The importation and distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods has raised serious concerns about public health and post-pandemic economic recovery, according to Europol.
The police organization Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment 2022 warned of a growing trade in counterfeit goods – from clothing and luxury items to medicines, food and drink, cosmetics and toys.
The estimated value of these goods in 2019 was €119 billion, almost 6% of total EU imports.
However, the figure could be even higher today, thanks to the pandemic and the dominant role played by the internet in enabling such criminal activity, Europol warned.
“Like many other criminal activities, counterfeiting now relies heavily on the digital realm to source components and distribute their products (both tangible and intangible) to consumers through online platforms, social networks and services. The COVID-19 pandemic has further reinforced this development,” its report warned.
“There is also evidence that counterfeiters launder their proceeds of crime using both traditional and more sophisticated schemes that utilize technology, trade-based money laundering and offshore jurisdictions.”
In some cases, such as in fashion, counterfeits are promoted through live sales, videos and sponsored social media ads, with customers being lured by low prices and discounts.
Counterfeiters are also exploiting the global shortage of semiconductors, with mobile phones and their components being among the hardest hit by intellectual property infringements, Europol said.
Digital piracy has exploded during the pandemic and remains a game of cat and mouse between rights holders and infringers.
“Websites illegally distributing audiovisual content are hosted on servers in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. The criminals involved are adept at using advanced technical countermeasures. In some cases, digital content piracy is linked to other cybercrime activities such as crypto-jacking or malware distribution,” Europol said.
“Hackers are exploiting new technologies to hide digital traces and using proxy services to create resilient hosting networks. Online presence during the COVID-19 pandemic has led to an increased supply of high-quality streaming devices and a variety of illicit content offerings.