Over the past few days, high profile stories have circulated in the media over the sales of counterfeit products, or ‘dupes’, on social media and ecommerce platforms.
Recent research from Which? and the Guardian have highlighted how sellers operate in plain view on major online marketplaces, selling and promoting fakes ranging from beauty to fashion – and even furniture – on the likes of TikTok and Etsy.
Such concerning scams pose a huge risk to consumers and brands alike. What’s more, they reinforce the need to act on fakes online and ensure they are removed – before causing serious reputational and financial damage.
But it doesn’t end there. When it comes to identifying counterfeits online, social media and ecommerce are far from the only targets. Enter “independent websites”.
What are independent websites?
Independent websites, as the name suggests, are operated and run on an individual basis, outside of social media or ecommerce.
Typically smaller (though more numerous) in scale than major marketplaces, and unbound by the international regulations demanded of larger entities, independent sites present a perfect storm for at-risk brands. What’s more, they are often harder to monitor and police – particularly if left unchecked.
Why are they dangerous?
While sellers promoting fakes on major marketplaces may reach a huge audience, once identified and reported, the likes of Amazon, eBay or Facebook will review and, if evidenced, remove the infringing content. This is because, like legitimate brands, major platforms recognise IP and are internationally regulated.
Unlike major marketplaces however, with independent websites, there are often no greater powers to enforce action against counterfeiters. In many instances, the sites are actually run and operated by the counterfeiters themselves.
To appear legitimate, these shady sites are often promoted as discount outlets or local distributors, often with near-perfect branding. The most convincing clone websites may even have a similar domain name to your brand’s, increasing the danger of reputational damage and customer confusion. However, unlike the real thing, what’s on offer is not.
Unfortunately, counterfeit products are typically substandard and completely unregulated, so when a consumer buys a heavily “discounted” favourite, the true cost is far more insidious. For a much-loved designer fragrance, this could be an adverse reaction from toxic chemicals, while fake children’s toys may present a serious choking hazard – and everything in between.
If that weren’t enough, with many independent sites run by criminal gangs, your order may not even arrive, leaving bank details stolen and your money scammed.
These sites are highly dangerous and pose a huge risk to consumers and brands. In the last year, since the war in Ukraine first began, there has also been a major rise in them, particularly Russian-registered sites, with 12,526 websites being taken down by Europol last year.
When it comes to the impact of independent sites, they not only put consumers at risk and divert revenue from brands, but they also damage reputations. Whether a consumer buys an inferior counterfeit or simply has their personal data stolen, genuine brands will often come into the firing line for inaction.
What’s more, for any brand seeking to maintain their revenues, reputation and social responsibility obligations, comprehensive brand protection is essential – including independent website monitoring and enforcement.
Tacking the problem
One of the biggest challenges with tackling infringers on independent websites is that they are often run by criminal groups and may be hosted in jurisdictions where Intellectual Property laws may not be recognised.
However, all is not lost. Depending on the issue at hand, sellers can be tackled by contacting their domain or web host providers. For non-compliant providers, there are also a host of escalation measures and international adjudicators – helping ensure serious offenders do not escape notice.
As an experienced brand protection provider, SnapDragon helps brands protect themselves against fake independent websites every day, continually monitoring and enforcing online infringements using our Swoop software and brand experts.
For more information on how we can help your brand, get in touch now.