The rising risk of counterfeit in light of COVID-19

04/03/2020

A Crisis is the perfect opportunity for counterfeiters!!!

It is internationally recognized that the risk of counterfeiting increases in times of crisis as counterfeiters take advantage of the urgent needs of society and the absence of effective enforcement to market their counterfeit products, therefore exposing the consumers to increased danger especially those related to foodstuffs, medicines, detergents including sterilization materials, and other materials that directly affect the consumers’ lives and which are regarded as daily “necessities”.

In this context, on March 19, 2020, the International Interpol[1] published a report on “Operation Pangea XIII” carried out by the organization in around 90 countries simultaneously, which resulted in the arrest of more than 121 imitators across the world and the seizure of dangerous pharmaceutical materials worth more than $14 million US Dollars. The organization noted that the seized products included Counterfeit facemasks, substandard hand sanitizers and unauthorized antiviral medication.

Furthermore, despite the efforts made by AMAZON to prevent the display, marketing and sale of counterfeit goods related to the emerging global crisis, that of corona, on its platform (consisting in over a million products), a large number of counterfeit and unlicensed goods found their way into the platform, according to a report published by Fox News[2].

As for Lebanon, a country which has been undergoing for several months now, great turmoil as a result of its financial, economic and banking crisis, such spread of the Covid-19 in this Mediterranean country has increased the weight of the economic and financial crisis at all levels. The production field and business sectors have in the majority closed, except for main sectors necessary for human survival such as foodstuffs, and the medical and hospital sector, and other essential fields. The incomes of the private and public sectors have decreased dramatically if not reaching a zero-revenue level, which directly affected the purchasing power of individuals who are now eager to obtain the necessary materials of food, medicine and sterilizers at the cheapest prices.

We have consequently noticed recently a major increase in counterfeit products and those which do not comply with the mandatory standards that were released in the Lebanese market in various regions, especially those related to detergents and sterilization materials, as these goods have now become the available alternative to genuine products of high quality and compliant with international standards. The counterfeiters have also taken advantage of the absence of effective price controls, as they are able to sell their counterfeit products at high prices, almost near the prices of some of the genuine products that are out of stock from the market given this crisis. This also has had the effect of increasing this illicit profit at the expense of the consumer and his health.

It is necessary to emphasize here that the risk of using these counterfeit products is multiplied  in these circumstances, since the counterfeit products do not contain any active materials or contain little thereof, so that this composition cannot kill viruses and bacteria as required. People who may be using these counterfeit products think that they are protecting themselves and their families from the risk of developing coronavirus, but they are mistaken, which poses an imminent danger to them, their families, and their surroundings.

Therefore, since the beginning of the Corona crisis in Lebanon, the enforcement authorities have been thankfully intensifying their efforts, namely the Internal Security Forces, Customs, and State Security Forces, and the Ministry of Economy & Trade bodies to combat the phenomenon of the widespread counterfeit products and non-compliant products, which led to the seizure of huge quantities of counterfeit goods in addition to the closure of many factories that produce these in Lebanon and capture of smuggling networks through the borders to protect the health and safety of the Lebanese citizen.

In addition to the measures taken by all the enforcement authorities, the Lebanese consumers must have enough awareness around the risks of using counterfeit and non-compliant products with doubtful specifications and must have zero tolerance in this matter. The consumer must pay careful attention and buy what he requires from reputable points of sale only and examine the products well before purchasing them to ensure that they are original products in terms of the product name (Brand Name), packaging, the information on it and its specification and price, as well as to report any suspicious products to the companies directly through their customer service or by reporting such incidents to the Consumer Protection Department hotline on 1739 or through their mobile applications.

As well, all local authorities must join efforts during this period, including municipalities, federations of municipalities and governorates, each within its geographical jurisdiction to combat the phenomenon of counterfeiting and prevent its spread across all cities and villages. The associations of merchants and the merchants must also be vigilant, and the national and professional conscience should interevent to deter them from dealing with counterfeit products, knowingly or due to the lack of awareness, and to be diligent in reporting to the relevant enforcement authorities their concerns as to any source of these products, since they pose an imminent threat to the health and safety of the citizens.

And the last call goes to the Lebanese Judiciary to be strict in imposing penalties against counterfeiters and to not tolerate such crimes, especially in the crucial circumstances that Lebanon and the world is going through, particularly to be stringent with those who deal with counterfeit foodstuffs, medicine, medical supplies, cleaning materials, and sterilization, since negligence in such imitations (killers !!!) will not deter the virus from them or others while they make substantial profit at the expense of the health and safety of consumers and even themselves. The epidemic will not distinguish between one person and another and will not have mercy on anyone!!!!

 

By: Attorney Nisrine El Haddad

SADER & Associates (Advocates and Legal Consultants)

Partner and Head of Intellectual Property Department

Article source: AMAK

Picture source: https://www.freepik.com/free-vector/fake-drugs-carton-package-box_6690771.htm#page=1&query=counterfeit&position=3

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