Police have shut down 28,000 websites selling fake products to British consumers, where more than 4,000 of those sites were set up by scammers using their customers’ identities.
Operations began in 2014, but only recently announced by the City of London Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) whilst launching an awareness campaign to educate online consumers.
PIPCU warned the public that “there’s more at stake when it’s a fake”, and said that identities of 400 individuals were believed to have been stolen and used to set up the websites to sell counterfeit goods.
This happens when consumers make online purchases. People will fill in their personal details such as home address for delivery and financial information to make payments.
During this process, scammers will steal identities using the information provided by the consumers.
CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service was quoted by Sky News as saying, identity fraud is soaring to “epidemic levels”, with 86% of identity frauds being perpetrated online.
Emily, a teacher from Essex who became one of the victims, purchased a pair of bridesmaid’s shoes from a website without knowing that it was actually a scam.
After her identity was stolen, she found out that there were fake websites selling knock-off goods registered under her name.
“I think of myself as someone who is ‘tech savvy’ and I was horrified when I discovered that I had been scammed.
“This goes to show that anyone can become a victim of this, no matter what walk of life they are from,” she said.
PIPCU is also warning shoppers that fake items are usually made from low quality (and sometimes hazardous) materials, which can pose a public safety risk.
The agency said that just as the popularity of online shopping is increasing, so too is the production and sale of fake goods.
It is indeed difficult for consumers to check the authenticity of the products sold and fraudsters can easily use online stock images to scam online shoppers.
However, PIPCU urged consumers to carry out a thorough research on online shopping websites before making any purchases, by finding out where the trader is based and whether they provide a postal address.
“Many people purchase counterfeit goods from bogus websites, knowingly and unknowingly, without realising that there can be significant consequences,” said Detective Inspector Nicholas Court.