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Cybersquatting & Typosquatting: Where Does The Web Identity Theft End?

This is the 21st Century, the era where a person could very erroneously type a wrong letter in a URL and end up in a rabbit hole of mischievous scams. That’s right. Autocorrect and simply not knowing the right domain extension could lead you into some unfortunate situations that might lead to parting with your hard-earned money.

According to statistics from First Site Guide, as of June 2021, there were 1.86 billion websites registered on the World Wide Web. However, this doesn’t leave a lot to be impressed about since over 1.4 million phishing sites are created every month. It’s mind-boggling to estimate the outrageous number of people falling to these scams and annoying antics every second. Cybercrime is the major disadvantage of the hitch-free methods, incredible ease, and extremely affordability of creating a website today. There’s little to no authenticity assurance (even with the “HTTPS” protocol), the bad has obviously outweighed the good, and of course, we are just getting started.

Rogue websites are one of the many forms of Intellectual Property infringement, where certain individuals or groups may create websites online for various malicious purposes such as selling counterfeits, hijacking brand identities for fraudulent purposes, scamming customers, spamming other websites, and running smear campaigns against individuals and legitimate brands.

Cybersquatting

To understand cybersquatting, imagine a group of kids heading up to summer camp is to share a sleeping hall with bunk beds assigned by name tags. Some of the kids would get to the hall first, occupy their beds and those of others, and then charge other kids $50 each to release corners that already had their names attached. Makes no sense, right?

On a larger and more bothersome scale, cybersquatting involves people occupying domain names of registered trademarks, personal brands, and public figures with the malicious intent to blackmail them into paying for these domains in the future. Other times, the culprits would take over the domains either to drive traffic to another site or to tap into the trademark’s authentic reputation and run scam operations online.

A registered brand may occupy only the .com extension of the domain name, leaving the .net, .org, and everything else unoccupied and vulnerable to online pirates. Many of the world’s top celebrities have been easy victims to these wicked antics. Madonna was forced into a legal battle when a guy named Dan Parisi registered a domain under her name, Madonna.com, and worked off her reputation to create an adult website. Madonna won the court case and had the site handed over to her.

 Jennifer Lopez only runs the .com extension of her name, Jenniferlopez.com, but someone created the .org and .net extensions to coordinate flimsy scams with affiliate links. J.LO battled relentlessly and eventually had the domains handed over to her.

Another variant of cybersquatting is parody sites, where apparently jobless individuals create websites as jokes to mock, mimic, or embarrass a person, brand, or business. It blows out of proportion when the parody starts getting more attention than the actual website and proceeds to spread malignant information or run embarrassing operations.

Cybersquatting has left many businesses unable to reach their full potentials online, losing their claims to domains that promise solid search engine ranking and considerable visibility. For the more malicious cases, it’s also one of the fastest ways to severely damage a brand’s reputation online by registering their trade name and running shameful operations on these sites.

Typosquatting

Typosquatting involves scammers registering the domain names of brands and businesses with highly likely or common spelling errors. This way, they can redirect traffic from the authentic sites and perpetuate all forms of cybercrime and malignant antics. Microwsoft.com, Guccci.com, Adobe33.com, Apple-brand.com, are some of the examples of the alterations that could leave genuine global brands smeared in the mud.

Some of the world’s most famous brands and top companies are daily victims of typosquatting attempts. For example, the number of “Google.com” variants in the world is virtually impossible to keep track of. From misspellings and the inclusion of symbols to number variations and transliteration, Google has an entire department of engineers working to keep these problems at bay. If you erroneously type Googel.com, you’d be redirected to Google.com and this is one excellent way of limiting brand abusers’ access to common misspellings.

Preventing cyber abuse

Just like counterfeiting and other forms of IP rights infringement, cyber abuse doesn’t only affect top-tier brands. Any business or brand with a semblance of an online reputation could be targeted. The abusers would work off your progress, damage your reputation, direct traffic away from your website, and create a mountain of search engine optimization issues. 

Below are a few tips for preventing cyber abuse:

Invest in buying extra domain extensions:

Don’t wait until you become a million-dollar business to buy the .org, .net, .space, .co, .online, and country-specific extensions of your domain name. This is also really helpful in online growth because clicks on these domains could be redirected to your main website to increase traffic, visibility, and sales.

Buy up misspellings as well:

Many business owners might consider this a bit of a paranoid stretch, but you’d appreciate it when your brand takes off massively and infringers start nosing about for inlets. 

Put out public service announcements regularly:

Always make intentional efforts across social media, mainstream media, and anywhere else you might have customers to disclaim any websites bearing your trademark outside your stipulated list of domains. Forewarn your customers and safeguard your reputation.

Do it the AXENCIS way:

Most times, cease-and-desist letters aren’t always an adequate option. At absolutely zero cost to your business, AXENCIS will deploy the smart brand protection plan to restore your reputation and help you reclaim your lost revenue. Our interdisciplinary team of analysts, scientists, and lawyers could pinpoint the location of the abusers and initiate legal actions against them: freezing the accounts, seizing their assets, reclaiming your domains, and securing large payouts for our brand. Read more about cost-free services HERE.

The Doubting Thomas Syndrome: Why Most Business Owners are Caught Off-Guard by Counterfeiting Problems

“Brand protection is an extremely important yet vastly under-regarded step to business building.”

Like COVID-19, counterfeiting is one of those hard-smacking realities that people never believe could happen to them – until it does. It’s one of those things you read about online, skim through in the journals, ignore statistics in the news, and while you accept that it’s quite real and happening to other people, something this awful simply can’t happen to your business.

Well, until you perform a random search of your patented product online and find 1-100 unfamiliar listings across Amazon, Wish, and Etsy. That’s right, a hard-smacking reality. Situations like this are often attributed to a mild/benign psychological affliction – The Doubting Thomas Syndrome, characterized by the need to see, experience, or witness something to believe it.

In this case, many business owners are at major losing ends by being merely reactive to counterfeiting issues. Reports show that at least 85% of genuine businesses are affected by counterfeiting and IP rights infringement in some form, ranging from full-on brand-jacking and trademark theft to nuisances like hashtag abuse. Many small business owners are convinced that piracy only happens to the top brands, the Chanel, Gucci, Microsoft, and Adobe league. Why spend scarce startup funds and unavailable time implementing anti-counterfeiting measures when the problem doesn’t even exist? “Could it even happen to a tiny business like mine?”

Sadly, even a day-old business could fall victim to leeching piracy. Waiting to actually witness infringements on your IP rights is akin to sitting like a duck in a bullet haze. You’d be left to grow a young business with an already soured reputation. One of the many disadvantages of e-commerce globalization is the ease at which anyone can abuse other people’s trademarks from any location in the world and get away with little or no consequences. 

What to expect from an actual counterfeiting case 

Counterfeiting is one of the many forms of intellectual property abuse and it affects only product businesses (physical and software items). By Wikipedia’s definition, counterfeiting is the act of “fraudulently imitating something authentic, with the intent to steal, destroy, or replace the original, for use in illegal transactions, or otherwise to deceive individuals into believing that the fake is of equal or greater value than the real thing.”

Counterfeiting is not the same as copyright infringement – the use of copyrighted works without permission. However, many elements of trademark infringement can be found in counterfeiting. For example, a person creating fake versions of Nike’s Airforces will certainly use the company’s proprietary design and logo, even though the quality would most likely not be as excellent as Nike’s. In this case, a patent has been infringed, the logo has been abused, and a pirated product will be distributed into the online and physical markets to join the millions of Nike fakes already in circulation. If there’s one way to perfectly describe it, counterfeiting is an exhausting plague.

Here’s what to expect:

Exact copies of your products in circulation:

A counterfeiting problem generally implies that someone is recreating and possibly rebranding your product for sale. Most times, they are exact copies of your original ideas and could be so nicely executed that customers would have a hard time spotting the difference without serious inspection. Other times, they could be shameful attempts at recreation and anyone buying them would either know they are fake or accuse your brand of quality reduction.

Unwarranted complaints from customers:

This is one of the major dividends of a smeared reputation. It’s common on social media to find angry customers firing up comment sections of highly reputable businesses for suddenly selling poor-quality items. These comments are considered negative reviews and would certainly deter potential customers from patronizing these brands. Many times, angry customers unknowingly purchase counterfeit items and inevitably, the authentic brand would pay the price for a crime committed against their own business. The irony. 

It gets worse when these counterfeit products are capable of causing harm or fatalities to people. A business could be destroyed entirely when one life is lost from the consumption or use of a product bearing its trademark. In the heat of public outrage, no one would care if it’s counterfeited or not.

A decimated customer pool:

At some point in the counterfeiting cycle, it doesn’t exactly matter if the customers are intentionally buying knock-offs or they are being deceived by the culprits. The result is the same for your business: lower revenues, slashed sales, and a discouraging lack of brand loyalists. Most times, counterfeits are sold at prices far lower than the original, and sadly, for the average consumer in the currently unfavorable world economy, lower prices trump over excellent quality/durability.

Fake pages and websites springing up with your brand’s name:

Counterfeiters also need spaces to advertise their merchandise online. They build authentic-looking or crappy websites, create fake pages across social media, and dozens of listings on e-commerce marketplaces. Essentially, your brand has been hijacked.

Getting proactive

As a business owner, waiting to react to counterfeiting is one of the most counterproductive plans to deploy as a strategy. This only implies that a certain degree of damage would be done to your brand and reputation before you can swing into action. It’s a better approach to have a solid strategy already in place before these problems occur.

Brand protection is an extremely important yet vastly under-regarded step to business building. It involves a series of activities initiated by a business owner to prevent the illegal or unauthorized use or general abuse of their intellectual property. Essentially, it means to safeguard your brand from leeches working to reap off your progress.

At AXENCIS, we offer our clients a chance to protect their business, safeguard their reputation, and reclaim revenue lost to counterfeiting antics. We stand out by working the 21st-century way, running our cutting-edge proprietary software that performs thorough scans for infringement across all major online marketplaces. AXENCIS does not merely stop at taking down fake accounts and infringing listings – we target, pinpoint, and prosecute the culprits, regardless of their location on the globe. We help our clients reclaim lost revenue through the seizure of the culprits’ assets and liquidation of their accounts. This also allows us to provide our services COMPLETELY FREE OF CHARGE as our service costs are covered in this step. Simply put, AXENCIS, provides a loss-proof solution and long-lasting remedy to the counterfeiting nightmare.

$30 iPhones & $40 Richard Mille’s: Here’s why items are insanely cheap on Wish

Red, orange, and some more red flags should go off in your head if you’re spammed on Facebook with a carousel of sophisticated smartphones with prices as low as $20. Where an iPhone X from Apple should normally cost between $320 and $380 from trusted vendors, you could very easily find listings on Wish for about $30 to $50. A $50 brand-new iPhone.

HOW?

This is because a vast majority of the vendors and manufacturers on Wish are located in China, the poster country for counterfeiting and piracy. Chinese manufacturers have the highest production advantage in the world due to a series of national policies and time-evolved strategies to greatly reduce manufacturing and international shipping costs. It’s generally assumed that Chinese producers simply pay less in taxes and wages when compared to other advanced countries. This advantage only contributes partly to the overall scene, where manufacturers in China pay close attention to learning curves and come up with “innovative” ways to slash down overall production costs. The result is inevitable – low-quality products at insanely affordable prices.

While Wish first debuted in 2010 as an American international e-commerce platform, they began to market wholesale and retail merchandise in 2013. While they never planned to be the no. 1 “online dollar store”, extreme affordability for a wide variety of products became the game plan over time. 

While the abnormally low prices could be suspicious, Wish can be compared to Amazon and eBay in terms of user safety. It was named the most downloaded shopping app in 2018 and is now ranked the third-largest e-commerce company in the United States. This means that you can very safely key in your user details, order products, and they’ll be delivered to your doorstep or chosen pickup station.

Wish Infringement: The actual problem

While your products may safely arrive (usually takes forever due to the super-low shipping fees), no one promises they are going to be what you saw on the product listing. Hundreds of user reviews on the site and Quora contain bitter complaints about the abysmal quality of clothes, products not being the same sizes, electronics malfunctioning within a single day of use, and when you order a Gucci bag for $5, don’t get upset when a Versace purse arrives.

Wish prides itself as a company that pays attention to the counterfeiting problem. However, a disclaimer in IP rights protection policy states that “as a passive platform, Wish is not actively involved in the listing, sale or delivery of items offered by its merchants.” A nicer way to say, “We are not responsible”.

While Amazon, eBay, and other top sites also deal with counterfeit products and fake listings, Wish has a more complex bite of the problem because it doesn’t supply as many American and international brands as the other platforms. Also, its niche of the market and stronghold lies in supplying products at heavily discounted prices. The only way to sustain the target market at the beginning was for vendors to offer irresistible low prices directly from their factories without resellers or third-party vendors.

However, this means it also has a strong reputation as the “low expectations” kind of e-commerce website. Generally, for actual Chinese brands and companies, the products are cheap, relatively good and if you’re not buying something with the potential to explode or cause harm, you should be quite satisfied.

However, an illegally disappointing situation blooms when registered international brands are counterfeited relentlessly on Wish. These days, it’s almost as if there’s no filter for these vendors as they sell regularly-priced $100,000 Richard Milles and $1,700 Apple products for as low as $20. Sadly, thousands of customers intentionally seek out popular brands as knock-offs – fully aware of the highly likely inferior quality. You can only hope the item would look a little presentable and last longer than 3 days.

How does Wish protect authentic brands?

Wish reserves the right to remove any listing infringing on legitimately registered IP rights from its platform, without the permission of the vendor. Merchants and brands whose rights and trademarks have been abused can file a report to Wish, providing evidence of infringement and identifying the counterfeited products. Upon verification of the report, Wish may disable the infringer’s access to the products or listings and if the culprit user is a repeat offender, they may be totally banned from the platform forever.

The major problem all e-commerce platforms encounter with counterfeiters is recurrence. The algorithms may be able to ban an IP address from creating more accounts, and some technologies are sophisticated enough to fish out VPN users. Sadly, most counterfeiters operate off several devices and it’s only a matter of time before they pop up again.

Simply put, your brand protection responsibilities remain largely up to you.

At AXENCIS, we provide business owners and anti-counterfeiting managers with a 21-st century inspired solution for tracking, verifying, uprooting, and prosecuting cases of infringement and brand abuse. Where traditional methods mostly stop at removing listings and manually searching online platforms for future pop-ups, AXENCIS offers the smart brand protection solution, where an expert team of investigators deploys our cutting-edge software to constantly scan all major marketplaces online – Amazon, eBay, Wish, Alibaba, Joomla, etc. Following the removal of counterfeit listings, we step up the notch to target, track down, and prosecute the culprits, regardless of their location in the world. Their accounts are frozen and assets seized, allowing us to secure compensating payouts for our clients to reclaim their revenue.

AXENCIS offers all these benefits – and then some – completely free of charge to our clients. ALL our operational costs are covered from a percentage of the culprits’ assets, allowing us to offer the ultimate no-loss solution to relentless counterfeiting. 

As a customer shopping on Wish, here are some tips rules to avoid purchasing disappointing items:

  • Always read product reviews. They are not always truthful or authentic on every platform, but they could be very helpful.
  • The product sizes can be very deceptive – or non-existent. Items are usually smaller than they look in the pictures.
  • Edited pictures make low-quality products appear sophisticated.
  • Pay attention to the seller’s information and Wish ratings.
  • If it’s an obvious fake, don’t go for it. It’s usually not worth the toss of dignity.

Choosing an IP Rights Enforcement Plan – Here’s what to consider

There are far too many possible scenarios through which a brand’s intellectual property rights could be abused or infringed upon. Some are small-scale, possibly negligible, and others may threaten to destroy the growth, progress, and overall success of the business.

For example, a big company running a massive followership on Instagram may have one loyalist set up an unauthorized fan page out of genuine love. The fan page proceeds to garner a considerably large following by reposting content from the brand’s main page. They also never pretend to be the actual owners of the business, sell items, or divert customers. The page was created entirely to promote love and draw attention to the business. However, they are using content without permission, not giving due credits to the original business, and while they are not hurting the brand, this kind of behavior should not be encouraged.

To solve the problem and not lose a solid following of loving fans, the business owners privately send a gently-toned yet firm letter to the fan page’s administrators, instructing them to always credit content to the original brand and also appreciating their efforts at promoting the business. This fan page complies, and the issue is solved.

However, a more problematic situation turns up when a fan page begins to run a side business off the reputation of the main brand. They are selling a wide variety of their own merch designed with the brand’s logos and ideas, running ads on the page, and diverting a significant cut of the customer pool. They’ve become parasitic and would probably cause the business to lose a chunk of revenue.

The problem is solved with the deployment of a full-on brand protection strategy, beginning with the removal or deletion of the page by Instagram, collation of evidence against the page’s administrator, and a prosecution process to secure a compensating payment from the culprit to the original brand.

The cases above are two different IP rights infringement scenarios handled with different scale-suitable strategies. Essentially, you don’t exactly need to bring a gun to a knife fight or vice versa. Coming up with an enforcement or protection plan might be a bit tricky for many entrepreneurs, and so, below are a few considerations to keep in mind.

The nature of the problem

As described above in the example cases, a simple letter could totally solve one infringement case while in another, a full-blown court case spanning through several months would be the only option. It all depends on the nature of the problem – how serious or minor was the infringement on your IP rights? A culprit that’s merely using your brand’s special hashtags and another that’s counterfeiting your merchandise for sale couldn’t possibly be handled with the same approach. The severity of the infringement largely determines what plan to be deployed.

Generally, a product deployment manager, anti-counterfeiting representative, or HR manager –depending on the size of the organization – could work with a legal advisor to draw up notices and cease-and-desist letters for simple cases. On the other hand, a business might have to outsource its entire brand protection department to an external service. For larger businesses with considerable visibility, this is best done before the situation arises or gets out of hand.

Handling within or outsourcing

This decision depends on the size of your business and of course, the nature of any issues that may already be in play. Sometimes, a brand may not exactly have the resources or capability to internally handle or dispel IP rights abuse issues. Consider connecting with a company that specializes in brand protection. For many businesses, this may not be the most budget-friendly or cost-effective plan – outsourcing usually costs a lot of money.

However, at AXENCIS, the smart brand protection plan is deployed by our team of expert investigators using our brand-developed, monitoring and surveillance software to scan all major online marketplaces for infringements. We constantly monitor the web and run background checks on possible infringement cases for verification, prior to the full take-down and prosecution procedures. We also secure substantial compensations for our clients through the seizure of the culprits’ assets. All our services are rendered free of charge to the client, totally free of any hidden costs as our operational fees are covered from a percentage of the seized assets.

Not every outsourced service would deplete your revenue. For example, AXENCIS works to help you reclaim it.

Customer loyalty

It’s important to consider the possible impacts of IP rights enforcement on an existing fan base or customer pool. Referring back to the case of fan pages, if the community is not necessarily malignant to the progress of the company, a forceful approach might just cause the company to lose a significant number of loyalists. In this case, a diplomatic approach is wiser. Recall that this fan page is actually drawing attention and loyalty to your business – taking nothing for itself. Harshly uprooting them would most likely turn out to be counter-productive.

Future occurrences

When it comes to intellectual property problems, they are not exactly situations you can simply wish away. It’s important to always be ready for the worst because the larger a business grows, the more likely it is to be bothered by antics from people looking to tap into its success. Any strategy being implemented in the present should have some solid plans for preventing infringement cases in the future and protecting the brand in the long term.

“Brandjacking” Trend in 2021 – Rarely Beneficial, Mostly Destructive

For some context, imagine going through your Instagram DMs on a random day and you spot a message from the username: VersaceTrivia”. They claim you’ve been shortlisted for some contest organized by the global Italian fashion company, Versace, and all you have to do is pay $20 to a CashApp account to enroll in the trivia game. After this, you stand a chance to win $10,000 and free gifts from any Versace outlet in your locale.

From a mile away, many people would smell a scam being run by some dingbat who probably hasn’t paid his electricity bill for the month. There would be no need to link any of it to the actual, legitimate Versace. Sadly, not everyone would get the drift and you’d find people on forums, websites, even in Versace’s comment sections, calling them out for trying to scam customers and prospective patrons of an embarrassing $20 token.

Essentially, Versace’s reputation has been considerably dragged in the mud because their brand was hijacked, or, as MarkMonitor termed it, they got brandjacked. This is exactly what happens to companies on Amazon, eBay, and Wish when apparently, their products are being sold in hundreds but they only make meager profits. They are “sharing their identity” with dozens of other sellers and take-downs won’t always solve the problem.

By proper definition, brandjacking describes an activity or series of actions geared toward assuming the identity of a business, brand, person, company, or entity – totally or partially taking over certain elements from their name and logos to ideas and concepts. Basically, brandjacking means pretending to be a brand you are not. It’s like catfishing, but for businesses. Brandjacking is classified as a major form of IP rights infringement and brand abuse. Brandjackers always infringe on at least one or possibly all of a genuine brand’s trademarks, sometimes tapping into their customer pools, slashing revenue, ripping off customers, or smearing the reputation of the business.

However, brandjacking is a broad term and is not always performed with malicious intent and in rare cases, it could be beneficial to authentic businesses.

Since Instagram’s best functionalities were previously only on mobile phones with poor provisions for web-viewing on tablets and PCs, software developers Pek Pongpaet and Brandon Leonardo launched Pinstagram – a mash-up of Instagram and Pinterest. Users could then view Instagram feeds in the waterfall layout of Pinterest, resizable to fit different screen sizes.

While it certainly contributed to the popularity of Pinterest, Instagram benefited greatly as it had more people viewing across multiple devices. The brands never commented on this mashup, but they never sued or complained, either. This is one of the rare occasions where brandjacking causes no harm. Another instance is people creating fan/update pages of businesses and personalities on social media out of pure loyalty and love – with no intent to scam customers and fans or discredit the brand.

With the rise of the internet and the ease of creating fake pages and websites, brandjacking is at an all-time high and a major source of concern for businesses at all levels. Instagram alone records over a billion users on its app as of 2021, but in reality, only about 50-60% of the accounts are real. The rest are bots and fake accounts created by people for various reasons, one of which is brandjacking. On Facebook, the reality is the same and it’s seemingly worsening with time.

Categories of brandjacking (with example cases)

Identity Theft

This is the commonest form and the major scenario both in the physical world and in the online sphere. Infringers would assume the name, logos, social media usernames, associated designs, and general identity of another brand with the intent to steal customers and corner patrons to fake websites, stores, and pages. 

Consumers lose estimably $60 billion every year to identity criminals posing as legitimate businesses.

In 2017, a case went viral of a man who got scammed out of $100,000 when he made a one-time payment into a fake account for a luxury Mercedes Benz car. One of the numerous fake Mercedes pages on Instagram had built a pretty convincing and solid profile over a few months. From the Mercedes three-star logo to the exact website URL, the page had hijacked every facet of the German giant’s identity. Despite being unverified, 250,000 was pretty convincing and a guy parted with $100,000, only to find out the next hour that the page had been dissolved.

Fake employee/manager

One of the most common instances of this is on social media, where random accounts with AVIs of people sitting in front of PCs, wearing headsets, and looking all prim would slide into your DM. They’d claim to be employees or “verification managers” at Instagram/Facebook/Twitter, and with only $15,000, you could get the coveted blue tick on your account.

If you fall prey, you’d part with your precious cash.

Even in physical markets, many brands, especially small/growing businesses have gone under due to marred reputations caused by brandjackers. For example, a person could create a false ID and assume the identity of a real estate company, receiving down payments from eager homeowners, and eventually, they’d disappear with accumulated funds, leaving the company in trouble and dozens of payees, stranded.

Copy websites and fake online stores

You’d often see warnings from tech experts online, telling people never to enter their information on websites preceded by “http” instead of “https”, which is the more secure version. While this is great advice, it’s not foolproof because scammers now go as far as creating https sites and verifying online stores with similar extensions to existing businesses.

If an authentic business owns the URL, https://www.sandy.com, brandjackers could purchase https://www.sandy.net, https://www.sandy.org, or even https://www.sandyy.com, either to spite the business or scam its customers.

Smear campaigns

This usually happens when rival businesses take the competition too far. In 2011, Apple sued Samsung for $2.5 billion for smearing the former’s image in an ad campaign. Apple had just released the iPhone 5 and Samsung also debuted the Galaxy S3. The latter created a video showing a line of Apple’s fans queuing up to buy the iPhone 5, but somehow, they got confused about the specs and new features. Then enters the Galaxy S3, all bold and superior, taking the shine. Apple had none of it, and so the controversial lawsuit was slammed heavily on Samsung.

Subtle immersion

This involves tiny, seemingly negligible acts performed by a person or group to tap into the reputation of another business, geared toward increasing popularity and profit. While it comes off as non-parasitic, using the hashtags of another business repeatedly on your social media posts is a subtle form of brandjacking. 

Using the hashtag #burberry in all your posts would connect you to Burberry’s hashtag pull-up when customers search the brand. So your posts are getting promoted for free and instead of seeing exclusive Burberry content, fans would have to sift through your brand’s items as well – and it’s extremely annoying when this infringing content is not even related to fashion.

Staying ahead of brandjackers – what can you do?

The first question is, “Should every business, including the small ones be worried about brandjacking?”

The answer is YES. Even a one-month-old struggling business could be subject to brandjacking antics, and at this stage of the journey, it’s easy to pack up from the ripple effects of an early reputation smear. Many business owners believe that brand protection strategies should only be deployed when real problems occur. However, this would mean that a degree of damage has already been done. These safeguarding strategies should be deployed at the earliest stages for maximum protection.

Constant or periodic surveillance of the web

You need to virtually get some “boots on the ground” to monitor the internet and all major platforms for people posing to be you and abusing your brand. At AXENCIS, our smart brand protection plan is deployed by a team of expert investigators using our proprietary monitoring and surveillance software to scan all major marketplaces for infringements. We constantly monitor the web and run background checks on possible cases for verification, prior to the full take-down and prosecution procedures.

Buy up extra extensions and related domains

It’s not a waste of funds to invest in purchasing the .net, .org, .store, and .online extensions of your brand’s URL. This would prevent brandjackers from taking advantage of the free domains, afflicting your SEO progress, and possibly scamming your customers. As your visibility increases, you may also purchase common misspellings of your business name. For instance, Google.com owns the site googel.com, a common misspelling of their URL that redirects to the actual site.

Send email alerts to customers

This is another reason why virtual “boots on the ground” are important. Having all your loyal customers on an email list is essential for alerting them when possible scammers come up on your radar. Paypal employs this method regularly to warn its millions of customers around the world. Banks do this all the time, and it’s extremely helpful in keeping your patrons abreast of every possible identity theft situation.

Be prepared

Again, it doesn’t matter if your business is only a day old. Brandjacking doesn’t merely affect global giants or top public figures. Everyone could be a victim, on any scale, at any stage. Always be ready with a strategy to prevent infringers and brand abusers from taking advantage of your hard work. The best approach is to safeguard your reputation before it’s smeared. This way, you’d put up a stronger stand against brandjackers. 

Counterfeit face masks, PPE kits, and sanitizers: How covid-19 created a sub-industry for counterfeiters

While most of the world was grappling with the reality of a pandemic claiming lives, devastating public health, and crashing economies, criminal groups saw an opportunity to turn the tides in their favor. Across many places in early 2020, the prices of essentials such as face masks and hand sanitizers spiked by as much as 200%. Demand overrode supply by far and these items became a luxury to find and afford. Other personal protective equipment, as scarce as they were, could be sourced at prices 50-100% higher than normal.

This economic situation created the perfect avenue for counterfeiters and patent infringers to thrive at the highest potential – especially when governments made the use of safety items such as masks compulsory in many countries. As the store shelves ran empty, suppliers were locked out of countries due to travel restrictions, and people were willing to give anything for protective materials to be made available again.

As expected, fakes filled the markets and demand slowly began to recede. Especially in third-world countries, thousands of people complained of sanitizers burning the skin, masks with no filters, gloves that ripped within a minute of use, and medical practitioners were supplied substandard Hazmat suits that didn’t meet the strict industry-stipulated requirements. While the counterfeit prices weren’t as affordable as they before the pandemic, they were cheaper than the originals and over time, consumers began to specifically seek out cheap quality over standard materials. Many of these products are unbranded and despite merchandise protection efforts in many locations, they still flooded the pharmacies, local drug stores, and online marketplaces.

counterfeiters

A significantly outstanding case of safety gear counterfeiting was witnessed in India, where the highly unregulated trading atmosphere has made it especially easy for fake products to thrive. According to the Central Bureau of Investigation, India’s premier investigation agency, counterfeiters were using highly toxic substances to manufacture sanitizers and most people would fall into these scams following advance payments on rogue websites.

Copycat websites were a major issue for the United States. Hundreds of fake websites sprung up and still exist where people make payments and order batches of face masks, gloves, and sanitizers that may never be received. Some of the websites are created with such sophisticated automation technologies that they’d dissolve, vanish, and resurface with a different URL following every single verified purchase made.

“Because of the demand for PPE and things like hand sanitizer and toilet paper, we have a lot of people putting up websites purporting to offer those products. One of the things we see is where they essentially copy a legitimate website,” said Todd Kossow, director of the Federal Trade Commission in the Midwest. “The warning is really the same we give for any online shopping. It’s really easy for somebody to set up a website and purported to be a legitimate online merchant. Consumers should do their homework before they purchase something.”a

How to identify a fake N95 mask

N95 mask

The most available brand of N95 face masks is 3M, an American multinational business conglomerate and manufacturing company. However, in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the company reported a spike in instances of fake cup-shaped N-95 respirators filling the markets, endangering people’s lives, and cutting into the company’s revenue pool as distribution channels continue to emerge in every part of the world. N95 masks have always been counterfeited but the pandemic caused exponential spikes in piracy figures.

Designed with special materials and filters, these masks are intended to prevent the spread of the virus and protect the wearer. Substandard N95 masks endanger the lives of users and ultimately damage the genuine company’s reputation. Many health workers have reported cases of being compelled to work with fake face masks due to the unavailability of original products.

Some guidelines are stated below on how to identify fake N95s, according to 3M.

  1. The printing on the mask would smear when wiped with alcohol.
  2. It has a strong chemical odor – something in the likes of urea or ammonia.
  3. The straps are too loosely attached or made of weak material.
  4. The mask is constructed out of thin, tissue-like filters and materials.
  5. Un-matching lot numbers on the box and mask.
  6. The mask does not fit – too small or too big.

How to identify fake Hazmat Suits

Hazmat Suits

Short for Hazardous Material suits, a Hazmat suit is defined by The United States Department of Homeland Security as “an overall garment worn to protect people from hazardous materials or substances, including chemicals, biological agents, or radioactive materials.” They come in various types and specifications, depending on the purpose of an outing and the possible level of harm. The suits worn by firefighters are a lot stronger and made with more refractory material than those worn by bio-agent personnel.

With regards to the pandemic, many health workers have a hard time believing in the existence of counterfeit Hazmat suits. However, there is very little beyond the capability of Chinese counterfeiters with sophisticated factories and substandard raw materials.

Some guidelines are stated below on how to identify fake Hazmat suits:

  1. Check the porosity. Some Hazmats are air-tight but a suit intended for use within proximity of a bio-agent should not be breathable.
  2. The attached gas masks may have rough markings around the openings. This is a sign of poor factory work and weak manufacturing standards.
  3. Check the body of the suit and attempt to confirm the serial number with the acclaimed manufacturing authorities. If it’s a fake, you won’t get past the first step as any attached website would most likely be defunct.
  4. The suit is either too unreasonably large or too small.
  5. The width of the suit is too tight. An original Hazmat suit should have enough room left for any body size.

How to identify fake hand sanitizers

hand sanitizers

Hand sanitizers are another gold mine for counterfeiters. The World Health Organization and other health regulatory bodies have ruled that standard hand sanitizers must contain at least 70% alcohol. Many counterfeiters would produce a version with as low as 40% alcohol and a generous supply of nitrogen oxide for the maximum cooling and quick-dry effect. People would end up inadequately sanitizing their hands against a powerful droplet-transmitted virus.

Below are guidelines for identifying fake hand sanitizers:

  1. Its alcohol content is less than 70%
  2. It has a foul odor such as urine, ammonia, or burning paper.
  3. It has extremely fragrant. Some hand sanitizers are made with fragrances but when t overwhelming, it becomes a red flag.
  4. It lacks manufacturing and expiry dates. No authentic manufacturer would bottle and package hand sanitizers for commercial sales without these important dates.
  5. It lacks a serial number or a QR code.
  6. It does not pass the hairdryer test: The hairdryer test is based on the principle that the boiling point of the sanitizer if it contains sufficient alcohol (78 degrees Celsius) will be reached faster than that of ordinary clan water (100 degrees Celsius). Scoop a tablespoon of sanitizer into one bowl and a tablespoon of clean water into another bowl. Heat a dryer and separately target each bowl for at least 30seocnds. If the sanitizer dries up more significantly compared to the water, then the alcohol content is appropriate. If only a little dries up, it most likely has an insufficient alcohol content.

The Trademark Wars

Space Force v Space Force

Let me explain.

It has provoked scepticism in Congress, a satire on Netflix, and, with its uncannily similar logo, “Star Trek” jokes about intergalactic battles.” CBSNews.com

Trump and Steve Cavell spoof
Space Force v Space Force

On the one side, we have Space Force, the newest branch of the U.S. armed forces, announced by Donald Trump way back in early 2018.

On the other side we have the Netflix comedy series, Space Force starring Steve Carell released this year on May 29th.

Now, you’d think the ‘rights’ issue would be in the bag for the U.S. government, and you would also assume that they’ve already won the battles, as well as the war.
Well, apparently the U.S. government had a reputation for being lax when it came to registering trademarks until that is, they finally established branding and licensing office in 2007.

Most surprisingly in this case, especially for a businessman such as Trump, they made the rookie mistake of announcing a brand before securing its intellectual property rights, thus limiting the government’s control of the name in the marketplace.

How can a fictional comedy series ever be confused with real-life astronaut training or satellite intelligence is not really the question here.
But it is a question for Space Force merchandisers.

Basically, the U.S government filed a trademark application in May this year and included the following products – key chains, jewellery, bedspreads, towels, cigarette lighters and toy cars BUT all those items were already filed by someone else, TWO years earlier!

At the moment, it only has a pending ‘intent-to-use’ trademark application and is competing with several other applications for “Space Force” some dating from early March 2018.

Netflix on the other hand has already secured trademark rights to “Space Force” in Europe, Australia and Mexico!

Trump Star Trek
Elon Musk welcomes Space Force with 2 words on Twitter: ‘Starfleet begins’

Victory may still be a foregone conclusion for the U.S. government, but it will be a lengthy and expensive war with not a few casualties. A war that could have been easily averted with a cleverly planned I.P. strategy.

“At this time, we are not aware of any trademark conflicts with the fictional program Space Force produced by Netflix,” says an Air Force spokesperson to the Hollywood Reporter. “We wish Netflix and the show’s producers the best in their creative depiction of our nation’s newest branch of the military.”

The best way to stop IP infringement of your product or brand is to be aware of the problem and also by understanding the level of the problem. Axencis is constantly innovating and creating tools to firstly identify and then successfully combat this threat for our clients. Fine-tuning from our dedicated professional investigations team then leads to successful takedowns and ultimately to compensation from counterfeit sellers.

Here at Axencis, our first step is to evaluate the level of a brand’s existing vulnerability and exposure to counterfeit markets. Feel free to contact us for an assessment.

Face Masks – the new fake luxury good

Is yours genuine?

As we are slowly getting back to some semblance of pre-Covid normality, we can all expect some fundamental changes to our lives, namely the wearing of face masks.

Schools are opening this month, parents are finally going back to work, and generally people are gathering together for the first time in months. Face masks are not only going to be compulsory but the norm for a long while to come.

Designers and fashion houses have stepped up and launched their own face coverings, but many clever individuals have repurposed designer items to make their own. Genuine items have been repurposed – scarves and handkerchiefs from designers such as Hermes, and Versace as well as small leather items from Louis Vuitton and Gucci.

With all of the attention on social media, these Designer-themed items have no doubt gained in popularity overnight. And this is just the type of item the counterfeit trade is attracted to.

If you do a quick search on any e-commerce platform, for ‘designer face-mask’ you’ll have plenty to choose from!

MASK
Australian model JessicaHart
Australian model JessicaHart on Instagram modelling a leather face mask featuring the LV logo.

She did tag Louis Vuitton in the post.

So yes, we can see the obvious problem of having mass-produced knock-offs passed off as genuine, fundamentally damaging a famous brands reputation with bad quality items, but is it that simple?

There are those that just make use of a pattern e.g. the famous Burberry check , or of just the brand name e.g. Chanel. Is that classed as counterfeiting, or is it actually marketing if worn by an Influencer on Social Media, an ‘homage’ if you like to our favourite brands?

And finally, what about the use of a genuine item, repurposed in this case into a face mask? Is that allowed or is that trademark infringement?

In short, epidemiologists are saying that we should all be prepared for a future where further, and different outbreaks will occur – where we will all be required to use face-masks daily!

These may be questions then, that need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

All the ‘legalese’ from The IPkitten Blog.

The best way to stop IP infringement of your product or brand is to be aware of the problem and also by understanding the level of the problem. Axencis is constantly innovating and creating tools to firstly identify and then successfully combat this threat for our clients. Fine-tuning from our dedicated professional investigations team then leads to successful takedowns and ultimately to compensation from counterfeit sellers.

Here at Axencis, our first step is to evaluate the level of a brand’s existing vulnerability and exposure to counterfeit markets. Feel free to contact us for an assessment.

Back to School – is it the real thing

What’s in your bag?

All of these Trademarked Brands are currently in use in the Dictionary, as the generic word used to describe a particular type of product.
Let’s see if any surprise you.

The everyday Biro

The inventor Lazlo Biro was fed up with inconvenient fountain pens. He tried using quick drying printers’ ink over a ball-bearing point, eliminating the need to blot. Trademark owned by Bic.

Tipp-Ex

This is a type of correction fluid invented in Germany in 1958, whose trademark is now owned by Société Bic.

Sellotape

A generic term for sticky tape, cementing it as the U.K. market leader in the mind of consumers. It’s been in the dictionary since 1980. Trademark now owned by Henkel AG.

Or some Scotch tape

This term appears in dictionaries as both generic and trademarked. “Trademark Law” advises that proper usage is “Scotch brand cellophane tape” to combat “generic tendencies” ?. The trademark is owned by 3M.

Google

Google famously attempted to have its name, and especially the use of it as a verb, kept out of the dictionary despite widespread examples of people ‘googling’ and ‘being googled’ its attempts were in vain as the word appeared in the dictionary in 2003.

Photoshop

Originating from the image editing programme Adobe Photoshop, it is now a commonly used term for the digital editing of photographs. Adobe is trying to discourage the use of the term ‘photoshop’ as a verb. Good luck with that! ?

Everyone uses Tupperware

A lidded plastic container used in our case for kids packed lunches. Original Tupperware was first introduced to the public in 1946, a product that could be even more popular now in these days of re-using and recycling than ever before. The trademark is still owned by inventor Earl Tupper.

Thermos

This has long been the dominant brand in many countries for insulated vacuum flasks, primarily intended to keep its contents hot or cold. Invented in 1892, Thermos in upper case is a registered trademark of Thermos GmbH subsidiaries and licensees in over 115 countries.

Playing on Astroturf?

A brand of artificial turf invented in the U.S. in 1965. Famously used in sports fields worldwide, is yours the real deal?

Start a game of Frisbee 

This is now the generic term for a gliding toy made of plastic roughly 20-25 cm in diameter. From 1937 came the idea and development of this flying disc, and then finally in 1957 the Wham-O toy company gave birth to the name Frisbee. Wham-O still owns the trademark to this day.

The iPod

A portable media player whose trademark was already in use by someone else. Apple finally had the trademark assigned to them in 2005.

Coke (Coca-Cola)

Is it always ‘the real thing’ though? If you ask for a coke then you might get any kind of cola. This is of course, one of the most well-known genericized brands in the world. Trademarked since 1893!!

Memory Stick

The one that surprised me the most was the ‘Memory Stick’ by Sony.

Typically used to refer to all USB flash drives, as opposed to other brands of memory cards akin to Sony’s products.
They didn’t even alter the spelling a little by using the word ‘stik’! 
What about you? Any surprises?

ZOOM

And finally, this one is neither generic nor in the Dictionary as yet, but worth including in this list:

Many schools were using this platform for their online lessons during the last part of the school year 2019-2020 while quarantined at home. Frequently used as a verb, this video-conferencing platform has become a common part of the new normal, and an integral part of life during the recent coronavirus pandemic. With such widespread use and recognition, does this brand risk becoming a generic term too? The trademark is owned by Zoom Video Communications, for now. ?

The best way to stop IP infringement of your product or brand is to be aware of the problem and also by understanding the level of the problem. Axencis is constantly innovating and creating tools to firstly identify and then successfully combat this threat for our clients. Fine-tuning from our dedicated professional investigations team then leads to successful takedowns and ultimately to compensation from counterfeit sellers.

Here at Axencis, our first step is to evaluate the level of a brand’s existing vulnerability and exposure to counterfeit markets. Feel free to contact us for an assessment.

Aliexpress – where did all the counterfeits go

Are the ‘dupes’ still out there?

Boot
Fake Dr Martens Lazy Oaf Boot

Online marketplaces and social media platforms have been showing significant growth in counterfeit products each year.

New e-commerce websites and apps have been introduced to the bargain-hunting public on a regular basis, brimming with well-known brands, designer goods and household names – and also introducing easier ways to pay, faster delivery and even free shipping.

During the Covid-19 crisis, there has been a 146% growth in all online retail orders in the U.S and Canada.
Forbes.com

After seeing a huge rise in online purchases we can assume that there has been a substantial increase in counterfeit sales also. Statistics hitting areas of the marketplace where people who are forced to stay at home during the Covid crisis would be most attracted to, like children’s toys and sporting goods, products which help make confinement more fun and bearable.

One of the top marketplace websites and popular at the moment is Aliexpress, a subsidiary of Alibaba.

Aliexpress is owned by the Alibaba Group – which also owns the websites Alibaba, TMall, Taobao and 1688.com …and counting

Aliexpress has steadily gained in popularity and this is probably due to the fact that unlike other Chinese e-commerce websites, this one is geared toward selling to buyers outside of China and is, of course, available in several languages.

If you do a quick search on Google, you can easily find many items passed off as genuine. Here I searched very blatantly for a “fake Furla watch” in the search. Over $50 for a cheap Chinese “dupe” or knockoff is not really a bargain, but still a fake!

Back in 2015 Alibaba created a dedicated team to combat IP infringements which did result in a significant decrease in fake goods, but counterfeit products are still widely available on this platform.

Can’t find what you’re looking for by typing in the brand name you’re after? This is because sellers, apparently, can no longer use genuine brand names, but there are specific unaffiliated websites created to help you out!

The abbreviations and links shown in the pictures above would take you directly to the counterfeit listings on the Aliexpress platform. As well as advice on keywords there are also articles and links to help you expertly navigate the Aliexpress hidden counterfeit listings.

Another website that has appeared, is Yupoo. Quite worryingly this is a photo-sharing site, with no words, no prices and no names – just a contact link which leads you to chat apps such as WhatsApp. By contacting the seller via chat, you will be given a link to an Aliexpress page. This link will normally show a completely different, unbranded product and this is actually the link to the counterfeit item you were after!

The World Trademark Review reported on this long, roundabout way to purchase counterfeit items from Aliexpress and they also provide advice on Yupoo page takedowns. With this increase in online purchases due to Covid 19, we can see that similar e-commerce sites and social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are already platforms where counterfeiters are completely bypassing traditional sites.

The best way to stop IP infringement of your product or brand is to be aware of the problem and also by understanding the level of the problem. Axencis is constantly innovating and creating tools to firstly identify and then successfully combat this threat for our clients. Fine-tuning from our dedicated professional investigations team then leads to successful takedowns and ultimately to compensation from counterfeit sellers.

Here at Axencis, our first step is to evaluate the level of a brand’s existing vulnerability and exposure to counterfeit markets. Feel free to contact us for an assessment.