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

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Amazon introduces new AI-powered technology

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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European police agencies seize 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides in latest edition of Operation Silver Axe

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550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides

The latest instalment of a Europol-coordinated operation targeting agricultural fraudsters has resulted in the seizure of 550 tonnes of counterfeit pesticides across Europe and the arrest of three individuals.

Now in its fourth year, Operation Silver Axe, which is supported by the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) and involves law enforcement agencies in nearly 30 countries, saw investigators in search of fake pesticides carry out inspections at major seaports, airports and land borders.

Law enforcement officials in 29 participating nations also searched production and repackaging facilities looking for pesticide products that had not been tested to make sure they pose no risk to the environment or the health and safety of users, consumers and members of the public.

First launched in 2012, Operation Silver Axe is also intended to target the sale of counterfeit pesticides that infringe intellectual property rights such as trademarks, patents and copyright.

The bogus pesticides seized during this year’s operation would have been enough to spray 49,000km2 (30,447m2), an area the equivalent to the whole of Estonia.

Ahead of this year’s operation, OLAF provided participating nations with intelligence on 120 suspicious shipments of pesticides transported into member states.

Last year’s operation, which took place across 27 countries, saw investigators confiscate some 360 tonnes of illegal or counterfeit pesticides.

Since its inception seven years ago, Operation Silver Axe has resulted in 1,222 tonnes of illegal and fake counterfeit products being removed from circulation.

In a statement, Hans Mattaar, Technical Director of the European Crop Care Association (ECCA) said: “Every new Silver Axe operation shows how improving cooperation between law enforcement agencies leads to more efficiency in the fight against illegal pesticides.

“ECCA is pleased to see the result of Silver Axe IV, but at the same time concerned about the ongoing illegal business.

“We look forward to continuing our contribution to Europol in broadening the scope of Silver Axe.

“To increasing the pressure is the only way to discourage to discourage the criminal organisations behind this illegal trade.”

According to the European Crop Protection Association, the illicit global trade in counterfeit pesticides is growing at a swift rate, with increasing amounts of bogus agricultural products being sold to farmers across the globe by organised criminal networks.

The agency warns that fake pesticide products could be made from chemicals that are banned or restricted, and may lead to the total loss of treated crops, potentially compromising the livelihood of farmers.

It is estimated that counterfeit pesticides make up some 15% of the global $60 billion crop protection market.

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Criminal money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons, UK fraud prevention agency finds

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money mule recruiters increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons

A new report from UK fraud prevention service Cifas has revealed that criminals ae increasingly targeting middle-aged Britons in a bid to persuade them to act as money mules.

In the latest edition of its annual Fraudscape study, Cifas said that it received more than 40,000 cases which “bore the hallmarks” of money mule activity in 2018, which was up 26% compared to the previous year.

While a rise in money mule activity was recorded across all age groups, the largest increase (35%) was seen among those aged between 41 and 60 last year.

Money mules agree to allow their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder the proceeds of their illegal activities, and are typically offered a cut of the money they move as a commission, or high-value items such as expensive trainers in return.

Recruiters typically target potential mules online via social media platforms, historically seeking out young male victims who might be in financial difficulty, such as the unemployed or students.

While Cifas’ latest report shows that young people under the age of 30 are still by far the primary target of money mule recruiters, last year saw a marked rise in the number of older people becoming involved in the crime, albeit from a very low starting point.

More widely, the report reveals that Cifas members recorded almost 324,000 cases of fraud last year, which was up 6% on 2017.

Commenting on the contents of the study, Cifas CEO Mike Haley said: “Fraud in the UK continues to rise and fraudsters are constantly finding new methods of committing fraud.

“From identity theft through to using the young and naïve as money mules to launder money, the economic and social harm to the nation is growing.

“The only way to fight the threat is to combine communication and collaboration, working together to present a united front against the perpetrators.”

Acting as a money mule might seem like an easy way to make some quick cash, but those caught allowing their accounts to be used for the laundering of the proceeds of criminal activities can face stiff penalties, and will rarely be able to plead ignorance if they are caught.

Back in April of this year, police in Ireland warned students thinking of acting as money mules that they could face as many as 14 years behind bars if they allowed their bank accounts to be used by criminals to launder money.

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Wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine, heroin and MDMA

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wastewater analysis shows Australians taking more methamphetamine

Consumption of heroin and MDMA has risen to the highest levels ever recorded in Australia by an annual study that measures the presence of illicit substances in the country’s wastewater.

The seventh National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Programme report, released by the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), also showed that Australians now use twice as much methamphetamine as any other illicit drug.

According to the study, Australia ranks second for methamphetamine and MDMA use among 25 countries that produce comparable stimulant data, but has relatively low comparative cocaine consumption.

The study revealed that while the consumption of nicotine and alcohol fell across the country in the 12 months to December last year, use of methamphetamine continued to outstrip the consumption of all other illicit drug types and pharmaceuticals.

The report estimates that Australia’s annual consumption of methamphetamine has reached nearly 10 tonnes, which compares to just over four tonnes of cocaine, and 750kgs of heroin.

Australian drug users are thought to favour synthetic narcotics on account of the cost and expense of shipping substances such as heroin and cocaine into the country from the regions in which they are grown.

The study also found that while use of synthetic opioid fentanyl plateaued in the final six months of 2018, oxycodone consumption rose over the same period.

On a regional basis, South and Western Australia were found to have the highest average use of methamphetamine, while Victoria had the highest rate of heroin consumption, and New South Wales the top level of cocaine use.

Unveiling the latest edition of the report, Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission Chief Executive Officer Michael Phelan said: “The Australian community continues to consume illicit drugs at concerning levels and the National Wastewater Drug Monitoring Program is providing an important, unified and consistent guiding tool for developing holistic drug responses.

“We are only now starting to realise the full benefits of the ongoing programme.”

The study found that average heroin consumption decreased in both capital city and regional areas, while average cannabis consumption increased in both city and regional sites.

The ACIC noted that the report covered 54% of the Australian population, which equates to about 12.6 million people, and that 50 wastewater treatment plants across Australia participated in the December 2018 collection, monitoring the consumption of 13 substances.

Earlier this month, the Australian Border Force (ABF) announced that it had seized 1.6 tonnes of methamphetamine, which was said to have been the largest shipment of the drug ever discovered in the country.

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