PIPCU appeal to brands for further collaboration to protect consumers from counterfeiting
The new head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), Detective Chief Inspector Teresa Russell, has sought to reassure businesses that the force is keen to further enhance collaboration with industry, as major brands celebrate British Intellectual Property Day.
In an interview with the Imaging Consumables Coalition of Europe, Middle East and Africa (ICCE) marking its 20th anniversary, DCI Russell sets out how her dedicated team wants to disrupt the supply chain of counterfeit goods by working with industry partners, to ensure successful prosecutions over the next year. She told ICCE how her team hopes to protect both consumers and British jobs.
Protecting consumers against counterfeiters
“The general public don’t understand the true threat that Intellectual Property (IP) crime causes to the British economy, industry and of course consumers” she said. “Many people take the attitude of ‘IP crime – so what?’, so collectively we need to change this mindset and misconception that it is a victimless crime.”
“Most consumers are unaware that when they buy fake goods online they hand over all of their personal details to the criminals and often end up as the victims of identity theft. When it comes to illicit streaming devices they don’t think about the consequences of malware being inserted into their systems. We need to mitigate the threat posed by criminals operating in this arena and to change public attitude, in order to protect consumers, brand integrity, jobs and the UK economy. The police cannot do this by themselves and that is why it is crucial we work in partnership with industry.”
The dangers of fake goods
The force’s recent successes demonstrate the scale of the challenge the unit and industry face in protecting consumers.
Since January, PIPCU has taken down more than 1,000 websites which claimed to sell branded running shoes. Items found on these sites were found to be made of poor quality materials which posed a real risk to athletes.
In February 2018, a man from Dorset was convicted of selling fake airbags which officer’s discovered would not deploy safely in the event of an accident. In March, a man was sentenced to 16 months in prison for his part in selling counterfeit CDs, which made profits of over £4 million.
On 22nd February 2018 West Yorkshire Trading Standards Service teamed up with West Yorkshire Police and Brand Protection Officers from Rubie’s Masquerade Co. (UK) Ltd and executed a warrant at an eBay trader’s home address to seize counterfeit and unsafe kids’ costumes. Over 3000 costumes were seized ahead of World Book Day, after they were spotted being sold illegally online. These items had not been subject to the same rigorous testing as genuine products, which meant that they contained fabrics which were highly flammable as well as fastenings which posed a risk of strangulation.
DCI Russell is all too aware of the dangers. Counterfeit products do not go through the rigorous manufacturer safety tests as legitimate products are subject to. “Why would anyone subject their family and friends by giving them something that could cause them severe physical harm to themselves or their property, for the sake of saving a couple of pounds? If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is and help is available for consumers”. ICCE provides online guides to help consumers identify fake ink consumables.
PIPCU working with industry
Run by the City of London Police, the national lead force for fraud, PIPCU was established in 2013 with the task of investigating and deterring organised IP crime. The unit has protected consumers by shutting down thousands of websites selling counterfeit goods, and in recent weeks has seized items which infringe the intellectual property of 55 different brands.
PIPCU works with a range of brands and their associations such as ICCE. The unit is currently hosting employees from Sky, Entura International, Music Picture Association of America, Springer Nature and British Phonographic Industry on secondment, as part of their drive to build links with industry.
Stopping organised crime by working with industry
An experienced officer with a background in covert, terrorism, and fraud investigations, DCI Russell told ICCE why she was keen to reach out to its members.
“It’s challenge because tackling IP crime is not a policing priority” she admitted. “We report to the Government’s Intellectual Property Office on the volume of work that we do, but there is a balance to be struck because investigating organised crime groups can be lengthy but that is where we will be most effective, in taking out the suppliers within the chain. We have recently taken on officers who have expertise in seizing criminal assets and hope to expand that area of work, running financial investigations alongside the conventional ones. Hit them where it hurts most…their pockets”.
PIPCU’s Operation Creative initiative is one example of the pioneering partnership the force is developing to protect consumers. Working with Britain’s leading advertisers, the project is designed to stop illegal websites from providing access to copyrighted content. Some 3,000 illegal websites have been added to the Infringing Website List since the project’s inception.
The force has an IP crime directory, which is an online portal that connects IP owners and law enforcement to promote close cooperation in fighting IP crime. It allows law enforcement to connect in ‘real time’ with product experts to make quick assessments of suspect counterfeit products whilst engaged on operations. A new initiative they are working on is exploring ways to work with UK Border Force Officers to intercept counterfeit products at the point of entry.
Currently brands who believe they are a victim of IP crime can make a ‘criminal referral’ through the force’s online portal. Consumers are to report to Action Fraud. DCI Russell told ICCE why highlighting the dangers of fake products to the public and running proactive operations was at the heart of her team’s work.
“What we see is only the tip of the iceberg, but we need referrals from industry and the public to launch investigations. I want to reassure ICCE members that we review all crime referrals made to the unit and they will be notified as to whether the case is accepted or not, with rationale and further guidance and advice, if required. Working relationships with industry are based on trust on both sides and an understanding of the process that both groups go through to mitigate the threat of IP crime” she said. “I look forward to meeting with ICCE members and using their expertise to reduce the risk of harm against consumers as well as working with them to protect their own brands”.
ICCE was formed in 1997 to provide an industry-wide response to tackle the growing threat of counterfeiting within the imaging supplies industry across Europe, Middle East and Africa. It is a non-profit making association with nine members representing ten brands: Brother, Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, Kyocera, Lexmark, OKI, Ricoh, Samsung and Xerox.
Manufacturers of imaging products are working together as ICCE to combat counterfeiting and to protect consumers. A number of ICCE members have developed authentication devices and systems that enable consumers to check if a product may be counterfeit – see our website.
You can follow ICCE on Twitter @ICCEfightsfakes.