Sports counterfeit promotion 'becomes more targeted'

Counterfeiters are increasingly specialising and targeting where they hawk their wares, with social media found to be particularly popular for fake sports paraphernalia, an anti-counterfeiting firm has revealed.

Spain-based Red Points scanned digital channels for IP infringements over the course of 2016 and found patterns between different categories of products and brands, with counterfeit sports brands particularly prominent on social media sites and online marketplaces.

According to the data the firm pulled, Alibaba's sites Taobao and Aliexpress were the top sites promoting counterfeit sports items accounting for 13.4 per cent and 12.8 per cent infringements respectively, followed by Facebook with 11 per cent of infringements.

Amazon made fifth place with 9.4 per cent of infringements, while Twitter featured 3.5 per cent of infringements and Instagram 2.3 per cent.

Sports jerseys were the most commonly counterfeited item for sports teams, with football jerseys the most popular. Red Points found that the more supporters a team had, the more counterfeits there were. FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United had the most counterfeited jerseys followed by Chelsea, Paris Saint Germain, Bayern Munich, Juventus and Atletico Madrid.

Laura Urquizu, chief executive of Red Points, told that social media sites were key players for fake sports items because sellers could segment people based on the sports they like and target ads accordingly.

"Websites from the Alibaba group are clearly the biggest threat to sports teams with respect to their IP rights but this isn't unusual – it is true that the Alibaba group has a big problem with counterfeits on their sites," Urquizu said. "However, what is unusual is that sports teams have much more counterfeits appearing on Facebook, meaning sellers open personal files or company profiles on Facebook, where they offer fake products, usually using the real name or real pictures of the product, and they post offers telling the public to contact them by phone, mail or directing them to a landing page or website."

"This is significant as it shows a clear sign of the rationalisation and specialisation of counterfeiters who are now aiming their product directly at the final consumer using tools, such as social media, to contact them directly," she said.

A further concern revealed by the findings was that 26 per cent of infringements were spread across multiple small scale sites. Urquizu said this showed the "sheer spread" of the problem. "There are literally thousands of websites and channels being used to sell counterfeits, with some dedicated to just one team or league. This is significant for us as it highlights not only the scale of the problem but also the mammoth task that sports teams or any IP rights holder have in detecting infringements and protecting their IP rights."

Just last week, ahead of the Super Bowl, enforcement agents in the US seized more than 260,000 counterfeit sports-related items worth an estimated $20m as part of a year-long crackdown. The operation targeted flea markets, retail outlets and street vendors selling counterfeit goods and resulted in 56 arrests.

While bricks and mortar outlets are still popular for selling counterfeits, the rise of the internet and social media and shopping habits moving online mean many counterfeiters are also shifting their tactics online.

According to a report last year by the National Trading Standards, counterfeiting on social media platforms is an emerging threat that is expected to increase because criminals can easily conceal their identity and disguise their contact details. Social media also provides a larger pool of victims, NTS said.

Urquizu said that while online marketplaces were starting to introduce improved anti-counterfeiting measures, it was important for brands to invest in some form of brand protection and to utilise the tools on offer by e-commerce sites to make the process of removing counterfeits easier and quicker. She also said consumers needed to be vigilant and not put too much trust in product images they see online.

The top sites promoting counterfeit sports items, according to Red Points are:

Taobao (13.4 per cent)
Aliexpress (12.8 per cent)
Facebook (11.0 per cent)
iOffer (10.4 per cent)
Amazon (9.4 per cent)
dhGate (8.5 per cent)
Twitter (3.5 per cent)
Instagram (2.3 per cent)
Ebay (1.2 per cent)
Tokopedia (0.42 per cent)
Bonanza (0.20 per cent)
Redbubble (0.19 per cent)
Alibaba (0.12 per cent)
Other sites (26.57 per cent)

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