Fake cigarettes easily bought on Craigslist

Classified advertisements website Craigslist has come under scrutiny in the UK for facilitating illicit trade following a BBC investigation.

The six-month undercover investigation by BBC Inside Out reporter Jonathan Gibson, found he was easily able to purchase bootleg cigarettes and fake tobacco, buy stolen passports and cocaine, as well as meet people who would launder dodgy money for a fee.

“It’s as easy to find marijuana on Craigslist as it is to find a second-hand sofa,” the reporter said. This was despite the website clearly stating under its terms and conditions that the sale of illegal and illicit products and services on the platform was prohibited.

The man selling the fake tobacco even admitted, recorded on hidden camera, that the product was counterfeit but no different to its legitimate counterpart apart from the cheaper price.

Philip Ingram, an intelligence and security expert, told the programme: “I’m shocked at what’s there because it’s not difficult for the internet companies to put elements on their websites to be able to police this sort of stuff – and they should be policing it and taking it down… The amount of organised crime sitting behind there is frightening and it’s critical, I think, that the police force or law enforcement agencies force the likes of Craigslist to do something about it.”

BBC Inside Out approached Craigslist for comment but the company declined to provide a response.

Ingram said: “I think whilst they’re making money and whilst nobody is turning around and asking them or forcing them to try and change what’s going on, you will find sites like this which are using the ostrich effect, sticking their head in the sand and ignoring it.”

In response to the investigation, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) said websites, such as Craigslist, that failed to prevent illicit activity were being “complicit in cybercrime” and called for tougher laws to crackdown on the websites.

Clive Grunshaw, the APCC cybercrime lead, said websites needed to take responsibility and be held accountable. “If there are people that are using their sites for criminal activity then they are allowing that, they are complicit in that by allowing that to happen.”

BBC Inside Out approached the government for a response. In a statement, the Home Office said new and emerging safety and security threats were being reviewed with the aim of stamping out the threats.

“What is illegal online is illegal offline and we cannot allow online platforms to be looked upon as a safe space for those that would harm and exploit the most vulnerable in our society or engage in criminal activity. We are working to ensure technology companies live up to their responsibilities of preventing their services from being used for criminal activity and are further exploring how classified advertisements websites are being used to facilitate crime.”

The Craigslist website began in America as a classified ad site covering job and flat listings and selling second-hand goods. It has now expanded to 70 countries.

In many ways the website has avoided the scrutiny and counterfeit criticisms that have been levelled at its rival online marketplaces Amazon, Alibaba and eBay, particularly in the UK. But there have been numerous cases in the US of counterfeit goods sold on the platform – including fake Taylor Swift concert tickets, counterfeit erectile dysfunction pills, and bogus vehicle airbags.

In September, the European Commission issued guidelines that put pressure on online tech giants to do more to remove illegal online content that includes copyright infringement and counterfeit goods. The EC expects companies to proactively implement the guidelines but warns that legislation could be forthcoming in May if the progress to remove and prevent illegal content online has been insufficient.

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