Police have shut down 28,000 websites selling counterfeit goods to British consumers – more than 4,000 of which were set up using identities stolen from other customers.
The take-downs, which have been occurring since 2014, have been announced as City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) launches an awareness campaign to educate online consumers.
Warning the public that “there’s more at stake when it’s a fake”, PIPCU said that 400 individuals are believed to have had their identities stolen and used to set up the websites selling knock-off goods.
When purchasing items, people hand over their address for the delivery and financial information to make the payments, the unscrupulous fraudsters are able to steal their identities.
Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, says that identity fraud is soaring to “epidemic levels”, with 86% of identity frauds being perpetrated online.
One victim, Emily, a teacher from Essex, unknowingly purchased bridesmaids shoes from a counterfeiters’ website.
Her identity was stolen and fake websites were set up in her name – websites which were used to sell more counterfeit goods.
“I think of myself as someone who is ‘tech savvy’ and so I was horrified when I discovered that I had been scammed,” said Emily.
“This goes to show that anyone can become a victim of this, no matter what walk of life they are from.”
PIPCU is also warning shoppers that counterfeit goods are often made from lower-quality and in some situations hazardous materials that can pose a public safety risk.
Just as the popularity of online shopping is increasing, so too is the production and sale of fake goods, says PIPCU.
Checking products for authenticity can be difficult in person, but the use of stock images online also means that fraudsters can easily con online shoppers.
In 2016/17 the Intellectual Property Office reported that two million infringing items were detained at UK borders.
PIPCU is encouraging consumers to check the authenticity of sites they are purchasing goods from, finding out where the trader is based and whether they provide a postal address.
Detective Inspector Nicholas Court said: “Many people purchase counterfeit goods from bogus websites, knowingly and unknowingly, without realising that there can be significant consequences.
“We are warning the public that ‘there’s more at stake when it’s a fake’ and that buying from a rogue site puts your personal and financial information at risk, meaning that criminals can use your identity for malicious means.”