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Airbnb teams up with anti-trafficking NGO to prevent properties being used as ‘pop-up brothels’

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Speaking with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Airbnb’s Global Head of Trust and Risk Management has said the short-term property-letting website has teamed up with US anti-trafficking charity Polaris in a bid to prevent the service being used by human traffickers who sexually exploit vulnerable women and girls.

Nick Shapiro said Airbnb will work with Polaris to stop its properties being used as “pop-up brothels”, and train its staff on how to spot the signs of modern slavery and human trafficking.

“We’re taking a modern approach to combating modern slavery by leveraging the innovation of the sharing economy to better spot and stop potential exploitation ahead of time,” Shapiro said.

“Exploitation and trafficking are still all too common in today’s society, but we are eager to use our global reach to help assist in the effort to end it once and for all.”

In October last year, lawmakers in the UK launched an inquiry into the growth of so-called pop-up brothels across Britain.

Police in the UK have warned that traffickers and prostitutes are increasingly using short-term property rentals as temporary bases from which to sell sexual services, and that many are using platforms such as Airbnb to secure accommodation.

Pop-up brothels are typically closed down by the criminals who run them within weeks if not days to prevent police from raiding them.

Last week, officials in the UK city of Oxford urged the British government to better regulate the short-term rentals market after seeing an increase in the number of pop-up brothels appearing in the region.

“We know of short-term lets in Oxford being used as ‘pop-up’ brothels associated with sex trafficking, and reports of parties with up to 100 guests suddenly appearing in residential areas,” Councillor Alex Hollingsworth said.

“The original idea of short-term lets was to rent out unused rooms, or houses that were empty because the owners were on holiday themselves, for a few days at a time.

“What we now see in Oxford, like other cities, is properties essentially being used as hotels or guest-houses, but without any of the regulation and safety checks that hotels and guest houses undertake.”

Many women forced into the sex trade in the UK are trafficked into the country from Eastern Europe, often having been conned into travelling having falsey been promised well-paid work and a better life.

Once they arrive, they are often stripped of their travel documents, and made to sell themselves to multiple clients a day in different brothels around the country.

In July last year, a Romanian couple admitted operating a number of pop-up brothels in and around the city of Manchester, where they employed Eastern European women as prostitutes.

Alexe Popa and Gabriela Diac ran four pop-up brothels across the city, Manchester Crown Court heard.

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A quarter of all CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in US are counterfeit, RIAA warns

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CDs ‘fulfilled by Amazon’ in the US are counterfeit

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) has claimed that 25% of all CDs “fulfilled by Amazon” in the US are counterfeit.

A recent sample purchase programme conducted by the RIAA, which represents major labels that are responsible for the creation, manufacture, distribution or sale of 85% of all legitimately recorded music produced in the US, also found that 100% of new “high-quality box sets offered for sale through eBay or AliExpress in the US were counterfeit”.

The exercise revealed that 11% of new CDs offered for sale on Amazon were fake, and 16% of new CDs sold on eBay were bogus.

Publishing the findings of its sample purchase programme, the RIAA said it had also observed the sale of fake “best of” or “greatest hits” CDs or vinyl that purport to be from major record label artists on these platforms, even when the labels in question had never released such albums.

The association said it continues to see a high number of incidents in which its members branding has been used without permission on multiple ecommerce platforms, including Amazon, eBay, Redbubble and Bonanza.

“These infringements not only undermine revenues from legitimate sources to music creators and owners, they also harm the reputation and goodwill associated with the artists, brands or logos at issue,” the RIAA said.

“This harm is exacerbated by limited and inconsistent enforcement by online third-party marketplaces and other intermediaries to address counterfeit listings and sellers of counterfeit products.”

Responding to the RIAA’s findings in a statement given to Digital Music News, Amazon said: “Our customers expect that when they make a purchase through Amazon’s store—either directly from Amazon or from one of its millions of third-party sellers—they will receive authentic products.

“Amazon strictly prohibits the sale of counterfeit products and we invest heavily in both funds and company energy to ensure our policy is followed.”

Last month, research conducted by anti-piracy and counterfeit protection firm Red Points revealed that the number of items buyers believe to be fake sold on Amazon rises by a third during the company’s annual Prime Day event.

Earlier in July, Amazon announced the expansion of its flagship anti-counterfeiting Transparency programme to France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the UK, India and Canada.

First launched in the US back in March 2017, the initiative allows companies to apply unique T-shaped QR-style codes to their products, which can be used by customers, brands, Amazon and other participants in the supply chain to authenticate items being offered for sale.

 

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Canadian police target young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

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young drivers recruited by gangs to deliver drugs

Police in the Canadian province of British Columbia have arrested three teenagers in a crackdown on street-level gang activity and drug dealing.

Officers from the Abbotsford Police Gang Crime Unit (GCU) and the Abbotsford Police Drug Enforcement Unit (DEU) last week detained two 18-year-olds and one 19-year-old on suspicion of drug offences after police searches resulted in the discovery pre-packaged deals of synthetic opioid fentanyl and crack cocaine along with CA$1,500 ($1,122) in cash and a number of mobile phones.

Detectives taking part in the operation also impounded a 2016 Jeep Wrangler that is said to have been used by the suspects to deliver the drugs they are alleged to have been selling.

Police said the arrests were carried out with the assistance of a patrol division, an emergency response team and sniffer dogs.

The operation was launched after police in the region discovered that local gang members were increasingly attempting to recruit young people who had recently learned to drive.

Sergeant Maitland Smith, of Abbotsford Police’s GCU, said in a statement: “We are currently seeing a trend in Abbotsford evolving around the recruitment of youth into gangs, and more specifically ‘new’ drivers.

“More established street-level drug dealers are aware that the police are seizing vehicles and assets upon being arrested; so they are recruiting younger drivers to chauffeur them as they conduct their drug trafficking business.

“In most cases, these young, new drivers are using vehicles registered to their parents to drive the dealers around with the promise that they will get a share of the profit at the end of the day.”

Smith went on to explain that acting as a driver for drug dealers is a serious offence that could result in arrest and prosecution, regardless of whether young car owners have handled illicit substances or not.

He also warned that any vehicle that police believe has been used to facilitate the sale of illegal drugs could be seized, even if the car is officially registered to a young person’s parents.

Abbotsford Police warned young people they could be putting themselves, their friends and their relatives at risk if they become involved in drug dealing or other forms of organised crime, noting that dozens of young adults have been shot dead across the region over recent years.

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods worth $3.5 million smuggled into US from Hong Kong

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LAX border officials seize fake luxury goods

Customs officers working at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) have confiscated thousands of luxury items that would have had an estimated retail value of nearly $3.5 million had they been genuine.

US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) investigators working at the airport found the haul among air cargo that had been brought into the country from Hong Kong, which is a major source of counterfeit and pirated products globally.

The massive shipment of fake items included nearly 1,250 counterfeit Gucci belts, 678 pairs of counterfeit Nike shoes, more than 530 counterfeit Louis Vuitton handbags, 500 counterfeit Samsung adaptors, over 500 counterfeit Gucci waist pack belts, 230 counterfeit Hermes handbags, 192 counterfeit Casio Shock watches, 144 counterfeit Ferragamo belts, 100 counterfeit Versace belts, and 119 counterfeit Fendi shorts.

Carlos Martel, CBP Director of Field Operations in Los Angeles, commented: “CBP protects businesses and consumers every day through an aggressive intellectual property rights enforcement programme.

“These seizures demonstrate the high level of skill and vigilance of our officers and import specialists.”

In a statement, CBP said the sheer size of the illicit shipment indicated the huge amount of profit that can be made by importing counterfeit goods into the US, and went on to warn consumers that fake items such as these are often sold through illegitimate websites and underground retail outlets.

Donald Kusser, CBP Port Director at LAX, said: “The American public should be aware that buying a counterfeit product is a lose-lose proposition, because the money they paid often funds criminal enterprises.

“In addition, buyers get a substandard low-quality product, containing unknown chemicals and likely produced under inhumane conditions.”

In a report published back in March, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the EU’s Intellectual Property Office revealed that pirated and counterfeit goods had grown to account for 3.3% of all global trade, noting that the majority of the fake goods seized across the globe throughout 2016 were said to have originated from Hong Kong and mainland China.

Hong Kong has also come under fire for the role it plays in the global illicit trade in smuggled wildlife products, with a coalition of local NGOs warning in January that the region plays a wildly disproportionate role in wildlife crime thanks largely to its close proximity to mainland China.

Amanda Witfort, a professor at Hong Kong University’s Faculty of Law and one of the study’s authors, said at the time: “Wildlife crime in Hong Kong remains under-policed and under-investigated. Wildlife smuggling is not regarded as organised and serious crime, under Hong Kong law.”

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