Criminals using fakes to capitalise on coronavirus

by Kelly Horn

Monday, April 20th, 2020

Scots warned against counterfeit COVID-19 goods hitting the market

SnapDragon infographic explaining how copycats influence, supply and fund illegal trade

WILY scammers are duping the public and businesses with counterfeit goods to profit from the panic and fear caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Scottish Business Resilience Centre (SBRC) is reporting a spike in counterfeit crime along with cybercrime and fraud – as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, with reports of a 400% increase in the number of pandemic-related counterfeit and fraud reports in March.

Angela Brand, one of the officers seconded to SBRC from Police Scotland, says there has been a marked increase in phishing emails, scams, and a wide array of counterfeit goods being offered for sale, all related to COVID-19.

Higher demand for protective goods and pharmaceutical products, combined with more people searching online to source products, has resulted in criminals using the pandemic to take advantage of businesses and vulnerable citizens.

Experts across policing, security and the fight against illicit trade are coming together to advise businesses of the risks of illicit goods, via an upcoming webinar which takes place on Tuesday 21 April at 12pm.

Angela , said: “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.

“We are hosting this webinar to raise public awareness, and advise the business community in Scotland on how they can minimise their risk of receiving counterfeit goods.

“Internationally, Interpol and Europol have successfully intercepted two counterfeit PPE scams worth millions of Euros; whilst our colleagues from The City of London Police have carried out some excellent proactive work surrounding counterfeit PPE in the UK – they will be discussing their recent successful operations in our webinar.

“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.”

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.

Angela added: “You can contact Police Scotland online, over the phone via 101, or in person at a police station. This can also be done anonymously if you wish. The sooner we know about the presence of counterfeit goods, the sooner we can instigate measures to remove them from our streets and prevent further criminality at the expense of our business community”.

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.

Rachel Jones of SnapDragon focuses her work on defending businesses from counterfeits of their own brands . Her advice to businesses is that they can combat fake goods relatively easily and cheaply.

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.”

Rachel 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.”

Expertise will be provided by the 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 Shepherd and Wedderburn law firm.

To register for the session on counterfeit goods, please register at: https://bit.ly/3ev6J0t

To watch previous webinars, please visit: https://www.sbrcentre.co.uk/news/

The SBRC is a non-profit organisation which exists to support and help protect Scottish Businesses.

To ensure Scotland remains a safe place to live, work and do business, SBRC will be regularly sharing COVID-19 developments and advice from Scottish Government, its partners and members as they happen.

SBRC maintains a unique connection to Police Scotland, Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Scottish Government, which gives the organisation exclusive access to the latest information to advise citizens and businesses how to interact safely.

Employers can also reach SBRC by emailing enquiries@sbrcentre.co.uk.

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elly Horn of Edinburgh PR agency, Holyrood PR

Kelly Horn

Senior Account Executive, Kelly Horn, is a part of the award-winning PR agency, Holyrood PR - based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

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