Counterfeit and Pirated Imports Surge During Pandemic

The import and distribution of fake and pirated goods have raised significant concerns about public health and the post-pandemic economic recovery, according to Europol.

The policing organization’s Intellectual property crime threat assessment 2022 warned of a growing trade in counterfeit goods – from clothes and luxury items to medicines, food and drink, cosmetics and toys.

The estimated value of such goods in 2019 was €119bn or nearly 6% of total EU imports.

However, the figure could be even higher today, thanks to the pandemic and the dominant role played by the internet in enabling such criminal activity, Europol warned.

“Like many other criminal activities, counterfeiting now relies heavily on the digital domain to source components and distribute their products (both tangible and non-tangible) to consumers via online platforms, social media and instant messaging services. The COVID-19 pandemic has further entrenched this development,” its report warned.

“There is also evidence that counterfeiters launder their criminal proceeds by using both traditional and more sophisticated schemes that make use of technology, trade-based money laundering and offshore jurisdictions.”

In some cases, such as in the fashion space, fake goods are promoted via live-streaming sales, videos and sponsored ads on social media, with customers attracted by low prices and discounts.

Counterfeiters are also exploiting the global shortage in semiconductors, with mobile phones and components among the most seriously impacted by IP infringement, Europol claimed.

Digital piracy surged during the pandemic and remains a cat-and-mouse game between rights holders and infringers.

“Websites illegally distributing audio-visual content are hosted on servers across Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The criminals involved are adept at using advanced technical countermeasures. In some cases, digital content piracy is linked to other cybercrime activities such as crypto-jacking or the distribution of malware,” Europol said.

“Pirates exploit new technologies to conceal digital traces and use proxy services to create resilient hosting networks. The online presence during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increased offer of high-quality streaming devices and a variety of illicit content offers.”

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