Don’t let your Bytes bite back! Online shoppers beware…

online shoppers
09 Oct 2017

Counterfeit is an ongoing problem but never more prevalent than during the festive season. And, with our struggling economy, we expect to feel it even more this year.

While many in South Africa are struggling and feeling financial pressure, trends have shown that consumer spending will continue nevertheless. Children prepare their Christmas wish lists for branded new sneakers, luxury watches and hopefully a new cell phone, causing parents to look for special deals both online and in the market to be able to make their Christmas dreams come true.

However, the old saying “if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is” applies – don’t be too quick to purchase items that are priced way below the normal price.

As online consumer confidence grows in South Africa, the online market is becoming more and more an attractive space for counterfeiters and fraudsters alike, as a result of the ability to remain anonymous and operate multiple websites with ease. They prey on the fact that most online shoppers are new to the game and abuse their naivety: The promise of that special dress, perfect for the office party and matching shoes for only R57 and delivery in a week… perfect timing, and in fact, you might as well spoil yourself and get another 5! Holiday wardrobe…tick! All sorted!

What’s the catch? It all looks legitimate and payment is completed through a reputable payment service provider so the customer goes ahead. However, what follows after confirmation that your shipment has arrived is another bill for, say, R2000 for excise and duties. Three kinds of duties are levied on important goods: Customs duties, Anti-dumping and countervailing duties and VAT (which is also collected on goods imported and cleared for home consumption). This indicates how important it is to remember to read the fine print and terms and conditions before ticking the box and pressing ’order’.

Globally, there is an increase in the trend of distributing counterfeit goods by courier and mail. This is primarily driven by the growing online market. These goods are available through both market sites and auction sites and are extensively marketed and advertised through social media. The counterfeiters use legitimate pictures and, in some cases, clone the look and feel of the original brand website. Most online channels provide mechanisms and complaint procedures where brand holders can report unauthorized use of their trade marks, and these procedures provide a quick and efficient remedy in supporting the removal of the infringing material or taking down of the illicit site.

So, how do you as a consumer protect yourself in the online space?

TAKE A STAND: make a pledge to only buy legitimate branded goods. Supply of counterfeit goods is solely dependent on demand. We as a consumer nation have full control and power over demand of these products. As Spider-Man says “With great power comes great responsibility”!

SPREAD THE WORD: Educate and spread the word. Encourage your family, friends and neighbours to only buy legitimate products.

DO YOUR HOMEWORK: research and read reviews, buy legitimate products through the licensed channels and the brand official websites to ensure authenticity and benefit of the company warranty and guarantees.

NAME AND SHAME: share your experiences and don’t feel ashamed of having been caught out. Counterfeiters operate in syndicates with sophisticated communication networks. Let’s ensure that we too communicate with other consumers and brand holders, thereby levelling the playing field.

REPORT IT: Apathy is one of the biggest threats to anti-counterfeiting initiatives. Take a stand and help make a difference. Most major brands have complaint lines or reporting pages for consumers to provide valuable information that can be used by stakeholders in the fight against counterfeiting. Anonymously report these issues to the SAPS Cybercrime Unit, the police unit specially formed to combat online crimes such as fraud, counterfeiting and other online criminal activities. Dealing in counterfeit goods is a criminal office and carries punishment of fines of up to R5000 per article and/or 3 years imprisonment for the first conviction and, in subsequent convictions, up to R10 000.00 fine per article and/or 5 years imprisonment.

Counterfeiting is an epidemic with multiple victims including the consumers, brand holders and our very own economy and ability to attract foreign investment. We, as consumers have the antidote, so let’s use it!

(This article is provided for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. For more information on the topic, please contact the author/s or the relevant provider.)
Jadon Wolmarans

Jadon is an Associate in KISCH IP's Anti-Counterfeiting Department and has a great deal of experience in trade mark prosecution and Anti-Counterfeiting strategies. Jadon assists clients by protecting their brands... Read more about Jadon Wolmarans


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