Amazon has established a Counterfeit Crimes Unit, which it described as “a global, multidisciplinary team composed of former federal prosecutors, experienced investigators and data analysts” to help it bring sellers listing counterfeit products to justice.
According to a statement, the Counterfeit Crimes Unit will mine data and information from external sources like payment service providers and “open source intelligence,” and it will use “on-the-ground assets” to “connect the dots between targets.”
This, Amazon said, will help it more effectively pursue civil litigation against sellers, work with brands and aid law enforcement.
Amazon recently joined forces with safety, healthcare and consumer goods company 3M and designer Valentino in lawsuits against alleged counterfeiters.
Amazon said its first objective is to “prevent a counterfeit from ever being listed in its store.”
In 2019, Amazon said it blocked over 6 billion suspected bad listings and blocked over 2.5 million suspected bad actor accounts, thanks to its “comprehensive proactive anticounterfeit programs.”
Now Amazon says it seeks to “drive counterfeit to zero.”
As Adweek previously reported, copycat products are widely available on Amazon, partially due to the proliferation of third-party sellers—1.2 million of which were added in 2019. These products cause big headaches for brands that want to control quality, the customer experience and their reputation. And, to date, fighting them is a never-ending process.
Even Amazon itself admitted in its 2018 annual report that it “may be unable to prevent sellers in our stores … from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated or stolen goods, selling goods in an unlawful or unethical manner, violating the proprietary rights of others or otherwise violating our policies.”
As a result, the company acknowledged the Amazon Marketplace “could harm our business or damage our reputation, and we could face civil or criminal liability for unlawful activities by our sellers.”
In an August 2019 email, following an exposé in The Wall Street Journal about banned, unsafe and mislabeled products on Amazon, Larry Pluimer, then-CEO of Amazon agency Indigitous, said, “The conclusion here is something we already knew, which is that Amazon either can’t or won’t adequately police its sellers and protect consumers.”
He cited counterfeits, lead-based toys and accident prone cribs as some of the problematic items and noted that 40% of third-party sellers are based in China. “There are millions of Amazon [third-party] sellers, and the restrictions Amazon has in place to govern them are inadequate,” he added.
Now, with its Counterfeit Crimes Unit, Amazon is talking tough.
“Every counterfeiter is on notice that they will be held accountable to the maximum extent possible under the law,” said Dharmesh Mehta, vice president of customer trust and partner support at Amazon, in a statement. “We are working hard to disrupt and dismantle these criminal networks, and we applaud the law enforcement authorities who are already part of this fight.”
He also called on the government for tools, funding and other resources to stop criminal counterfeiters.