I have written and spoken about global counterfeiting issues many times. Pretty much in every single one, I’ve said something like “if you have a successful product, it will be counterfeited.” Illicit counterfeit rings have infiltrated pharmaceuticals, consumer goods, cosmetics, fragrances, automobile parts, aircraft parts, clothing, footwear, wine, spirits and more. The riches and rewards from producing and distributing counterfeit products in most cases far outweigh the penalties of getting caught.
The Internet, and online marketplaces, have created an easy-to-access platform for the distribution of counterfeit merchandise. I spoke over the holiday season with over 20 news outlets, covering how consumers need to be much more diligent about knowing not just what they are purchasing; but from who — the actual VENDOR – and if they are legitimate. Marketplaces like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba are open platforms where it is easy for bad entities to set up shop and sell fake products.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has stormed out of China to the rest of the world. It packs a wallop of being highly contagious and highly dangerous to at-risk populations. Scores of scientists globally have been working tirelessly on tests and cures.
Counterfeiters have started to work tirelessly as well on the fakes: Fake coronavirus test kits seized at LAX.
These fakes were intended to be sold online to eager and unsuspecting consumers who just simply want to keep themselves and their families safe. No good can come from this. The fake test producing a false positive result on a healthy person contributes to overburdening national healthcare systems. The fake producing a negative result on an infected patient contributes to further spread of the virus, and possible death for the person coming from a delay in treatment.
This brand-new global market for Coronavirus test kits is a counterfeiter’s dream. There is almost unprecedented demand combined with unprecedented lack of global supply. Additionally, no one outside of the healthcare industry really has any clue what a virus test should look like in the first place. There is also not a global standard yet and several design options for the components of a Coronavirus test. Finally, the tests that are available are in some combination of incredibly easy to copy vials, swabs, tinctures and small boxes. These components are child’s play for experienced counterfeit rings to utilize to create completely believable test kits to be sold on online marketplaces.
What can be done?
First, individuals need to know that mass-produced home Coronavirus tests are not available in stores or online at this time. If you come across a social media post advertising a kit, it is for a fake test. DO NOT BUY IT and immediately report it to the social media platform as illicit activity. Consider submitting and reporting the link to local and national departments/ministries of health. When kits are available to the mainstream public, consumers need to be very vigilant about verifying the trustworthiness of the vendor they are purchasing from.
Second, manufacturers of these test kits for current clinical use —and, more importantly, eventual mass population use —need to seriously consider the layers of counterfeit protection they will be deploying on the products. I would advocate a digital authentication solution be made available for each and every test, so individuals can verify the test is legitimate before performing it. Remember, counterfeiters can copy additive protections like holograms, seals, inks and other packaging features quite easily and believably.
Third, the global pharmaceutical companies that are working on the vaccines and cures for Coronavirus need to think about possible counterfeiting and supply chain diversion BEFORE they begin mass production and distribution. These drugs will need to be serialized to meet compliance mandates in numerous geographies, including the USA and EU. But, serialization is not required in many impacted geographies. Additionally, there will be massive interest in these drugs, incredible demand, and global activity in establishing gray markets of counterfeits and diverted Coronavirus drugs. As serialized barcodes can be fabricated and copied, I again recommend manufacturers look at digital authentication solutions to further protect these forthcoming and incredibly important drugs.
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