Singapore

Surgical masks, vaccines among counterfeit goods on the rise online

On the back of alarming reports that fake Covid-19 vaccines made with chalk, wallboard and even pesticides are being peddled online, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) said a rising number of shoppers here have fallen prey to counterfeit goods being passed off as the real deal on e-commerce platforms.

Case received 33 complaints last year, up from 12 the year before and seven in 2018.

The pandemic has seen a rise in online shopping and more people working from home or staying in amid lockdowns.

Crime syndicates have responded by peddling more fake merchandise like personal protective equipment and vaccines, as well as less pernicious knock-offs like sportswear, electronics and e-books.

Case president Lim Biow Chuan said the most common types of products reported are watches, clothing, electrical and electronics goods and surgical masks.

Cyber Intelligence House, a partner of Interpol and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, alerted The Straits Times on March 16 to different brands of Covid-19 vaccines being sold on Telegram and the dark web.

One vendor, claiming to be from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, had advertised an unknown Covid-19 vaccine for 0.0017 bitcoin, or about $130 a dose.

Pfizer told ST that more counterfeit medicines are being peddled globally during the Covid-19 pandemic. This is partly from the rapid growth of the Internet and dark web, social media and global express delivery services.

The pharmaceutical company produces the Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine used in Singapore's inoculation drive.

Mr Yasar Yaman, Pfizer global security, regional senior director for the Asia-Pacific, said the company has found counterfeit medicines online, including their Covid-19 vaccine, that were made with wallboard and even pesticides.

Last year alone, Pfizer conducted more than 500 anti-counterfeiting investigations, resulting in over 280 arrests and more than 170 raids of counterfeit manufacturing sites globally.

Similarly, respirator and mask producer 3M has globally investigated more than 13,800 fraud reports and filed 33 lawsuits in the United States and in Canada as of April 19.

Its managing director for South-east Asia, Mr Kevin McGuigan, said counterfeit respirators are made using unknown processes and materials, with unknown or non-existent quality controls.

In early March, Interpol announced that the police in China and South Africa had arrested more than 80 people in connection with the sale of fake Covid-19 vaccines and 3M masks.

Case advises online shoppers to avoid buying products from dubious or unfamiliar sources, such as unknown online sites, as they could be counterfeit, unsafe or of poor quality.

Consumers can approach Case for assistance on its hotline on 6100-0315.

This article first appeared in The Straits Times.

E-commerce platforms say stringent curbs to fight fakes in place

To combat piracy and counterfeits, e-commerce platforms said they have stringent measures in place.

A Lazada spokesman said it has an intellectual property (IP) protection online portal for rights owners to file notices and takedowns against listings that may have infringed on their IP rights. Once a notice is filed, the Lazada team will take action within three working days, said the spokesman.

A Qoo10 spokesman said its team will give 72 hours for review and verification before taking the listing down. And if more than three listings have been taken down from the same seller, restrictions will be implemented on the seller's account.

In a 2020 US federal government report, Shopee was among those listed as an online market that allegedly facilitates substantial counterfeiting and piracy. In response, Shopee chief executive Chris Feng submitted a letter to the US office in November last year, outlining its policies on IP rights protection. For instance, sellers have to agree to Shopee's terms of service, which prohibits sellers from selling or offering for sale infringing and counterfeit goods.

It also said: "Violations by sellers would result in loss of platform privileges that increase in severity, culminating in the freezing of the seller's account on the platform." - THE STRAITS TIMES

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