‘o’, or additional letters or symbols in the address, which may indicate a fake or cloned website.
“If you receive an email offering goods or services, don’t click on any links embedded in the email. Instead, go directly to the website itself and check if the information contained in the email is valid. There are online tools and plug-ins available which you can use to screen websites and help identify potentially counterfeit products. Above all, use common sense and if you are even remotely suspicious, look elsewhere.”
Experts from policing, security and the fight against illicit trade will come together to advise businesses of the risks of illicit goods in an upcoming webinar, which takes place on Tuesday 20 April at 12pm.
Hosted by SnapDragon, Tuesday’s webinar will draw on expertise from leading industry names to guide businesses on counterfeit goods amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The session will cover the scale of the problem, positive enforcement actions, and how to identify online counterfeit goods.
Expertise will be provided by Phil Lewis from the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, DS Masterson from the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, Vicky Brock from Vistalworks, DI Donaldson from Police Scotland and John MacKenzie from law firm Shepherd and Wedderburn.
Rachel Jones, CEO and founder of SnapDragon, focuses on defending businesses from counterfeits of their own brands. Her advice to businesses is that they can combat fake products cheaply and with relative ease.
She said: “The most important advice for businesses is they can do something about counterfeit goods online and removing them using the intellectual property they own – such as copyright, design rights, trademarks and, although unusual, patents. It’s not a terribly complex business and is quick – we often see links to fake goods coming off Amazon, for example, in under five minutes.
“More businesses should explore the online world in terms of searching for copies of their brands and products, but not just in English. Search for variants of names and products in different languages to make sure you’re covering as much of the world as possible.”
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Jones said consumers should also be wary of online deals that look too good to be true, as it usually is.
She added: “Price is a good indicator, especially with lesser-known brands, an online good can look like a good deal. Shipping location and time can also be an indicator. Even with COVID-19 restrictions, three- to four-week shipping times would be rare for many brands.
“You should compare goods with the original brand website, for price and things like shape, size and colour – lots of counterfeit goods won’t be exact replicas of the original. If anything looks off, you should steer clear and buy from a brand’s original website.”
Further advice and guidance is available on the SBRC website and anyone who believes that they have received counterfeit goods are advised to contact the police as soon as possible.