It’s April Fools’ Day, which means that many of us are bound to unknowingly fall for fake news stories or pranks set up by family and friends over the course of the day. The tradition can be recorded all the way back to the 1300s, and while it’s seen by many as a day to embrace silliness and harmlessly exploit the naivety of others, there’s also a serious message: one that alerts us to just how easy it is to be unknowingly duped by those with more malicious intent.
One of the best examples of this is counterfeiting, a criminal activity that involves tricking consumers into purchasing a fake product or service that they think is genuine. Shoppers fall prey to counterfeiting every single day, and it’s evolved to become a huge global market with an estimated value of around $461 billion (approximately £369 billion).
There are numerous ways that counterfeiting takes place, specifically within the online realm. Scammers and impersonators will often set up fakes websites of profiles with the unauthorised use of copyrighted materials and/or trademarks to give off an aura of legitimacy, and in a digital twist on an age-old problem, some will also promote e-commerce sites by selling fake goods through spoofed social media accounts. By posting links on these fake profiles or fake pages featuring the genuine brand’s logo and legitimate product photos, they often mislead consumers into purchasing counterfeit wares.
Consumers are also falling prey to counterfeiters through the use of online marketplace and auction sites. It can be hard to resist the lure of a listing from a seemingly legitimate account that appears to be selling genuine products at a highly discounted rate, and it’s only after the money has been handed over that the shopper realises they’ve been subjected to counterfeit activity.
Finally there’s cyber-squatting: the practice of abusing trademarks within the domain name system. Brand names — spelled correctly or, in a practice known as typosquatting, spelled incorrectly —are used within a domain name, enabling the squatter to divert web traffic meant for a legitimate site to an illicit site, which may sell counterfeit goods, utilise pay-per-click abuse, host adult content or conduct other illicit activity.
All of this has an obvious impact on consumers (the loss of their hard-earned money, not to mention the potential theft of personal details), and with most counterfeit activity growing in levels of sophistication, it can be difficult to differentiate between genuine and fake. However, there are a few tips that can help consumers avoid this fate.
The first thing any consumer should do is check the RRP of the product you’re looking to buy, and then compare that to the listing you’re looking at. Be wary of even the smallest of discounts, as these can often give the game away — if the deal looks too good to be true, if often is. If you’re shopping on a retailer website, it’s also worth checking its return and privacy policies to make sure they’re clear and comprehensive. If this isn’t the case, avoid at all costs. If still in doubt, check the URL of the website to see if it begins with ‘HTTP’ or ‘HTTPS’ —if it’s ‘HTTPS’ then you know it’s secure.
For those shopping on online marketplaces, legitimacy is much harder to prove and therefore extra vigilance is required. Carefully check the details and the credentials of the seller in question to see if they’ve been recommended or given positive reviews by other shoppers, and see what else they’re selling to monitor for any suspicious-looking listings.
While counterfeiting is an obvious hazard for consumers, it’s also equally damaging to the companies involved. If the activity is significant, and no preparations have been made to try and prevent it, brands could be putting their reputation, revenue and the trust of their customers at risk.
In order to avoid these pitfalls, all companies should have a well-thought out brand protection strategy that addresses the specific risks they could be faced with and the use of best practices. Often, these strategies involve the monitoring of digital channels were counterfeit activity is most prevalent, including social media, B2B and consumer marketplaces, e-commerce and auction sites. When counterfeit activity is detected, this strategy empowers brands to take the appropriate action guided by company policy, threat severity or level of risk, all within a framework of legal guidelines. Most importantly, it allows brands to effectively diffuse the impact of this activity before it’s too late.
Counterfeiting is frustrating difficult to prevent altogether, and online criminals will always find new ways of staying one step ahead of the authorities looking to track them down. However, there are steps that can be taken — both from consumers and brands — to mitigate the risks associated with counterfeit activity and steer clear of becoming a victim.