The sale of fake handbags and clothing is often seen (incorrectly) as a small crime with limited impact. As a consumer buying these products, you might see the sub-standard materials and replica logos as a small price to pay for cut-price, designer-branded products. Prices can be substantially cheaper than the original product, with discounts of around 50-80%.
An emerging trend I’ve discovered in my work with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) now sees fraudsters attempting to embed malicious software, or ‘malware’, onto consumers’ browsing devices. This can severely compromise your equipment, leading to, for example, your computer being hijacked and used for other types of criminality – all without your knowledge.
If you are shopping online there’s things to look out for to avoid using a counterfeit website:
Counterfeit goods websites often give the impression of using security authentication to give the site an air of authenticity. This includes the use of recognised images of reputable companies such as Visa, Mastercard and PayPal.
Additionally, many will also claim to have security software and secure transaction verification in place, again using reputable images such as Verisign and McAfee to give them a false ‘trust seal’. These images are usually copied and embedded into the illicit website and the sites themselves will not have been approved by the firms.
The authenticity of these trust seals can be confirmed if the consumer attempts to click on any of them – original seals will direct you to the genuine security company. On counterfeit websites these links will not function, as they have no authorised hyperlink attached and will just be embedded images.
Buying a counterfeit item means handing over personal and banking details, most often online, with little or no knowledge of exactly who will be accessing them. In the hands of a fraudster, these details open up numerous opportunities to steal the customer’s identity. The most common risk is fraudsters setting up additional counterfeit goods websites in the customer’s name, making it harder (but not impossible) for the criminals to be traced by law enforcement.
Sadly, I’ve spoken to victims who have had hundreds of counterfeit goods websites set up in their name. These victims have been directly targeted by other victims who claim they have not received the goods they were promised.
Since PIPCU’s inception in 2013, we have taken down over 40,000 counterfeit goods websites as part of Operation Ashiko. Through my work on Operation Ashiko, I track down counterfeit goods websites, find out who is running them and shut them down.
In order to combat the identity theft problem, I am contacting victims to make them aware that they have had their names and personal details used by fraudsters. It’s important that those who have fallen victim take steps to check their credit rating, sign up to alert services, and consider Cifas' Protective Registration. These services can make people aware when their name is used to register for items such as a website, credit cards or banking services.
To find out more about the dangers of buying counterfeit items online go to Actions Fraud's There's More At Stake When It's A Fake page.
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