Counterfeits and Pandemic

India and the world witnessed two years of lockdown during which the most developed economies of the world fell apart. With the times so tough and economies facing the worst of their phase, the sector that gave a negative boom to the economies was counterfeits.

Evolution of Counterfeits in Pandemic

Counterfeiting is not a new challenge to the modern-day crimes but the way it got flourished during the pandemic is worrisome. The Covid-19 pandemic had an enormous impact on the way people shop and what they buy. It gave population more ways to profit from the trade of counterfeits. Closure of some businesses and disruption in transport channels led to significant distortions in the supply chains and thus the criminals leveraged this opportunity to make illicit profits. In recent years, counterfeiters started to use new technologies in the manufacturing and scanning process so that they could imitate the original products as closely as possible. These new age technologies not only allow the counterfeiters to manufacture fake products but also to copy the logo, design, barcodes, and other packaging features to circumvent traditional protection measures and mislead the customer in believing that they are buying original products.

In the medium and long term, the Covid-19 pandemic created an additional opportunity for criminals, leading to a substantial change in illicit trade volumes. The pharmaceutical sector has been the worst affected during the Covid-19 phase as during the pandemic people, industry, and governments demanded medicines, test kits, and protective equipment to combat the pandemic, and these demands, were often not met in a timely fashion. Criminals clearly took advantage of the global pandemic, and enforcement authorities reported a sharp increase in seizure of fake and substandard medicines, test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), as well as other medical products. As consumer behaviour got affected by the pandemic (for many, reduction in household income is one key factor), the type of products that were targeted for counterfeiting changed dramatically.

Broadening Scope of On-line Environment

Another observed trend is a substantial shift towards further misuse of the online environment. There was a robust growth in the supply of fakes on all types of online platforms, including those that used to be relatively free from this risk. Young shoppers and their love for shopping via livestream on platforms like Instagram, Facebook and YouTube, gave counterfeiters nearly unlimited access to a huge audience. And since there will never be enough brands for everyone who want them, many on those audiences were far more eager to get their hands on the items they wanted than they are concerned about their authenticity.

Reflexes and Response

Even when the world was running at a slow pace, the criminal networks reacted quickly to the crisis and adapted their strategies to take advantage of the shifting scenarios. Counterfeiters continued to supply counterfeit products even during the lockdown showcasing their well-organized network. As these networks expanded, markets got increasingly filled with counterfeiting goods.

For Brands, counterfeiting is a massive source of competition on a global scale as they have to worry not only about the legitimate competitors eating up their market share but also counterfeiters which affects the consumer’s ability to trust their goods in an open marketplace. Brands do not know how to handle the press and or coverage, so they fail to act and therefore it’s incumbent on brands to protect their products and their image from theft and fraud.

Steps to monitor Counterfeits

To tackle this crime of the 21st century, the brand owners must follow the organised and most reliable strategy called IMIS:

  • Identify – the markets with high probability of having counterfeit goods.
  • Markey Survey – to check the availability of counterfeits goods.
  • Investigate – to carry-out discreet enquiries in the potentially identified areas.
  • Surveillance – around the area to check the potential movement of counterfeit goods.

A more advanced approach to deal with the growing crime could be to set up a track and trace network which provides an ability to locate products through GPS and thus allow full traceability through the supply chain and promote greater transparency. With serialized codes, businesses can monitor products, and shipping containers across their supply chain. These codes can be scanned using a standard smartphone to authenticate or with technology to provide higher levels of security. Unique taggants and inks can further add to the complexity of the security.

Since counterfeiting continues to remain a serious threat to brands and companies worldwide including India, it has thus become essential for brands to have complete control in the fight against counterfeits and diversion of products.

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