Thousands of Facebook profiles and posts are being deleted by the UK police in an attempt to stop people selling counterfeit products on the social site. National Trading Standards has said this is the biggest attempt to stop social media piracy ever in Britain.
At least 12 locations have been raided by Operation Jasper enforcement officers over the last few weeks. There are still more than 22 ongoing investigations into counterfeited goods and copyright theft by criminals who are using social media sites to sell dangerous products.
Over 4300 Facebook posts and 20 profiles have been deleted so far, while over 200 warning letters have been sent. 24 cease and desist letters have also been sent to the places where the criminals are suspected to live in an effort to stop them listing fake items on the site before further action is needed to be taken.
Counterfeiting is an important matter because many fake items are toxic or dangerous as they haven’t passed the stringent tests that products need before they go on commercial sale. This is particularly true of electrical items and those targeted at children, which can cause the most detrimental effects due to the fact that they can contain harmful substances or be at risk of causing fires and shocks. Among the products seized by the police were Android television boxes with faulty chargers and hundreds of Cinderella dolls that contained large amounts of toxic phthalates.
In Worcester, two houses contained large numbers of fake computers, tablets and phones as well as sports goods such as tracksuits and trainers, according to Trading Standards. The National Trading Standards chairman Lord Toby Harris has 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”. He went on to say that criminals have now been shown that police can track them and seize products from their homes, as well as prosecute them, even if they are operating anonymously. Criminals who operate on social media sites think that they won’t be caught because they are selling online instead of in person, but the operation has been able to prove them wrong.
Business minister Nick Boles has also given his comments on the operation, saying that fake and pirated products harm businesses and put people out of jobs as well as posing dangers to the people who buy them. The government has funded the National Trading Standards e-Crime Team and it is this team who is carrying out the operation on Facebook and other social sites. Nick Boles has said “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”.
Last year, an operation named In Our Sites led by Europol seized more than 292 domain names for websites that were selling pirated and counterfeit goods. The operation involved 25 law agencies from 19 countries including those in Europe as well as the US Department of Homeland Security Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Trademark holders had provided details of the websites selling fake products. On the websites seized by Europol, the most commonly advertised and sold products were fake luxury goods, electronic equipment, sportswear, pirated music and films, and pharmaceuticals.
The In Our Sites project has seized over 1900 domain names since it began in November 2012 and Interpol has said that the sale of fake products not only poses risks to consumers, but also opens financial information up to fraud and often funds larger and more serious criminal activities. Speaking last year, Europol said “The crimes can cause revenue and tax losses, unemployment, environmental, health and safety issues for humans and animals, human exploitation and child labour”.
According to the IP Crime Report 2013/14, social media sites have overtaken auction sites as the preferred place for criminals to sell counterfeit and pirated goods, while Ofcom statistics show that 66% of adults own social networking profiles and 96% of those with an online profile have a Facebook profile.
Operation Jasper will continue into this year and National Trading Standards is urging anyone who suspects illegal activity online to report the details to Citizen’s Advice.