Gifty Gakpetor discovers how companies like Amazon are creating effective partnerships to cut down on IP crime

Crime prevention stakeholders have shown time and again that counterfeiting is linked to broader criminal networks, involving activities that include money laundering, financing of terrorist activities, tax evasion and human trafficking or modern slavery. The impact of the crime of counterfeiting is therefore huge: it affects the global economy, touching all our lives and not just the business of the brands that are targeted.

“Buying counterfeit goods can have a wider impact than many people realise, such as funding human trafficking and drugs supply, as well as exposing buyers to sometimes dangerous and harmful goods,” says Detective Sergeant Andrew Masterson of the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) at City of London Police, a specialised and well-known IP enforcement team with a nationwide remit.

At INTA’s 2023 Pre-Annual Meeting Reception in London, Amazon invited various anti-counterfeiting stakeholders to gather at its offices to share information on their efforts to combat this serious crime. Among those present were Phil Lewis, Director General of the UK Anti-Counterfeiting Group; representatives from eBay and City of London Police; and Grant Lucas, a Senior Industry Specialist with Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit (CCU), who pursues counterfeit fraudsters in the UK, EU, Middle East and Africa. At the meeting, Amazon also shared information on its own practices in countering counterfeits.

Global team

Amazon described an operation attended by Margherita Puca, a risk manager based in Milan, Italy, and part of Amazon’s CCU. This global team, launched in 2020, works with brands and law enforcement to pursue counterfeiters across the globe. Earlier this year, Puca pulled on body armour to join City of London Police raids at several business and residential addresses across London on an otherwise sunny and pleasant afternoon. Puca was working with PIPCU, which is leading enforcement actions against UK-based counterfeiters selling suspected counterfeit goods.

The raid led to successful enforcement actions by UK authorities, thanks to the combined investigative and analytical efforts of Amazon, the police and two major retail brands. PIPCU seized approximately 3,000 counterfeit electric-toothbrush heads, and several persons involved with the illicit trade scheme were arrested on suspicion of distributing articles infringing trade marks and the acquisition of criminal property.

This is the new front line for tackling counterfeiters: using the combined efforts of corporate (brand) investigators and attorneys, working in a seamless way with law enforcement to protect the public and give consumers comfort that what they are purchasing is authentic and safe. The police and prosecutors work within the judicial system to ensure that justice can be brought in a fair and proportionate manner.

Margherita Puca during a City of London Police raid at a residential address

Brands, of course, are acutely aware of the importance of protecting their brand, and ensuring customers get authentic products is a critical part of that. Brand building is big business. Brand Finance estimates the value of Amazon’s brand to be more than US$299bn, closely followed by Apple and Google. These brands have worked to build value based on delivering a great experience and high-quality products that customers trust. However, trust is hard won and easily lost, and counterfeiting continues to be a threat to it.1

The OECD and the EUIPO jointly published a 2019 report that examined trends in the trading of counterfeit goods. Based on their findings, counterfeit and pirated goods were estimated to account for 3.3% of global trade, worth a total of US$509bn. This data is based on global customs seizures and does not include counterfeit goods that were not seized or domestically produced goods.2

“We need to better protect our borders from counterfeit goods, shut down confirmed counterfeiters across the retail industry, and increase resources for law enforcement to pursue and prosecute individuals trafficking in counterfeits,” says Kebharu Smith, Director of Amazon’s CCU.

“Brands are increasingly working with law enforcement and attorneys to fuse data and intelligence and provide a comprehensive overview of potential criminal activity”

Yet prosecuting counterfeiters has also historically been a challenge. When sellers of illicit goods are in another country, they are largely outside the jurisdiction for criminal prosecution or civil liability for local law enforcement and brands. However, increasingly that is changing as brand and law enforcement agencies across the world collaborate to bring counterfeiters to justice.

So, what steps are being taken? First, law enforcement agencies and brands are now increasingly exchanging information on counterfeit activity to help stop counterfeiters at the border.

“Effective collaboration between private companies and the public sector is key to tackling intellectual property crime and dismantling the organised criminal enterprises that can be found behind it,” says DS Masterson. “No single organisation could hope to be effective in combatting an issue of this scale on its own.”

Customs agencies are informing retailers when agencies seize shipments bound for their warehouse. And brands are now increasingly sharing information that helps detection and seizure efforts, as well as law enforcement’s ability to dismantle and prosecute criminal networks.

Kebharu Smith also emphasises that collaboration between brands is critical: “It improves visibility and allows stores to alert one another and take action across the industry.”

Efforts to stop counterfeiting at one brand may be effective, but counterfeiters will simply try to sell their illegal products across other channels, including their own websites, online marketplaces and offline channels.

“The private sector needs to lead the way in creating a scalable solution for real-time information sharing on confirmed counterfeiters, and we encourage more companies to work with us in building these partnerships in the future,” Smith says.

Counterfeit goods represent a major threat to the brand reputation of e-commerce companies like Amazon

Civil avenues

Finally, brands and governments are increasingly working together to hold counterfeiters accountable through the courts and law enforcement. Amazon has teamed up with a myriad of brands to bring joint lawsuits against counterfeiters.

The type of civil suits brought against bad actors in the EU or rest of the world are not as common as in the US, but that is beginning to change. In February 2023, Amazon filed its first civil suit in Germany with Brother, the business technology solutions provider, against 18 suspected members of a Germany-based counterfeit ring who attempted to deceive customers by selling fake toner cartridges marketed as genuine products. 

This action was Amazon’s first civil lawsuit filed jointly with a brand against counterfeiters in Europe. The lawsuit was filed with the Regional Court of Berlin and alleges the Defendants colluded to sell fake products and evade Amazon and Brother’s systems. In addition to filing the lawsuit, the companies referred the alleged counterfeit ring to the local German authorities. 

This partnership-led approach to tackling counterfeiting is growing more popular. As the Amazon example shows, brands are increasingly working with law enforcement and attorneys to fuse data and intelligence and provide a comprehensive overview of potential criminal activity. These efforts are made with a view towards keeping consumers safe, enhancing the authorities’ understanding of criminal schemes and supporting potential prosecutorial or civil actions.

“The partnerships we have built help us identify emerging crime trends and create innovative methods to tackle them,” says DS Masterson. “They give private companies a better understanding of policing practices, so they know how to best support us to take action against counterfeiting.”

Money struggle

Anti-counterfeiting budgets are struggling to keep up with the growing threat of infringement, a new report from INTA has found. As a result, brand protection professionals are under greater pressure than ever to demonstrate the value of their work to gain buy-in. However, brand owners should not be afraid to make a stand with an awareness campaign to fight this deadly crime, highlighting the dangers of counterfeiting to consumers. Some commentators have suggested using graphic images and messages depicting the physical harm that unauthorised goods can cause, for example, as an effective way to grab attention; these are said to have been proven to influence changes in consumer attitudes.

Delphine Sarfati-Sobreira, CEO of UNIFAB, a leading French industry association, says: “Consumers and companies are the main victims of fakes trafficking and only increased cooperation between all actors involved in the fight against counterfeiting can succeed in stopping the bad guys who are behind illicit trade and criminal networks, whose activities also severely harm the environment.”

In conclusion, we should all be concerned and do our part in small ways to combat counterfeiting activities. Changing consumer attitudes, especially among younger age groups, can be challenging. Brand owners are encouraged to come up with creative ideas to help the young steer away from buying counterfeit goods, drawn by their being cheap and affordable. One area could be through education and communication channels.

1 Brand Finance, Global 500 2023, (accessed 22nd September 2023)
2 OECD-EUIPO (2019), Trends in Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods,