An unsafe counterfeit, with a side order of ID theft

Since being set up in 2014, the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Unit (PIPCU) has taken 50,000 infringing website offline, mostly selling counterfeit clothing and accessories.

Aside from the risks posed by the counterfeit goods themselves, which are often poor quality and could pose a fire risk for example, the sites themselves can be unsafe and leave purchasers exposed to viruses, malware and identity theft, says PIPCU.

“The sheer number of website takedowns should act as a warning online shoppers that there’s more at stake when it’s a fake,” says the unit’s temporary Detective Chief Inspector Nicholas Court. “When consumers make purchases on illicit sites, they are unknowingly handing over their personal and payment details to criminals who often use these to commit further crime.”

Last December, Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber reporting centre, said it had received over 15,000 reports linked to identity crime between April 2016 and March 2017. It also said there had been 400 reported cases in two years where a person’s identity had been stolen and used to open websites that had been directly linked to counterfeit online purchases.

The consequences can be serious, including jeopardised credit scores, a long and arduous process to regain control – sometimes up to 300 hours of effort – and emotional distress.

PIPCU’s Operation Ashiko is a collaboration with UK domain registry Nominet and focuses on websites selling counterfeit goods and protecting the public from potentially unsafe products. PIPCU notifies Nominet when it finds a site engaged in illegal activity and – after performing some administrative checks – Nominet then works with the registrar to suspend the domain.

Over the last five years, the Ashiko has closed down more than 22,000 clothing websites, almost 16,000 peddling fake footwear, and 3,600 selling bags, accessories and jewellery. The sites “often sell products claiming to be from well-known brands,” says the unit.

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