Police in New York have arrested 22 people on suspicion of being involved in a plot to smuggle counterfeit goods worth $450 million into the US from China.
The suspects stand accused of smuggling Chinese-manufactured fake luxury items into the country, such as Louis Vuitton and Tory Burch handbags, Michael Kors wallets, Hermes belts and Chanel perfume, among other products.
Prosecutors argue the Chinese gang members smuggled the items in large shipping containers disguised as legitimate products and brought them into the country via seaports in New York and New Jersey.
In a bid to avoid the attention of law enforcement authorities, the gang members are said to have falsified customs documents and used “burner” cell phone numbers and email accounts to conceal their true identities and cover their tracks.
Officials said the seizure was one of the largest in the history of US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, putting the bust in perspective by noting the agency seized counterfeit goods estimated to be worth around $1.2 billion throughout the whole of 2017.
Those arrested were charged with a number of offences, including conspiracy to traffic counterfeit goods, conspiracy to smuggle counterfeit goods, money laundering, immigration fraud and unlawful procurement of naturalisation.
The suspects are said to have planned to sell the bogus items across the US, where they would have been worth nearly half a billion dollars had they been genuine.
“The defendants allegedly smuggled millions of dollars of counterfeit luxury goods into our country, depriving companies of their valuable and hard-earned intellectual property,” said Assistant Attorney General Brian Benczkowski of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division.
“The illegal smuggling of counterfeit goods poses a real threat to honest businesses, and I commend our federal prosecutors and partners at HSI and the NYPD for their outstanding work on this important investigation.
“The Department of Justice is committed to holding accountable those who seek to exploit our borders by smuggling counterfeit goods for sale on the black market.”
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has made the trade in counterfeit and pirated goods a priority issue this year, and is targeting the importation of fake products from locations such as Hong Kong and China that can damage the American economy and threaten the health and safety of US consumers.
Speaking back in March, CBP Commissioner Kevin McAleenan said: “The theft of intellectual property and trade in counterfeit and pirated goods causes harm to an innovation-based economy by threatening the competitiveness of businesses and the livelihoods of workers.”
Crooked vendors exploiting flaw in eBay’s feedback system to con buyers into purchasing bogus and dangerous items
Buyers on eBay are being duped into purchasing substandard and counterfeit products due to a flaw in the online auction platform’s seller feedback system, according to an investigation conducted by UK consumer group Which?
The watchdog found that dishonest vendors can take advantage of these flaws by linking positive reviews of genuine products manufactured by companies such as Apple and Samsung to fake and low-quality items.
Which? found that crooked sellers are able to link thousands of positive reviews to eBay listings they have nothing to do with.
The organisation discovered that real reviews can be associated with fake products that are potentially dangerous, such as counterfeit mobile phone chargers that can pose a fire risk.
Sellers are able to do this by using “product IDs” associated with genuine items when adding their products to eBay, subsequently benefitting from the positive reviews those items have attracted.
The system is intended to make the process of listing products on eBay quicker and easier by allowing sellers to pull information from similar items that have a linked product ID.
As part of its investigation, Which? purchased 20 bogus Apple and Samsung accessories such as chargers and USB cables that were supposed to be official and shared the same reviews as products manufactured by the two technology firms
Calling for online ecommerce platforms to be held accountable for flaws in their seller feedback systems that allow dishonest vendors to pull the wool over buyers’ eyes, Head of Home Products and Services at Which? Natalie Hitchins said: “Our investigation has uncovered yet another example of online reviews being manipulated to mislead people.
“eBay’s product review system is confusing for consumers and could even direct them towards counterfeit or dangerous products sold by unscrupulous sellers.
“Online reviews influence billions of pounds of consumer spending each year.
“The [UK Competition and Markets Authority] must now investigate how fake and misleading reviews are duping online shoppers, taking the strongest possible action against sites that fail to tackle the problem.”
Responding to the findings of Which?’s investigation eBay said in a statement: “The research does not fully consider that there are distinctions between product reviews (which provide buyers with a holistic review of the same product), and seller feedback (which can be used to see specific reviews of a seller’s performance and may reflect the item’s condition).”
Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that US politicians had called on lawmakers to hold ecommerce companies such as eBay and Amazon to account if they fail to prevent third-party vendors selling counterfeit or substandard products on their platforms.