Counterfeit and pirated imports are increasing during the pandemic

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The import and distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods has raised significant public health and economic recovery concerns after the pandemic, according to Europol.

The police organization Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment 2022 warned of a growing trade in counterfeit goods – from clothing and luxury items to medicines, food and beverages, cosmetics and toys.

The estimated value of such goods was €119 billion in 2019, or almost 6% of total EU imports.

But today, thanks to the pandemic and the dominant role of the internet in enabling such criminal activities, the number could be even higher, Europol warned.

“Like many other criminal activities today, counterfeiting relies heavily on the digital realm to source components and distribute its products (both tangible and intangible) to consumers through online platforms, social media and instant messaging services. The COVID-19 pandemic has further solidified this trend,” the report warned.

“There is also evidence that counterfeiters launder the proceeds of crime using both traditional and more sophisticated schemes that leverage technology, trade-based money laundering and offshore jurisdictions.”

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

Counterfeiters are also exploiting the world’s shortage of semiconductors, with cellphones and components among the hardest hit by IP breaches, Europol claimed.

Digital piracy rose sharply during the pandemic and remains a game of cat and mouse between rightsholders and infringers.

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

“Pirates use new technologies to hide digital footprints and use proxy services to build resilient hosting networks. The online presence during the COVID-19 pandemic led to an increased supply of high-quality streaming devices and a variety of illegal content offerings.”

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