8. June 2022
10 June is World Anti-Counterfeiting Day. The occasion was established to focus on the damage that counterfeit products and certification marks can cause and how to prevent it. In the past five years alone, TÜV SÜD has taken action against over 200 cases of counterfeit certification marks at the EU’s borders and has uncovered an equal number while performing checks at exhibition stands. Over one million products were seized and taken off the market with the help of law enforcement authorities – approximately 800,000 of them at EU borders prior to being imported into the EU, the remainder during checks at trade fairs. TÜV SÜD continues its uncompromising battle against product piracy. Besides protection of our certification marks and our brand, our main concerns are consumer safety and health. The battle against counterfeiting is also one of the focus topics of the TIC Council, the international association representing independent testing, inspection and certification companies, which launched an anti-counterfeiting awareness campaign in December 2021.
Counterfeiting concerns all industries, affecting virtually every sector from consumer goods and electronics, food and beverages and pharmaceuticals and medical devices to personal protection equipment (PPE) during the Covid-19 pandemic. With consumers increasingly turning to online shopping during the pandemic, the USA and Europe saw a drastic rise in counterfeit and sub-standard products . This sharp increase in the number of fake products poses a threat to consumer health and safety. Over recent years, authorities on both sides of the Atlantic have seized millions of counterfeit or sub-standard products or products that involve certification mark misuse. Their actions have made the world a safer place.
“Counterfeit products pose a serious problem that we need to fight with all our might”, warns Holger Lindner, CEO of TÜV SÜD Product Service Division. The economic loss, both for individual companies and national economies, is enormous. “Product counterfeiters also undermine the legal requirements for safety tests, for example in accordance with the German Product Safety Act or the EU Directives on product safety”, explains Lindner. Product testing and certification are typically aimed at preventing hazards such as electric shock, fire, burns, chemical risks and electromagnetic and ionising radiation, together with the associated injuries. Manufacturers and distributors which fail to comply with due testing and certification requirements expose consumers to risks. To bring this problem under control, brand owners, associations and authorities are collaborating more closely at international level. To support this, the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in Alicante has established the EUIPO-IP enforcement portal, which enables closer and securer communication between the brand owners and EU law enforcement authorities. Several hundred enforcement authorities have already registered.
Zero-tolerance approach to counterfeiters of certification marks
Counterfeiters are primarily interested in renowned brands, including certification marks like the TÜV SÜD Octagon. “In our actions against counterfeiters of certification marks, we pursue an approach of zero tolerance”, emphasises Lindner. “Our primary concern, in addition to the protection of our certification marks and our brand, is to shield consumers against sub-standard and dangerous products.” On the basis of this approach, more than a million products have been seized and destroyed since 2017. In the two biggest actions in the last two years, for example, the main customs office in Heilbronn and the Italian Guardia di Finanza each seized lighters with counterfeit certification marks and destroyed them at the expense of the counterfeiters. Further confiscations at the port of Hamburg, at the port of Rotterdam and in Klaipeda/Lithuania included windscreen wipers, hand tools such as hammers and screwdrivers and alloy wheels.
“These actions alone demonstrate the international scale of product piracy”, explains Holger Lindner. “This is why we are also fighting these criminal schemes in the Anti-Counterfeiting Committee of the TIC Council – the international association of TIC companies – under the coordination of Europol and Interpol.” While controls fall under the responsibility of customs offices and national market surveillance authorities, TÜV SÜD has developed additional actions to protect its own brand. In Germany, for example, TÜV SÜD checks special offers in advertising media, on site at the points of sale and on relevant Internet trading platforms. “Whenever we notice inconsistencies in the use of our certification marks, we ask suppliers for clarification. In the event of misuse we take legal action against the supplier under civil, trademark and criminal law and blacklist the product or the counterfeit approval in a list that is published on the Internet”, reports CEO Lindner.
Shutting down shady online offers
By taking dedicated online tracing measures, TÜV SÜD ensures criminal actions on the Internet and in online shops are likewise uncovered. The experts have now also started to use artificial intelligence for this purpose. “If our checks reveal counterfeit certification marks, test reports, certification documents, incorrect information about official approvals or criminal actions, we immediately initiate the removal of the offer that is in violation of our rules”, explains Lindner. These actions are based on contracts governing the protection of intellectual property rights which are concluded with the individual platform operators.
In the future, TÜV SÜD also expects to see a rise in counterfeit and misuse cases concerning information on cybersecurity and sustainability. The TIC company has prepared for this by extending its close monitoring to these areas, with the aim of inspiring trust among consumers in products certified to be safe, (cyber)secure and sustainable.
The battle against counterfeiting is also a focus topic for the TIC Council. In December 2021 the TIC Council launched its anti-counterfeiting awareness campaign, “Check the Fake and Be Safe”, to raise consumer awareness of the dangers posed to our health and safety by counterfeit products and counterfeit certification marks or test reports.
Distinguishing genuine certification marks from fakes
A genuine certification mark comes in different forms; it may be a label or tag, or it may be included in the instructions for use. However, distinguishing a genuine certification mark from a fake can be difficult at times as the number of products with counterfeit certification marks is on the rise, primarily due to the enormous rise in online shopping. To make matters worse, fake and genuine certification marks are frequently identical. The only difference is that in the case of fake marks the fraudsters only have a fake licence – if any – to use them.
Typical signs of counterfeiting which consumers should look out for when assessing the authenticity of a mark include:
Many certification bodies offer information on their websites that may prove helpful for identifying counterfeit certification marks. The blacklist of TÜV SÜD Product Service is available on the internet at: https://www.tuvsud.com/en/services/product-certification/misuse-of-quality-marks
The TIC Council’s campaign page can be found at: https://www.checkthefake.com/
Picture caption: Holger Lindner
Press contact: Dirk Moser-Delarami