As the world fights hard to contain the ongoing crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a group of people making hay while the sun shines. Counterfeiters thrive in situations where there is enormous demand and restricted supply, and such a situation is now present, especially when it comes to specific categories of essential products such as pharmaceuticals and medical supplies like masks, gloves and sanitizers.
According to an OECD report released last year, the global trade in counterfeit products rose to be worth USD 509 Billion, or 3.3% of world trade. In India, a study released by FICCI in 2014 estimated that industry loses about Rs. 1 lakh crores worth of sales to counterfeiting each year. This covers all sectors, including liquor, FMCG, pharmaceuticals, auto parts, and tobacco.
A once-in-a-generation crisis like COVID-19 provides an opportunity for criminal elements looking to make a quick buck with no regard to public safety or health. There have already been incidents reported of people selling fake sanitizers and masks at huge profits to unsuspecting consumers. As this crisis unfolds, it is only to be expected that many more such incidents arise.
The risk is not just for the products most closely linked to the pandemic, but also for other products whose distribution may be affected, thus creating a scarcity. Indeed, this applies to most, if not all products we buy. So, what is to be done about this? We believe protecting against counterfeits is everyone’s responsibility, especially at this time. Below are some measures that each of us can take to minimize the overall threat.
Ensuring that consumers are not duped by counterfeit products, especially those related to health, should be of primary importance for the government at this critical time. We would suggest a few measures for regulators at the central and state level:
” Create awareness that the risk of being exposed to counterfeiting is much higher while the country is battling this pandemic and that in a rush to buy sanitizers, masks or other essential products, it is possible that one may be buying a harmful or ineffective counterfeit product. This can be done through digital and media campaigns, or perhaps even mentioned as part of the Honourable Prime Minister’s messages to the nation.
” Train and empower law enforcement personnel to be alert to such incidents and a crackdown on people selling these products
” Encourage and create incentives for genuine manufacturers and sellers of products in high demand to reduce the scarcity and thus drive down the profitability for counterfeiters
A brand is built on trust. If that trust is eroded, especially at a time when consumers need it most, it could have long-term impacts on business. It is, therefore, of vital importance for any brand owner to take steps to protect their brand at this time. Some suggestions are listed below:
” Many brands are already communicating with their customers, whether it be to express solidarity in this time of difficulty, to inform them about the disruption of supply, or to offer advice. It is imperative for brands to also consider the risks of proliferation of knockoffs at this time, and to communicate it accordingly. Such proactive thinking of the welfare of loyal customers can only serve to strengthen trust, not just now but in the long-term as well
” There are two broad ways to protect against counterfeiting – secure the supply chain, and enable authentication. We would recommend both as a way to ensure that counterfeits cannot infiltrate the system. Supply chains can be protected using traceability solutions, wherein the products are encoded and then tracked along their journey to the retail points. Authentication can be enabled using a variety of physical and digital security solutions that can be inspected or verified by a consumer at the point of purchase. Together, this forms a strong and effective barrier, and we would urge brand owners to seriously consider adopting a solution that is right for them and their consumers.
” It is the responsibility of each of us, as a consumer, to be aware that there is a problem out there. As we rush to buy a mask or a malaria medicine or a bottle of hand sanitizer, we should be alert that there is a possibility, perhaps even a probability, that we could get duped. We should buy from trusted places and always ask for a bill.
” We should use the authentication feature provided if any. If none is provided, we must ask why. We should demand protection from the government and our trusted brands.
” If we do unwittingly purchase a counterfeit, we must report it to the brand or a consumer rights forum. We shouldn’t allow such incidents to go unreported as it may encourage those who profit from illegal acts
It is said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.” We are in the midst of one today, and we must ensure we take the opportunity to protect ourselves and our loved ones – protect them against the pandemic by taking the recommended precautions, but also protect them against the harm of these illegal, harmful, counterfeit products. Together, we can emerge stronger, safer and healthier.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors’ and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.