Counterfeit goods constitute one of the biggest threats to the global fashion industry, stealing sales and diluting hard-fought brand reputations. The UK’s Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), the only one of its kind in the world, is primarily focused on tackling the supply-side of the market, especially the organised crime gangs who drive and profit from the trade.
Established just over three years ago, PIPCU raids basements for fake goods and can put offenders in jail for up to 10 years, but just as fashion sales have moved online, so too have the counterfeiters. Under “Operation Ashiko” the unit are increasingly focused on closing down rogue websites masquerading as genuine fashion vendors.
Websites purporting to sell real Burberry, Longchamp, Prada, Gucci, Tiffany & Co, Abercrombie & Fitch and Ugg, alongside sportswear brands including Adidas, Nike and Reebok, have all been shuttered by PIPCU, according to the UK government’s Intellectual Property Office, which funds the unit. Detective Sergeant Ives reports that over half the sites they close are selling footwear, from poorly made replica trainers to $1,000 faux luxury stilettos. Ranked by volume of websites, fake clothing comes second, followed by those offering faux handbags, accessories, jewellery and watches. Fashion, in other words, is the unit’s main focus.
“The clothing is high-end. There is no point copying the high street brands because you can’t charge anything,” explains Ives in his office in London’s historic Guildhall. “Everyone wants to have a £500 coat though, especially if you see it for £70 or £80,” he said. According to Ives, the “vast majority” of shoppers who purchase counterfeit fashion don’t actually know they are buying fakes and believe they are getting the genuine item cheaply.
“Tens of thousands of brands are being impacted,” continues Ives. “For the larger counterfeiters, the really big ones, if we can disrupt their supply chain, then we can have a real impact.”
A PIPCU investigation typically starts when a brand or trade group supplies the police with a statement outlining alleged fraud. The unit then…
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