Coronavirus and fakes: brand owners warned of stark rise in online counterfeits and fraudulent ads

  • With many consumers in isolation, reports of a significant rise in online counterfeits
  • Research finds rise in use of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp in recent weeks
  • Findings suggests brand owners must put extra resources into online enforcement

New research has found a huge increase in usage of social media platforms in recent weeks, with further findings revealing that counterfeiters are taking advantage of the covid-19 crisis. With that in mind, brand owners should ensure they adapt enforcement measures to the new reality of a significantly higher proportion of trade being conducted online.

According to a new study from research firm Kantar, Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp have seen increased usage in recent weeks, with people looking to stay connected during government-ordered lockdowns to help combat the coronavirus. The study found that usage has grown across all age groups, but especially in younger people – with each of the three platforms seeing a 40% rise of usage from under 35-year olds in recent weeks. On top of that, there’s also a reported 87% rise in social media usage amid lockdowns around the world.

That finding is not surprising, of course. With hundreds of millions of people currently in lockdown around the world, many will be using social media tools to conduct work and continue to communicate with family, friends and colleagues. However, this situation has caused fraudsters to “take advantage of consumers”, according to a press release told from the UK’s Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG). In a new awareness campaign, the ACG is urging the public to be “very cautious” when buying products online – and arguably to be even more cautious than ever before, especially if looking to buy medical products including hand sanitiser, mouthwash, and thermometers.

“The anonymity the internet offers is an advantage to criminals [as] they can operate easily behind sophisticated looking websites, using fake trademarks, brands and emblems and even bogus certification labels to entice shoppers into thinking they are buying genuine, safe, products,” ACG director general Phil Lewis said today. “The reality is, of course, that consumers can often end up with nothing more that cheap tat and increasingly dangerous goods.”

Of course, while consumers are advised to take extra care with online purchases, brand owners are also tasked with halting illicit activity – and with many brand protection professionals currently teleworking, that task is more difficult than usual. WTR has heard from rights holders about significant rises of criminal activity on social networks, especially in relation to counterfeit goods and adverts posing as major brands. It appears that counterfeiters are finding opportunity in nearly all non-food purchases being online for the near future and the launch of various ‘Spring Sales’ from major brands (which allows ‘discount offers’ from counterfeiters to look more plausible). On top of that, the ‘know your customer’ measures for advertising on Facebook and Instagram has been deemed ‘weak’ by some trademark professionals, with various fraudulent ads (seen by WTR) currently operating on both platforms.

For all the reason above, now is the time that brand protection teams need to be focused on online counterfeiting activities – perhaps now more than ever as, for many consumers, online is the only place they can search and buy products. A key part of that effort will be to get buy-in internally, as other departments – especially those that may have slowed down due to teleworking – may be able to assist with monitoring or raising awareness to customers. Ultimately, the current situation is a “dream opportunity for counterfeiters and ad scammers”, one trademark owner told WTR, and a “potential nightmare for brand owners trying to identify these in real-time”. Therefore, rights holders need to step up to the plate during this incredibly challenging period of time.

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content