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Online fraudsters exploit COVID-19 fears

02 April 2020

The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) and the Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade (TRACIT), are urging consumers to take seriously the risks presented by the growing numbers of fake and ineffective cleaning solutions, anti-bacterial wipes, surgical masks and medicines being sold during the coronavirus pandemic.

Worldwide reports have indicated a surge in the availability and type of fake medical products intended to feed on the fears of consumers.

ACG’s product warning list includes surgical face masks, hand sanitisers, testing kits, thermometers, cleaning solutions, toilet paper, anti-bacterial wipes, indoor sports equipment, refrigeration appliances, food products, reading materials and alarmingly even Hydroxychloroquine and Azithromycin (a COVID-19 treatment).

The not-for-profit association is warning consumers and government of the current threat to both public health and efforts to stem COVID-19.

“The emergency response measures to help protect the public from COVID-19 must include the urgent need to protect them from fake, falsified and substandard medical products and medicines” stressed Director Generals at ACG, Phil Lewis and TRACIT, Jeffrey Hardy.

“Someone wearing a falsified or substandard surgical face mask is not only at risk of exposure, but it creates a false sense of security that can actually accelerate the spread to others.

ACG is asking for intensified action by the government, law enforcement, internet platforms and brand owners.

  • Government need to make a clear statement that “profiteering” is not the only concern in responding to fraud. Government need to allocate resource to block the distribution of fakes, warn consumers about the risks of fake and fraudulent products, especially online sales, and impose immediate sanctions on the manufacture and sale of fraudulent COVID-19 related products.
  • Law enforcement need to be alert to the threat and clamp down on the criminals involved, heighten vigilance for stolen, tampered and expired medical products and medicines, share intelligence and best practice and cooperate on cross-border investigations.
  • Internet eCommerce platforms must intensify the policing and takedown of online sales of counterfeit and fraudulent COVID-19 related products.
  • Brand owners need to increase security of supply chains for genuine COVID-19 related products and medicines, sharing data with law enforcement where supply chains have been compromised and raise awareness about online shopping fraud.

“The expectations are that the availability of these products on the Internet will increase dramatically, especially with the closure of retail stores and the imposition of social distancing. People must be especially careful when ordering online from websites, e-commerce platforms and social media where outright fraud and advertising of fakes is already a major problem” commented Phil

ACG and TRACIT have expressed concern that the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the urgent need for a strong international approach to combating the illicit trade of counterfeit medical products and medicines.

Phil and Jeff Hardy forewarn that “Once we get past this crisis, we’ll need to double our efforts to prevent counterfeiting. Starting with stronger provisions for preventing the availability of illicit products online and stronger measures to keep illicit pharmaceuticals out of the physical supply chain, including postal and express carrier infrastructures.” 

About ACG

ACG represents more than 3,000 brands affected by this influx of fakes into the UK and delivers an international network of information, advice and contacts on all aspects of IP protection. Working with Government and law enforcement agencies since 1980, ACG is focused on providing an effective and sustained response to counterfeiting.

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