As with any crisis or disaster, bad actors are eager to exploit the tragedy to their advantage, and the current COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. As a result of the current health crisis, social distancing, and quarantining, consumers are turning to e-commerce in record numbers to stay supplied. In addition, with record levels of unemployment and financial pressure, consumers are looking for the best deals online. Bad actors have been quick to take advantage of these shifts in consumer behavior, releasing a massive flood of counterfeits.
Counterfeiting has long been a problem, even before COVID-19. Just one year ago in March of 2019, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) reported that trade in fake goods was 3.3% of world trade, with the value of imported counterfeit items worldwide based on 2016 customs seizure data worth over $509 billion dollars.
E-commerce platforms, brands, and government agencies are doing their best to fight back. N95 mask maker 3M has partnered with law enforcement around the world to help take down third-party sellers posing as company affiliates and has gone so far as to set up a hotline consumers can call to help identify authorized distributors and authentic products. In the United States, the FBI is actively warning health care providers to be wary of scammers looking to take advantage of the need for medical supplies, offering guidelines on how best to identify potential fakes. And in April alone, Amazon banned more than one million products for being either counterfeit or for falsely claiming they cure the virus.
During these uncertain and difficult times, the need for brand vigilance is growing as consumer behavior continues to shift. Intellectual property professionals will need to increase monitoring and enforcement efforts across digital channels - app stores, websites, ads, marketplace listings, and social handles - to identify cases of intellectual property infringement to help protect their brand and the consumers who trust them.
While there is no sure way to know what the future holds post-pandemic, resilient brands that focus on keeping their consumers and intellectual property safe now and into the future are best positioned to weather this crisis.