Amazon say that consumers deserve to get the authentic products they purchased and that the entire retail industry and government bodies must step up, work together, and stop counterfeiters to protect consumers, rights owners, and store operators from these criminals. Amazon are no slouch when it comes to counterfeiters and in 2020 launched the Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit to help hold counterfeiters accountable through the courts and through law enforcement. They regularly take criminals to court and prosecute.
By using a combination of advanced machine learning capabilities and expert human investigators, Amazon have built robust proactive controls to protect the marketplace from criminals and bad products. They have developed powerful and industry-leading tools for brands (including Brand Registry, Project Zero, and Transparency) so they can partner with Amazon to help ensure only authentic products are sold on the marketplace. Because of the significant resources Amazon has invested in anti-counterfeiting technologies and in building partnerships with brands, They have been able to provide customers with a trustworthy shopping experience where less than 0.01% of the products sold on Amazon last year received a counterfeit complaint from a customer.
Unfortunately, counterfeiting remains a persistent retail-industry problem around the world. The OECD estimates that pirated and counterfeit products make up 2.5% of world trade – that’s £342 billion. So while the prevalence of counterfeit products on Amazon may be statistically low, this issue persists throughout the retail industry and across the globe.
Since the launch for the Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit, Amazon have:
- Provided in-depth referrals and evidence of over 250 counterfeiters for criminal investigation in the UK, the European Union, the US, and China.
- Filed civil litigation against 64 counterfeiters.
- Disrupted counterfeiters and their supply networks through civil law suits, and joint enforcement actions around the world including against suppliers, logistics providers, social media influencers, fake invoice providers, identity fraudsters, and website spoofers.
- Partnered with a wide range of brands to pursue counterfeiters including GoPro, Valentino, and Salvatore Ferragamo.
Despite these successes, it has become increasingly clear that Amazon need to work together across the private and public sectors to stop counterfeiters. Based on what they have learned from working with law enforcement to fight counterfeiters, Amazon recommend taking the following steps:
- Exchange information on counterfeit activity to help stop counterfeits at the border
Last autumn, in the US Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit provided information to US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) that helped block a shipment of counterfeit goods worth millions of dollars from passing through a U.S.-based logistics provider. The information provided by Amazon, combined with the investigative work of CBP and HSI, enabled law enforcement to seize eight lorryloads of fake car grilles bearing trademarks from several car brands. Not only did this collaboration prevent the counterfeits from reaching Amazon customers, but it also stopped the counterfeit grilles from entering the supply chain and being sold through any other retailer or store.
Amazon have also seen the power of information sharing in reverse. In 2020, they received a tip from CBP about a shipment of earbud case covers CBP had seized bearing unauthorised Champion logos. Amazon immediately quarantined the counterfeiter’s additional inventory in their fulfillment network and terminated their accounts. The Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit then worked with the rights owner, HanesBrands, to sue the 13 counterfeiters in US courts.
These are models that could be replicated in the UK Customs agencies should regularly inform fulfillment networks (like Amazon’s) when the agencies seize shipments bound for a fulfillment network, and policymakers should remove any impediments to that crucial flow of information, and develop safe sharing frameworks (along the lines of the Joint Money Laundering Intelligence Taskforce). This would enable the fulfillment network to take action on additional counterfeits and provide greater aid to law enforcement. Similarly, Amazon supports all marketplaces and logistic providers sharing information on counterfeit activity with customs agencies to aid in their detection and seizure efforts and to strengthen law enforcement’s ability to dismantle the criminal networks behind these illicit goods.
- Share information about blocked counterfeiters to help the industry stop more counterfeiters earlier
While Amazon’s investments to stop counterfeiters are paying off on their marketplace, they know criminals are motivated and will try to quickly sell their illegal products across many other channels, including their own websites, other online marketplaces, offline channels, and more. In fact, as part of our counterfeit litigation efforts, counterfeiters have openly stated that they are increasingly focusing on other retail channels than Amazon because of their work in stopping them.
This success is why information sharing about known counterfeiters is so important—it improves everyone’s visibility and allows stores to alert one another and take action across the industry. Amazon have encouraged this data sharing to help the entire industry get better. They are excited that recently, a small number of companies (including Amazon) have begun to pilot a counterfeiter information exchange program in the US to better understand the value of this shared data. The early results are encouraging. Amongst the list of confirmed counterfeiters shared with us by other stores, they found matched accounts that had also tried to sell on Amazon. These are counterfeiters that other industry participants could have identified and stopped sooner if everyone had all shared their blocked counterfeiter data with each other. The private sector needs to lead the way in creating a scalable solution for real-time information sharing on confirmed counterfeiters, and Amazon encourage more companies to work with us in building these partnerships in the future.
- Increase resources for law enforcement to prosecute counterfeiters
In the past year, Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit has reported to law enforcement authorities in the UK, Europe, the US, Canada, and China all confirmed counterfeiters that they have blocked from the marketplace. For more than 250 counterfeiters, Amazon Counterfeit Crimes Unit has gone further and provided authorities with in-depth referrals and evidence.
Amazon welcomes, acknowledges, and deeply respects the hard work of law enforcement and prosecutors in fighting counterfeits around the world, especially the City of London Police’s national lead force for fraud and the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). The reality, however, is that teams around the world require more resourcing and attention that is needed to stop these counterfeiters.