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The Cost Of Counterfeits - And How To Avoid Them

Counterfeit electronics are a huge problem. You can buy a counterfeit version of the latest smartphone for 90% less than what the real deal would cost you, and unless you know what you are looking for you almost wouldn’t know the difference. So what’s the big deal, anyway?

Unfortunately counterfeits can be dangerous or loaded with malware designed to steal your personal information, and even the websites you purchase them from could be doing the same. Counterfeits cost the global economy $323 billion in 2018 alone, and the problem just keeps getting worse.

Counterfeits Are Pervasive, Especially Online

There was a time when in order to buy something counterfeit, you would need to find an actual person selling things from an open air market in a large city. Thanks to the internet, social media, and shopping apps, now counterfeits are everywhere. An estimated two out of every five supposedly brand-name products online are counterfeits - everything from replacement batteries for your action camera to SD cards for your cell phone. More than a quarter of people reported unknowingly purchasing counterfeit merchandise online, often discovering their mistake when a serious malfunction occurred.

The Problem With Counterfeits

Counterfeit medications and supplements can cause death or serious injuries, but that’s not the only problem with counterfeit merchandise. Counterfeit electronics are often poorly made and not subject to the same safety regulations as the real deal. Fake electronics can cause fires and burn users. One test showed that 99% of fake iPhone chargers failed critical safety tests, shocking users and starting fires.

What’s more, counterfeit electronics pose security risks from a number of different angles. Counterfeit storage media can be riddled with malware or spying software, and the same can be said of pirated copies of software illegally downloaded from the internet. Websites where counterfeits are purchased can capture credit card numbers and issue fake cards with your name and number on them, leading to further theft of your property. Merchants of counterfeit items can also use sales to build a database of personally identifying information used in identity theft.

Even cryptocurrency isn’t safe from counterfeits. Cryptocurrency cold wallets, used to store cryptocurrency offline in a safe manner, can be counterfeited, leaving your valuable cryptocurrency open to theft. If you don’t buy directly from a trusted manufacturer, you may not even know you are getting a fake.

Counterfeits Fund Crime, Too

Oftentimes counterfeiting is just one piece of a larger crime picture. Counterfeits generate revenue for crime syndicates while also gathering personal information and credit card numbers, which in turn can fund or support even worse crimes such as human trafficking and the drug trade. If the thought of keeping money out of the hands of a wealthy luxury goods designer isn’t a deterrent, maybe knowing counterfeiting funds other illegal activity should be?

As much as 10% of medical products sold in developing countries is counterfeit, and 3 in 10 people didn’t realize they had bought a counterfeit product until it caused a bad reaction. Criminal syndicates aren’t only killing or injuring the people who buy their wares, they are also often involved in more serious crimes and they produce many counterfeit products in sweatshops or using child labor.

Counterfeits Cost Us All

From trade wars to unsafe products, counterfeiting costs us all. The advent of 3D printing has made it easier than ever to produce counterfeit products, so it’s up to consumers and manufacturers alike to be on the lookout. Consumers can use verified websites and research sellers to be sure they are reputable. More than anything, it’s important to look for a realistic price - no one wants to offload a brand new iPhone for $100 - that’s probably a fake. Learn more about the cost of counterfeiting from the infographic below.


Registration is open for The 4th GTDW Anti Illicit Trade, Brand & IPR Protection Conference & Exhibition, 16-18 June, Shanghai, China, part of GTDW China Trade Development Week. The leading international program for Brand Owners, Heads of IPR, Investigations, Customs & Tax Administrations, Police, Judiciary & Technologies.

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