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What is the best anti-counterfeiting solution?

Managing counterfeits means implementing a solution that includes as much information about the supply chain as possible. How big of a problem is it and what is the best solution?

Is anti-counterfeiting a big problem?

Counterfeiting represents 3.3% of all global trade¹. That translates into billions of dollars lost, and it goes far beyond a luxury good knock-offs problem. Products in any category with a large enough margin are just as likely, depending on the industry, to be counterfeit². As one might guess, the cost of this mounts up rather quickly. In Europe, pharmaceuticals are currently up to a 4.4% loss in annual sales representing €10.2 billion in lost revenues. Clothing and accessories are seeing a yearly loss of 9.7% of sales for a whopping total of €26.3 billion. This accompanying graph shows losses in Europe, broken out by category, listing loss in euros, followed by the percent of annual sales lost for that category. While it is the least affected of the industries listed, sporting goods brands alone are losing no less than 500 million euros every year to counterfeiting their products. (Data source: oecd.org)

These figures give us a sense of how costly counterfeiting is to individual industries, yet it’s impossible to know exact and accurate numbers for how much is lost and at what dollar figure. The best anyone can do, is make educated estimates like these. Counterfeiting is obscured in shadows by its nature. Of course, the overall cost to brands and society at large cannot be hidden so easily. The OECD recorded a 154 percent increase in international counterfeit trade, from US$200 billion in 2005 to US$509 billion in 2016. This kind of growth would be impossible without the cultural changes that came with e-commerce, namely the success of behemoth selling platforms like Amazon and Taobao. Buying and selling online has come with great convenience, but it also paved the perfect runway for counterfeiting activity to skyrocket.

Traditionally and before e-commerce became so successful, brand owners relied on investigative agencies, legal options, local sources, distributors, and of course, law enforcement to track, monitor, and respond to counterfeit concerns. Unfortunately, these legacy solutions were already falling short against a challenge with increasing scale and sophistication, and that was even before the age of Amazon. Thinking along those lines, it’s clear to see the futility of legacy responses.

One specific issue that has been growing at quite a pace is gray market goods. Gray market goods are those made to be sold in particular markets, but that end up sold in other geographies, e.g., an iPad meant for the U.S. market and priced for the U.S. but sold in Finland at the preferable U.S. price. Consumers are naturally attracted to gray market goods because they think they are buying genuine goods at that preferable, lower price.

Why pay more? Because of that comforting logic, counterfeit goods use gray market sites as an avenue to sell counterfeits, taking advantage of a great way to reduce suspicion of counterfeiting while shaking some of the more traditional protections brands build around the sale of their goods, like authorized dealerships or the such.

Brands have had a tough time with this because of the complexity of trade routes compounded by the speed and convenience of modern e-commerce. It’s ironic that the same efficient trade routes and convenience for online buying that should be nothing but the benefit to brands actually create almost insurmountable challenges concerning transparency in supply chains and commerce, but that is indeed the state of things.

Aside from the cost in terms of dollars, counterfeiting hits brands’ reputations. A lost reputation due to fake goods often costs businesses their customers indefinitely. According to MarkMonitor’s Global Online Shopping Survey 2018, 26 percent of customers that inadvertently bought counterfeit goods said they stopped spending money on that brand. Twenty-two percent said their perception of the brand had, at minimum, worsened. The clear dangers counterfeits create for human health and safety, putting consumers directly at risk. This is, unfortunately, more common than not and is exactly what happened in the United States in March 2020 when the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers revealed a new trend in fake COVID-19 coronavirus test kits in a high profile interception on the West coast. Especially when people are most desperate, criminals are most emboldened to make the best of them. Counterfeiting makes the crime in those situations almost too easy.

Counterfeiters are opportunistic

“We are facing a global crisis unlike any in the 75-year history of the United Nations, a human crisis that calls, above all, for solidarity.”- António Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

While the world was coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, some saw an opportunity for profit in the disorder and anxiety. When demand for face masks boomed in China at the onset of the pandemic, nervous buyers began stockpiling masks both online and from retail stores. Some vendors took advantage of the shortage caused by the rush and reduced production levels. Others acted quickly to produce and sell counterfeit, low-quality face masks. By February 26, 2020, Chinese public authorities reported that they had seized more than 31 million such masks.

During times of panic and anxiety, like we’re currently experiencing with the spread of coronavirus here in the United States, bad actors try to prey on consumers.’’ – U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, (R-WA) 

As the virus spread across the world, illicit activity followed closely behind. By mid-March, the U.S. was in the thick of rapidly rising infections and a shortage of infection test kits. News media reported the same, creating panic, and people began looking for their test kits. It was in the thick of that environment that the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol announced the interception of a package containing illegally labeled, and likely ineffective, COVID-19 test kits arriving from the United Kingdom. A response to these novel and criminal efforts came from Interpol in the form of Operation Pangea XIII. They also announced a bust on March 19, 2020.

“Counterfeit face masks, substandard hand sanitizers and unauthorized antiviral medication were all seized under Operation Pangea XIII, which saw police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 90 countries take part in collective action against the illicit online sale of medicines and medical products.”³

The best anti-counterfeiting solution

Scantrust anti-counterfeiting uses the association of a physical good with an online identity or record. Once a physical item is bound and has an online record, any interaction in the physical world contributes to an active updating of its characteristics, and in doing so, activates a protective feature. This binding can be implemented at a unit-by-unit level or for millions of unique products at once. The result is an exceptional anti-counterfeiting tool that also protects against parallel importation, otherwise known as gray markets.

Despite that enthusiasm, our company has been motivated to help stop activities that detract from a brand’s earnings and, most notably, those activities that target the most vulnerable people in times of crisis. Counterfeiting is lucrative; that’s why people do it and why it is so widespread and growing. That’s why we are working to apply our Active Brand Protection solution to physical goods that are the lifeblood of our client’s businesses more than ever. Our mission is to improve the bottom line for our clients and alleviate the bigger picture, global challenges that are affecting us all, not just now but also in the unknown future.

If you’re interested in reading about a live example of how we went about applying Active Brand Protection to Lockcon anti-doping test kits, you’ll find our use case story with this link: Lockcon uses Scantrust Active Brand Protection for their doping control sample containers.

What is the best anti-counterfeiting solution?

When setting or re-evaluating a brand protection strategy, you’ll need to define your budget, which teams will be involved, and the expected outcomes. Some additional points to consider:

We are a long way off from living in a world without fakes. Counterfeits cost brands billions of dollars, and in some cases, consumers are at particular risk of paying even more dearly. But the situation is far from hopeless. Scantrust offers proven, practical solutions, but brand owners must decide to protect their brand, and through the goods they sell, protect their customers as well.


¹Statistic is from a report by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development and the European Union Intellectual Property Office estimates: https://www.oecd.org/newsroom/trade-in-fake-goods-is-now-33-of-world-trade-and-rising.htm

²Read the report on counterfeiting by the Better Business Bureau at: https://www.bbb.org/globalassets/local-bbbs/st-louis-mo-142/st_louis_mo_142/studies/counterfeit-goods/BBB-Study-of-Counterfeit-Goods-Sold-Online.pdf

³https://www.interpol.int/en/News-and-Events/News/2020/Global-operation-sees-a-rise-in-fake{“type”:”block”,”srcIndex”:4,”srcClientId”:”6c9104a7-8c52-477f-a111-ebf5d6f9184c”,”srcRootClientId”:”102c58b2-fdbe-4d7c-b922-23afc9fd1c56″}-medical-products-related-to-COVID-19

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