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Crackdown on counterfeiting & piracy online

Biggest enforcement operation ever seen in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland launched to combat piracy on social media.

Over the last few weeks enforcement officers have raided 12 separate locations and are still involved in 22 on-going investigations as part of a crackdown on counterfeiting and piracy on social media across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It sees the National Trading Standards eCrime Team working alongside the National Markets Group on Operation Jasper, one of the biggest enforcement operations of its kind, targeted at criminals who exploit social media channels to sell dangerous and counterfeit goods and commit copyright theft.

In a few short weeks the crackdown has seen officers raid 12 premises, take down 4,300 Facebook listings, 20 Facebook profiles, issue over 200 warning letters and deliver 24 cease and desist letters at the homes of suspected Facebook sellers. Operation Jasper brings together officers from 63 local authority trading standards’ teams, police officers, industry bodies and government agencies, and builds on the success of 2014’s Operation Watch.

During the operation officers seized a range of dangerous or toxic products, ranging from Android TV boxes with unsafe mains chargers to several hundreds of counterfeit Cinderella dolls containing high levels of toxic phthalates to name a few examples. The Android boxes allowed the illegal streaming of movies and sports channels.

A raid on a residential premise in the West Midlands led to the discovery and seizure of a small manufacturing plant turning out counterfeit T-shirts. Two more residential premises in Worcester contained a host of counterfeit packaged computers, tablets, mobile phones, T-shirts, tracksuits and trainers and these premises have been linked to part of Manchester’s Cheetham Hill area, dubbed “Counterfeit Street” in the press.

The growing use of social media has led criminals to exploit platforms to sell illicit products – according to the latest IP Crime Report 2013/14, social media has overtaken auction sites as criminals’ ‘channel-of-choice’ for counterfeit and piracy activity, whilst the latest statistics from Ofcom show that two-thirds (66%) of online adults now have a social networking profile.

Nick Boles, Minister at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said:“Counterfeiting and piracy of trademarked and copyrighted materials harms legitimate businesses, threatens jobs and pose a real danger to consumers. That’s why we are taking strong action to stop these criminals through the Government’s funding of the National Trading Standards E-Crime Team.

“These criminals rarely act alone and are often linked to serious organised crime groups. We want consumers to be aware of the wider consequences of buying fake products online as well as the risks they pose to their safety.”

Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards said: “Operation Jasper has struck an important psychological blow against criminals who believe they can operate with impunity on social media platforms without getting caught. It shows we can track them down, enter their homes, seize their goods and computers and arrest and prosecute them, even if they are operating anonymously online. I commend the National Trading Standards e-Crime team and all other parties involved in this operation.

“Criminals who operate on social media have become brazen because they think operating from their living rooms using laptops – without having to be physically present on market stalls – means they are less likely to get caught. I am extremely pleased that this operation has been able to prove that misconception wrong, but I would also like to urge consumers to remain vigilant and report any suspected online rogue traders to Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline on: 03454 04 05 06”.

Graham Mogg, Intelligence Co-ordinator for the Anti-counterfeiting Group (ACG) and Chair of the National Markets Group said: “As criminals have exploited new opportunities across social media platforms, enforcement agencies have had to work smarter to catch them. To that end the National Markets Group (NMG) worked closely with the National Trading Standards eCrime Team to lead and co-ordinate enforcement action bringing together NMG members including the police, British Recorded Music Industry, Anti-counterfeiting Group , Federation against Copyright Theft , Department for Work and Pensions, the Alliance for Intellectual Property, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Electrical Safety Council, Scambusters and Trading Standards teams We learned from Operation Watch that effective partnership work across both the private and public sectors would be essential for tackling IP crime on social media.”