There are two sides to every purchasing story: the buyer and the seller. The seller wants to make the most amount of money they can from their products and the buyer wants the best deal they can find. Exploiting this tug-of-war are the counterfeiters, who lure consumers with budget-friendly bargains that can come with huge quality risks and often have a dark story behind them.
When the buyer gets a raw deal, thankfully in the vast majority of cases no-one is seriously hurt, but that’s not to say there isn’t a big risk associated with buying goods that couldn’t possibly have gone through proper safety tests (even if the seller makes the claim). That knock-off football shirt may not seem life-threatening, but what would happen if it caught fire? The real deal would have been made from fire-retardant material, in line with the law, but a fake may not have been. This is far from the only example. Did you know that fake perfumes can cause serious skin complaints? And counterfeit electronics or batteries can – quite literally – blow up in your face. Of course, this is assuming that you get your goods in the first place. If you make a purchase through a scam website, you may not receive any goods at all, but have handed over your money – and personal and financial data. These unpleasant events feel very personal to us, we have been cheated at best, or physically hurt at worst. But we, the consumer, are far from the only ones affected.
The counterfeit trade has a long history and has traditionally been deeply connected with many types of crime. This is simply because it has proven to be a really effective way to make huge sums of money with very low risk. When you compare it to other illegal activities (such as drug smuggling, for example), the penalties for making and selling fake goods are generally weaker. Moreover, the cover-all term of ‘criminal gangs’, often used to describe the organisations behind the counterfeit trade really doesn’t do justice to the extent of the problem. INTERPOL describe it as “a transnational crime, run by extensive and complex criminal enterprises” and make it clear that the money made is used to fund terrorism, the purchase of firearms, human trafficking and cybercrime.
The human cost
Human rights do not apply in the counterfeit trade. Clandestine factories, operating under the radar of law, are often cheaply staffed through child labour, the desperate unemployed or those who have been trafficked and enslaved for the purpose. Either way, conditions are generally found to be profoundly unsafe and ‘workers’ are abused – often in ways that are hard to stomach. In her book, ‘Deluxe: How Luxury Lost Its Luster’, journalist Dana Thomas describes a visit to a counterfeit assembly plant in South East Asia:
"I remember walking into an assembly plant… and seeing six or seven little children, all under 10 years old, sitting on the floor assembling counterfeit leather handbags, an investigator told me... 'The owners had broken the children's legs and tied the lower leg to the thigh so the bones wouldn't mend. [They] did it because the children said they wanted to go outside and play.”
This horrific example is tragically just one of the many documented cases of discoveries made in counterfeiting operations. And they exist all over the world. Criminals have discovered that by conducting small parts of their counterfeiting process in multiple locations, they have a higher chance of evading authorities. Trading Standards officers in the UK frequently discover a ‘branding room’ when conducting raids, where counterfeit items are finished with brand labels just before they go on sale. Again, these sites are often linked with human trafficking and modern slavery.
Shocked? Be the change you want to see.
When shopping online just a few simple, common sense checks can be the difference between a potentially disastrous shop, where your money ends up in the worst hands, and a great purchase that is fulfilled by a legitimate business with your best interests at heart. For some great tips on how to spot a likely fraud, take a look at our latest blog post, but when you’re shopping for Canon products, our best advice is to stick to a Canon approved retailer or head straight to our online store.
Above all, enjoy bargain hunting, use your best instincts and if you have any doubts, don’t part with your money – it’s safer for everyone.
Canon is committed to giving our customers the best possible experience and works with police, customs, anti-counterfeit organisations and authorities across Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) to tackle the trade in counterfeit Canon products. If you have bought a Canon branded product and are in doubt of its authenticity, please do not use it. Instead contact a Canon authorised dealer or contact us directly.