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The likes of Amazon and eBay will only take on counterfeiters if forced to do so

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At the beginning of March, the owner of a small US business accused online retail behemoth Amazon of profiting from the sale of cheap Chinese counterfeits. In a blog post on his company’s website, Elevation Lab founder Casey Hopkins, whose firm makes an under-desk mount for headphones, called out Amazon for failing to do enough to prevent inferior-quality knock-offs being listed for sale on its platform. Hopkins outlined how an anonymous manufacturer in China was able to reverse engineer his under-desk headphone mount and offer it for sale on Amazon at a reduced price, depriving his company of sales, and resulting in buyers receiving substandard products. Amazon moved against the offending seller after Hopkins’ blog post was picked up by a number of technology websites, removing its listings from its platform. The Jeff Bezos-owned firm also issued a platitude-laden statement talking up its efforts to crack down on fraudsters using its marketplace.

Whether or not the seller that faked Hopkins’ product would have been dealt with in this manner if his post had not attracted media attention is debatable, but what is clear is that sales platforms such as Amazon, eBay and Walmart simply are not doing enough to prevent counterfeit goods being listed on their websites. The week before Hopkins posted his blog, a US government report warned that an increasing number of counterfeit goods are being offered for sale on ecommerce platforms. The study, published by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), noted how the growth of ecommerce had created a new and increasing threat to intellectual property rights holders, and had made it much more difficult for consumers to determine whether or not the goods they buy are genuine.

Warning that cheap counterfeit products offered for sale on ecommerce platforms are endangering legitimate manufacturers and the wider US economy, not to mention posing a significant threat to the health and safety of consumers, the GAO recommended a review of its efforts to enhance intellectual property rights enforcement, and increased cooperation between its officials and the private sector. Commenting on the contents of the report, Beverly Baskin, CEO of the US Council of Better Business Bureaus, said: “If marketplace leaders struggle to keep out counterfeit products, and if consumers cannot rely on those leading companies to protect them from counterfeits, we have a serious problem that can undermine consumer confidence in the entire retail market.”

Bizarrely, the GAO’s recommendations omitted any mention of the enhanced role ecommerce platforms themselves could play in keeping counterfeiters off their websites. Technology giants have proved very adept at reacting quickly to any threat that might impact their bottom lines, but are typically less responsive if a problem does not directly affect them financially. In much the same way that social media companies are slow to remove illegal content from their platforms, the likes of Amazon, Walmart and eBay appear reluctant to invest serious resources into ridding their networks of counterfeit products. Not only is it not profitable for them to do so, in most cases they actually make money from the sale of fake items on their websites. Generally speaking, every time a counterfeit product is sold on an ecommerce platform, its owner takes a cut of the price. As such, it simply does not make financial sense for them to make any real effort to crack down on companies and individuals that use their properties to peddle knock-offs, a situation which has resulted in them only paying lip service to doing so. While ecommerce routinely boast about their initiatives to target fraudsters, an overwhelming amount of evidence clearly shows they are not doing enough.

Sadly, it appears the only way to persuade the owners of these online marketplaces to get serious about properly policing their websites is through the drafting of new legislation that forces them to do so. Last week, the European Commission told technology firms such as Google, Facebook and Twitter that they could face fines if they fail to take down extremist material within one hour of it being reported. If lawmakers are serious about protecting intellectual property rights holders and small businesses, it would be sensible to introduce similar punishments for ecommerce firms who allow fake goods to be offered on their platforms. If Amazon, Walmart and eBay faced a substantial fine for every counterfeit listing they allowed to stay live on their websites for 24 hours, it would be likely that some of the brilliant minds they employ would quickly be put to work on developing technology that would ensure these listings are taken down as quickly as they appear.

Large internet firms have proved time and again that they care little for members of the societies they purportedly serve, be they victims of terrorist attacks that have been inspired by material spread online, or small business owners losing money to Chinese counterfeiters who are able to sell knock-offs on ecommerce platforms with near impunity. The time has come for these companies to be held accountable for their behaviour. If they fail to take action of their own accord, they should be forced to protect members of the public and businesses from the bad actors who are currently able use their products all but freely.

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Bosnian migrant jailed for 7 years for selling firearms to Swedish neo-Nazis and terrorists

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selling firearms to Swedish neo-Nazis

A Bosnian national has been jailed for more than seven years by a US court in Washington state after being convicted of sending gun parts to neo-Nazis in Sweden.

Hany Veletanlic, a 36-year-old Bosnian citizen who had been living legally in the US, was handed a jail sentence of 85 months after he was found guilty of four offences related to the illegal possession and trafficking of firearms.

The investigation that led to the arrest and ultimate conviction of Veletanlic began when Swedish law enforcement agents seized a Glock firearm from a property in the municipality of Fagersta.

Although the gun’s serial number had been filed off, Glock was able to establish that it had been purchased by a buyer in Seattle through a code printed on one its parts.

When contacted by US police, the buyer of the weapon said he had sold it privately to Veletanlic, who then contacted investigators when he heard enquiries were being made about the gun.

During a subsequent arrest, police discovered that the Bosnian national was in possession of a stolen Ruger pistol with its serial number removed.

The Bosnian admitted he sold firearms on eBay and via direct sales, and confessed to shipping 20 different gun consignments to two different customer groups in Sweden, as well as additional weapon packages to buyers in France, Russia and Brazil.

Veletanlic falsely labelled his illicit shipments as bicycle parts and sent them to customers using fake names and return addresses.

Giving evidence during his trial, police from Sweden said some of the buyers of Veletanlic’s firearms were linked to neo-Nazi and terrorist activity.

Prosecutors said Veletanlic had repeatedly lied to law enforcement officers while they were investigating his weapons trafficking conspiracy, and that he was involved in a plot to have a witness in the case shot from behind bars.

Jailing Veletanlic, US District Judge James Robart said he had been involved in the running of an illegal “lucrative business” and taken “quite sophisticated steps” in order to cover his tracks.

US Attorney Brian Moran commented: “This defendant repeatedly lied to law enforcement, violated judges orders, and even schemed to harm a witness against him from the Federal Detention Centre.

“Even behind bars he tried to transfer guns in his control to another violent group.  Such disregard for the rule of law cannot be tolerated.”

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Customs workers in US state of Minnesota find bogus bank bills with face value of $900,000 in Chinese rail container

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bogus bank bills with face value of $900,000

US customs workers in Minnesota have discovered counterfeit bank notes with a face value of $900,000 in a container that is said to have originated from China.

Agents from US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) referred the shipment for further inspection after conducting an initial search of rail freight passing through the International Falls Port of Entry on the US/Canada border.

During a more detailed inspection of the container, border control officers found a total of 45 cartons, each of which contained fake $1 bills.

In total, the shipment of fake currency had a face value of $900,000.

After discovering the notes, CBP officers called in experts from the US Secret Service, who were able to confirm the currency was indeed fake.

Commenting on the discovery of the bogus bills, Pembina Area Port Director Jason Schmelz said in a statement: “CBP officers strive every day to protect the United States from a variety of threats.

“Those threats don’t always come in the form of terrorists or narcotics, but also in the form of counterfeit currency and other goods that have the potential to harm the economy of the United States.

“Thanks to the dedication of our officers and our partnership with the Secret Service, we were able to keep this currency from entering into circulation.”

The CBP has said preventing the flow of illicit goods and counterfeit currency into the US is one of its top priorities, not least on account of the damage such items can do to the US economy.

Last week, the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its first report on combatting counterfeit and pirated goods in America after US President Donald Trump issued a Memorandum on Combatting Trafficking in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods in April of last year.

The report found that “the flood of counterfeit and pirated goods” now being sold to US consumers through online third-party marketplaces is threatening both public health and safety as well as national security.

“The lack of effective methods for addressing counterfeit goods stifles American innovation and erodes the competitiveness of US manufacturers and workers,” the study concluded.

“Despite increased efforts of both the US government and private sector stakeholders, the trafficking of counterfeit and pirated goods continues to worsen, in both the volume and the array of products being trafficked.”

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Pair of drug traffickers handed 33 years behind bars for attempting to smuggle cocaine worth £60 million into UK

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pair of drug traffickers handed 33 years

Two men who were caught attempting to smuggle cocaine worth an estimated £60 million ($78.33 million) into the UK after shipping it from on a yacht from South America have been jailed for a total of 33 years.

Officers from the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA), which is often referred to as Britain’s equivalent of the FBI, identified that the vessel on which Scott Kilgour and Gary Swift were travelling was carrying a large cocaine shipment in August last year.

After working in close cooperation with their colleagues in Spain, NCA investigators boarded the boat off the coast of Wales and arrested Swift, 53, and Kilgour, 41, who were both from Liverpool.

After bringing the boat to shore, specialist officers conducted a forensic search of the vessel, finding 751lgs of cocaine.

Tests later proved that the drugs were 83% pure, giving the haul a wholesale value of some £24 million and a potential street value of £60 million once mixed with cutting agents.

Both men pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import cocaine at Swansea Crown Court in September of last year.

Today, Swift was handed a 19-and-a-half-year jail term, while Kilgour was sentenced to 13-and-a-half years.

The court was told that the men set off from the Canary Islands to collect the huge cocaine shipment from Suriname on the north-east coast of South America in June 2019, and were intercepted on 27 August after police put their vessel under surveillance.

When law enforcement officers boarded the boat, Swift told them: “I just want to say that I am guilty. I have got something substantial on the boat and they will find it.”

Speaking after sentencing, Jayne Lloyd, NCA Regional Head of Investigations, commented: “Today’s result shows what will happen if you try to flood our streets with millions of pounds worth of potentially deadly drugs – you will be caught and you will face the consequences.

“Drugs aren’t just damaging to the people that take them, they fuel violence and exploitation, damaging communities and leaving destruction in their wake.

“It’s thanks to the work of the NCA, Border Force officers, and the Spanish National Police, that two highly organised criminals are behind bars and that these drugs haven’t made their way onto the streets.”

Deputy Director Steve Whitton, from Border Force’s Maritime Command, said: “The work of the crew of HMC Protector, as well as our specialist deep rummage search officers, played a crucial role in this case.

“Their work was a key part of an investigation which has ultimately put two significant drug smugglers behind bars.”

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