Operation Stolen Promise was launched in April by Homeland Security working with other law enforcement and the private sector, notably 3M, to investigate Covid-19 related fraud and this resulted in a press conference announcement on February 17th by Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas that more than 11 million counterfeit N95 respirator masks had been seized, including hundreds of thousands of masks discovered in an east coast warehouse during a raid.
Mayorkas said Homeland Security agents had been investigating cases in five states across the U.S. over the past two weeks. More raids, he said, are expected over the next few weeks.
“We are at a vulnerable time, of course, with the pandemic costing so many lives and causing so much harm,” Mayorkas said at the press conference. “And that individuals, criminals exploit our vulnerabilities for a quick buck is something that we will continue to aggressively pursue.”
Mayorkas noted that the initial leads on the investigation came from 3M, which reported that suspected counterfeit masks were being purchased for health-care workers and first responders.
DHS officials declined to identify where the raids occurred, saying that they cannot comment on an ongoing investigation. Criminal charges are forthcoming, they said. DHS said they have notified about 6,000 suspected victims of the fraud in at least 12 states, including hospitals, medical facilities and others who may have purchased medical masks from what Mayorkas described as a “criminal enterprise.”
A key provision of the 1998 Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) is the takedown provision that allows copyright holders to file a request to have infringing material removed from the Internet, called a DMCA takedown.
During the first week in February, Google processed its five billionth removal request. Google has been tracking DMCA takedown requests via its Transparency Report since 2012 and receives hundreds of thousands of DMCA takedown requests a day.
Amazon launched a new anti-counterfeiting program to help brands from scammers and counterfeiters by letting them designate listings for removal. Part of the problem is that Amazon has made the process for listing products simple. Sellers can register with only a business name, e-mail, address, phone number, credit card, ID and bank account—but that has also allowed imposters to easily peddle versions of hot-selling items. For example, a seller could list a “used” version of a product that might be a fake. More than half of the sales on Amazon come from third-party merchants.
Amazon has enlisted the brands to help fight the fakes as part of Project Zero by including a tool that generates a unique code that the brand can print onto existing packaging or attach onto items using a sticker. The codes can be scanned to ensure a product’s authenticity when it enters an Amazon warehouse. This product serialization allows the brand owner to have automated protection and self-service counterfeit removal.
Project Zero was launched in March, 2019.
The FDA issued an alert after CorgioMed LLC voluntarily recalled all lots of Leafree Instant Hand Sanitizer Aloe Vera within expiry to the consumer level because the product is mis-labeled as “Edible Alcohol.” The hand sanitizer is an alcohol-based hand rub to applied externally to reduce bacteria on the skin when soap and water are not available.
As part of the product’s Risk Statement: “Ingesting hand sanitizer, which is intended for topical use, may result in alcohol toxicity. Symptoms of alcohol toxicity may range from lack of coordination, slowed or slurred speech, drowsiness to coma, which can be fatal. The warning also extends to pregnant mothers.
4e Brands North America recalled hand sanitizers that may contain wood alcohol. The products were manufactured in Mexico and sold under the brand names: Assured, Blumen and Modesa. The affected Hand Sanitizers are packaged in clear plastic bottles with variation of tops, including blue, white, or clear pumps or caps.
These two companies are part of a growing list of companies that have recalled their hand sanitizers because of risks to the public. The FDA has posted a list of the hand sanitizers that the public should avoid:
Amazon’s fashion design-specific AI initiative—AI Designer—has been in development since 2017. This is a program that creates garment designs independently.
Amazon is nearing the trial stage for AI Designer which was developed in Amazon Lab126, a research and development company founded in 2004 by Gregg Zehr, who is the design guru who developed Amazon’s Kindle line of e-readers and tablets.
AI designer uses a generative adversarial network that uses vast datasets and two competing neural networks to distinguish what is stylish and what isn’t. For data, the system has significant data and images that can be harvested from social media and print sources.
Will AI Designer replace fashion designers?
Even bigger questions are likely to arise concerning intellectual property. Will Amazon own the rights to its designs? How will Amazon go about protecting its designs from knockoffs and design pirates?
IACC Workshop with Google (10/8/2020)
The International AntiCounterfeiting Coalition (IACC) will present an online workshop with Google on Thursday, October 8th. The workshop is free to members and $50 for nonmembers.
Annabelle DanielVarda, Legal Director for Trademarks from Google, will cover an overview of Google’s counterfeit policies and measures to combat counterfeits across its products. Of special interest will be a discussion of Google’s new Counterfeit Removal Policy for Google Search launched in June. This new removal policy specifically targets webpages selling counterfeit goods. According to the policy, trademark owners (or their agents) can report and request the removal of a webpage selling counterfeits from Google Search results. Based on the notices received, Google will also develop a demotion signal to penalize frequently reported sites and reduce their visibility in search results.
To register go to the IACC’s training webinar page.
Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) seized counterfeit major league sports championship rings at JFK International Airport on July 7th. There were two separate shipments, one for eighty-four rings, and another for sixty with an M.S.R.P. $216,000 and $90,000 respectively for the legitimate rings.
This seizure follows a seizure in March of 177 rings in a shipment from China that arrived at JFK International Airport. The seizure was estimated at $11.7 million.
The seized rings infringed MLB, NFL, NHL and NCAA trademarks.
Both seizures were the result of CBPs vigilance in inspecting over one million packages that arrive daily at JFK International Airport. JFK is the largest of nine international mail facilities in the U.S. and handles about sixty percent of all international packages entering the country.
The Better Busines Bureau (BBB) has issued a consumer alert to warn consumers about counterfeit coupons. Counterfeit coupons, along with counterfeit tickets, are not new but in an insidious twist counterfeiters are using counterfeit coupons to steal personal information.
The fakes are often found on Facebook and are used to steal your identity and/or download malware. Among the most frequently distributed fake coupons are: Bath & Body Works, Costco, Aldi, Starbucks, Trade Joe’s. The coupons offer a bonus and free merchandise for sharing the link on social media. The link takes the consumer to a third-party website that asks for personal information to get the coupon while downloading viruses or malware.
On Monday, May 5 Inside Edition ran a short piece on counterfeit N95 masks. It was an undercover sting of a guy with a van in New York City calling the few shops that are open and offering to sell them N95 masks in bulk. Part of the pitch is that the masks were ‘manufactured in China.’ The news reporter for Inside Edition working with a camera crew in a van called the vendor and when he arrived spooked him by questioning him about the masks while filming him.
It wasn’t much of a story, however, Inside Edition, ran a much better story that is available on YouTube: “Coronavirus Crackdowns: Authorities Seize Masks, Fake Tests,” dated March 19, 2020, about authorities in Europe policing the underground market for N95 masks. The second part of the story deals with fake Coronavirus test kits.
Hardly a surprise that the Corona virus has provided an opportunity for unscrupulous fakes. On April 2nd, the Michigan Attorney General notified two business registered in Nevada and operating in Beverly Hills, CA to stop selling fake at-home COVID-19 kits.
U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) has seized two shipments to date. The first on March 20th, CBP officers at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) examined a parcel identified as ‘Purified Water Vials’ with a declared value of $196.81. It contained vials filled with a white liquid labeled ‘Corona Virus 2019’ and ‘Virus 1 Test Kit’. There were enough vials for over a hundred test kits. The next day, CBP officers at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport seized counterfeit test kits for COVID-19 and other illness, including meningitis, that came from the United Kingdom
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning to the public that the Covid-19 test kits are not available to the public but only to authorized medical staff. The Chinese government has had a problem with counterfeiters selling COVID-19 test kits and has taken quick action to stem the problem.