Warning to festive shoppers as new report exposes depth of counterfeit goods problem online
Christmas shoppers need to be more vigilant than ever when buying online as more than 14,000 UK websites are peddling fake goods, an intellectual property (IP) specialist at Marks and Clerk has warned.
A new report from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) has found that more than six per cent of e-shops with UK domain names are suspected of selling counterfeit products, amounting to a massive 14,182 websites.
A huge 73 per cent of the suspect sites specialised in fake shoes – amounting to more than 10,300 sellers – while a fifth sold counterfeit clothes.
Making up much of the remainder of the suspected fake goods were bags, eye wear, jewellery, mobile devices and watches.
IP firm Marks & Clerk is warning online shoppers to be vigilant during the Christmas shopping rush as both suspect sellers and the forgeries they peddle are becoming harder to identify, while counterfeiters are getting smarter, using brands’ recognised marketing images to boost credibility.
A partner at Marks & Clerk’s Edinburgh office, Campbell Newell, says his clients are seeing counterfeiters of their products deploying digital marketing technology such as social media channels, scam emails and mobile apps in a bid to foster consumer confidence.
The Patent and Trade Mark attorney says many fake products are becoming so sophisticated that even the brands themselves are often unable to tell the difference – with Christmas shoppers at particular risk when browsing online for a festive bargain.
He said: “Christmas shoppers are advised to check and double check a website’s authenticity before entering payment details. If you can’t see an address for the business or only a PO Box is given, then be wary.
“If you are unsure of a website, use payment methods that will refund you in the event of a product turning out to be fake or not arriving. Also, ensure the website address begins with ‘https’ which indicates a secure payment portal.
“Ultimately, the old adage will likely be correct – if a deal seems too good to be true, then it probably is, and you and your loved ones may be left disappointed.
“Many companies are completely unaware that their products are being copied and sold online, hitting their own profits. It’s therefore vital that businesses stringently protect their IP and have robust online monitoring in place to identify the counterfeiters.”
Of the 14,182 suspected sites, over 41 per cent were hosted at IP addresses in Europe, with 26 per cent hosted in Asia, and 21 per cent in North America.
Worryingly, 71 per cent were connected to a domain name that had previously been used for a different purpose, allowing counterfeiters to exploit trusted names in some instances.
The EUIPO report – entitled ‘Research on Online Business Models Infringing Intellectual Property Rights – Phase 2’ – also looked at the scale of the problem in Sweden, Germany and Spain, and concluded that it is far more widespread than previously thought.
Researchers believe that what appears to be thousands of unconnected e-shops are, in fact, likely to be a small number of counterfeiting businesses working together across the EU.