Counterfeit alert: Social media becomes breeding ground for fake luxury items

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Counterfeit alert: Social media becomes breeding ground for fake luxury items

Popular site Instagram flooded with bogus profiles selling counterfeits of big brand shoes & gadgets at cheap prices.

How much are you willing to spend on a pair of the hottest sneakers, automatic watches, cosmetics or bags in the market?

For the thousands who cannot afford the price tag but still want the brand name, there's hope on social networking sites. The catch: the products being sold here at cheap prices are often knock-offs of popular goods.

Social media platforms like Instagram have become a hub of bogus profiles peddling counterfeit luxury items. Thousands of active accounts on the photo-sharing site as well as Facebook were found selling replica products and many are duping shoppers.

Mail Today found scores of pages on Instagram and Facebook selling fake goods.

Most popular categories are sports shoes, watches, sunglasses, designer wear, gadgets and bags of famous brands. Watch, perfume and cosmetics' manufacturers are affected too.

The list of violations is not confined to counterfeiting as many sellers use trademarks improperly or pretend to be official accounts of brands. Such imitation items were earlier sold in the byways of Nehru Place, Palika Bazar, Chandni Chowk, Karol Bagh and Lajpat Nagar. But peddlers have now found safer refuge on social media sites as well as a brand new customer base.

Experts say that a large share of the replica products comes from South Asian countries, with China being a major contributor. Traders book piles of these products and sell them as genuine goods, bruising big brands.

The counterfeit market directly affects luxury companies, resulting in profit dip and damaged brand value. Sale of fakes not only means lost sales for genuine firms through purchase of the bogus items, but also losses through the idea that a product is no longer exclusive. Observers say sellers of fake goods are using new tricks to mislead buyers.

Such pages copy images from original websites and even do photo shoots with Indian models to promote their goods.

None of these pages mention any address and communicate only through WhatsApp and accept payment via digital wallets. Many gullible shoppers have been duped by such pages which shut after taking orders in bulk.

"I came across a shopping profile, claiming to be selling branded shoes at discounted price. He offered me a sports shoe of a leading brand at Rs 3,500 which cost Rs 14,999 in market. He also shared pictures of the shoes on WhatsApp and took money through Paytm but stopped communicating after the payment.

He also closed down the page after a few days," said Sharad Sinha from Delhi. There are several forums where buyers have listed details of 'authentic' dealers who are delivering fake products.

Mail Today came across many phony sellers who claim that if the account description says the product is a copy or a replica, then they are not breaking any rules. But legal experts say all such vendors violate intellectual property rights (IPRs).

"There are many sellers who are importing counterfeit goods from China and then selling them on Instagram and Facebook. They are selling goods in the name of luxury brands which is in violation of copyright, trademark and patent. Manufacturers can complain against such sellers," said Mumbai-based cyber lawyer Prashant Mali.

Triveni Singh, additional superintendent of police in Uttar Pradesh's special task force, said sale of fake goods is thriving on social media platforms as people love to flaunt expensive brands.

"We have received several complaints where no goods were delivered after the payment of fake product was sent to the buyers who were expecting a genuine one," Singh said.

Instagram says it is interested in helping users and organisations defend their intellectual property rights. Terms of use don't allow posting content that violates one's intellectual property rights, including copyright and trademarks.

"The manufacture, promotion or sale of a counterfeit good is a type of trademark infringement that is illegal in most countries, and is recognised as being harmful to consumers, trademark owners and honest sellers. Please note that counterfeit goods may be unlawful even if the seller explicitly says that the goods are counterfeit, or otherwise disclaims authenticity of the goods," the app says.

Users can report any such instances by filling an online form provided by Instagram. Facebook, which owns Insta, has an identical policy.

Experts say these sellers use various algorithms to recognise consumer behaviour and preferences based on the content that they share, like or repeatedly follow. "Through sponsored post they push their advertisements to the audience that are interested in such products and lure them by with attractive prices," said Kislay Chaudhary, a cyber crime expert.