US bill would require ID for “high-volume” online sellers

US lawmakers have introduced new legislation intended to fight the sale of counterfeit and stolen goods online, by requiring sellers on online marketplaces to have their identity verified.

The Integrity, Notification, and Fairness in Online Retail Marketplaces for Consumers (INFORM Consumers) Act would make it mandatory for any online retail platform that allows third-party sellers – such as Amazon, eBay or Alibaba – to authenticate the identity of “high-volume sellers.”

That would involve requiring the government ID, tax ID, bank account information, and contact information for any seller who has made 200 or more discrete sales in a 12-month period amounting to $5,000 or more.

Basic ID and contact information would also be made available to consumers, according to the bill sponsors – Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and Kathy Castor (D-FL).

The online marketplace will also need to supply a hotline to allow customers to report to the marketplace suspicious marketplace activity such as the posting of suspected stolen, counterfeit, or dangerous products.

A companion bill in the Senate has been tabled by Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA).

“While online marketplaces attract more and more consumers as a result of the pandemic, it’s critical for consumers to know who they are buying consumer products from,” said Rep Schakowsky.

“It is critical for consumers and legitimate businesses be protected from counterfeit, stolen, and dangerous products by requiring more transparency on online marketplaces,” she continued, adding that the bill is a “commonsense, easy fix” and so could pass quickly.

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Earlier this month, Amazon said that from September 1 sellers in the US will be unable to operate anonymously, stipulating that a business or individual will have to have their name and address published on its sites.

The company said it has already required this information in Europe, Japan and Mexico, but that didn’t stop its French, German and UK sites being listed on the US government’s notorious markets list earlier this year.

“The coronavirus pandemic has made it abundantly clear that third-party sellers with little to no oversight are preying on Americans who are shopping online,” said Rep Castor.

“Our neighbours shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the products they order online are legitimate, arrive as described or will keep their families safe.”

The bill has been backed by a number of consumer and industry organisations, including the National Consumers League, the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA), the Toy Association, and others.

One company that welcomed the news – Calliope Games of Redmond, Washington – said that seller verification and transparency are key tools in the fight against unsafe counterfeits.

“This is not a partisan issue and we hope to see republicans and democrats alike supporting these commonsense measures to reduce consumer exposure to unsafe counterfeit toys and games while simultaneously providing additional support to our nation’s intellectual property,” said the company’s president Ray Wehrs.

American drugstore giant Walgreens also backed the legislation. Its president – Alex Gourlay – said: “The lack of transparency and accountability in today’s digital marketplaces has contributed to the rapid rise of organised retail crime, which has become one of the top challenges facing the retail industry today.

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