Imaging consumables industry groups work together to defeat fake products online.

Intellectual property breaches pose a critical threat to businesses and consumers everywhere.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) puts the value of imported fake goods worldwide based on 2016 customs seizure data at USD 509 billion, up from USD 461 billion in 2013 (2.5% of world trade). For the European Union, counterfeit trade represented 6.8% of imports from non-EU countries, up from 5% in 2013, and OECD expects the market to keep growing. In addition to duping consumers, counterfeit goods harm the reputation of brand holders, damage local markets, and put jobs at risk in legitimate economic sectors.  Counterfeiting also deters innovation.

In the past, counterfeit goods were often packed into large shipping containers that arrived at ports of entry. Today, one of the fastest growing trends is using online platforms as a route to market for fake products with shipments going directly to the buyer, delivered by mail or express courier consignments directly to the doorstep.

According to the OECD, in 2014-16, postal packages were the most common means of shipping counterfeit and pirated goods. Sea transport made up just 10% of total counterfeit seizures, compared to 57% coming from postal shipments and 12% from express couriers.

In the imaging consumables industry, two organisations working to combat counterfeit goods are The Imaging Consumables Coalition of Europe, Middle East and Africa (ICCE) and in the United States, the Imaging Supplies Coalition (ISC).  The organisations are independent, with their own areas of interest and priorities, but they share a common goal.

Andrew Gardner is the Worldwide Brand Protection Manager for Lexmark, which is a member of both organisations: “Although ICCE and ISC have different remits and geographical responsibilities through their founding charters, they share a common fight against counterfeiting and its effect on their members and channel partners as well as the consumer.  Both groups have developed comprehensive strategies for combating the trade of counterfeit products via the internet. 

Collaborating to tackling cyber counterfeiting

Both organisations work closely with enforcement agencies such as customs, police and trading standards authorities to educate and share information. ICCE and ISC members also run education and training events for frontline officials in EMEA and the US. These valuable events serve to keep everyone up to date about the latest industry trends and to train them in the latest methods of differentiating between fake and genuine goods.

Lexmark, a member of both the ISC and ICCE, is also a signatory to the EU Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the sale of counterfeit goods via the internet.

Andrew explained: “The MOU establishes a code of practice to fight the sale of counterfeit goods over the internet and to enhance collaboration among its signatories, so that they can effectively respond to this constant threat. The MOU covers leading e-commerce platforms as well as major brands in the fast-moving fields of consumer packaged goods, consumer electronics, fashion, luxury goods, sports goods, film, software, games and toys, all operating at both the global and regional levels.”

ICCE in EMEA

In a recent article, we explained how Operation Jasper, a multi-agency campaign which is a collaboration between major brands, including ICCE members, and law enforcement targeted suppliers of counterfeit goods on Facebook and Instagram. This led to more than 90 warrants being executed between 2016 and 2018 – in total, more than 10,000 URLs were removed, with hundreds of warnings and cease and desist notices issued.

Another joint investigation conducted by ICCE and the eCrime team also led to the shutdown of an elaborate helpline scam in the UK.  Using fake websites and social media accounts that appeared in legitimate Google search results, scammers were stealing bank details from consumers trying to seek customer service support online.

“We have always been keen to support ICCE’s work, especially when it comes to disrupting the advertising and selling of fake imaging consumables online”, said Mike Andrews, the national co-ordinator for the National Trading Standards eCrime Team. “Several of the team have commented on how rewarding the work for ICCE has been, because it helped to protect vulnerable consumers from being exploited by scammers. It’s an innovative partnership involving creative exchanges between both the public and private sector for the protection of online consumers, and we certainly look forward to continuing our work with ICCE.”

Another recent article highlights the latest success stories in defeating online counterfeit criminals. It also stresses the importance of protecting the consumer from the many risks that counterfeit products pose to them.

In an interview, Detective Chief Inspector Teresa Russell, former Head of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) said: “Most consumers are unaware that when they buy fake goods online, they hand over all of their personal details to the criminals, and they often end up as the victims of identity theft. When it comes to illicit streaming devices, consumers 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 ISC in the United States

This year marks 25 years since the founding of ICCE’s North American counterpart, the Imaging Supplies Coalition.

Former Lexmark executive Allen Westerfield is President of the ISC. He explained: “The primary issue we’re dealing with right now is the incredible amount of infringing goods being bought online. Distribution has moved from large to small quantities, and counterfeit goods are now being delivered directly to the person who orders them.  We’re working closely with internet portals to determine how better to eliminate infringing products from their websites.”

Allen maintains a close relationship with the US Customs and Border Protection (USCBP) agency, the organisation responsible for combatting the importation of counterfeit and patent infringing goods through ports of entry in the United States. In addition to exchanging information with the agency, Westerfield facilitates and coordinates training sessions for USCBP officials and ISC members at ports and consignment hubs across the country. These training sessions have been effective and directly translated into increased awareness and seizures of infringing cartridges 

Working towards a common goal

While online shopping is a convenient benefit of modern life, it is not without risk.  Organised criminals have embraced the internet, using it as an important channel to fund their illegal activities which include child exploitation, human trafficking and drugs. The reality today is that anyone with a computer connected to the internet can access counterfeit and infringing goods — this is truly a global problem.  

While ICCE and the ISC may operate independently within their respective geographical areas, they certainly share a common mission. It’s critical that the two leading anti-counterfeit organisations in the printing consumables sector continue to work together to protect both manufacturers and consumers from fake products sold online and in traditional market places.

For more details visit www.icce.net or you can follow ICCE on Twitter @ICCEfightsfakes.