Criminal gangs in the UAE have exploited the Covid-19 pandemic by making fake masks and copies of popular sanitiser products such as Dettol.
Despite a drop in the volumes of trade in fake goods at the height of the pandemic, criminals were constantly looking at new ways to make money, a workshop in Dubai found.
Hosted by the Legal Group, it showed how many gangs turned to making personal protective equipment, while the event also helped police and customs officers how to spot genuine products from fakes.
“During the pandemic [there were] more than 20 raids on factories producing face masks in the UAE,” said Hatem Abdel Ghani, partner at the Dubai law firm.
“[Authorities, with the assistance of The Legal Group] raided more than 50 factories making counterfeit Dettol. These criminals took advantage of the pandemic and started manufacturing high demand products.”
Mr Ghani said there simple and effective ways to spot a fake item. Missing serial numbers, untidy packaging and traces of glue are just some of the simple indicators.
A lack of any guarantee and an unwillingness to provide paperwork should also set alarm bells ringing.
But the workshop also outlined how authorities were increasingly using artificial intelligence and technology to curb the availability of counterfeit goods, as well as vital on-the-ground information.
“Technology does play a part in identifying counterfeit products but authorities rely heavily on information through intelligence given by law firms, market traders and brand managers and the public”.
Citing products from the popular retail chain Bath and Body Works, which has several stores in the UAE, the workshop were shown that their mists, lotions and perfumes are manufactured in the US, so consumers should never see filled beauty products shipped to the UAE from countries other than the US.
“Nobody, myself included, can really be an expert in determining whether a product is genuine or fake, but there are important things to reduce the risk of falling foul to the sale of counterfeits,” he said.
“Make sure you are familiar with the platform or shop that you are buying from, be sure to get an invoice for your purchase, and a warranty where possible.
“Counterfeiters will not provide this so be vigilant if they refuse to issue a copy, and always be alarmed if there is a huge reduction in price from the same item elsewhere.”
It comes as the UAE intensifies inspections to prevent fraud and counterfeiting in the Emirates.
During the first half of this year alone, officers at the anti-counterfeit, anti-fraud and anti-commercial fraud and piracy sections of Dubai Police recovered fake goods worth more than Dh1.7billion.
And in March, authorities recovered almost 16,000 illegal or fake tobacco products and shisha oils worth Dh1.5 million.
Tougher rules were introduced two years ago, with harsher financial penalties for anyone convicted of making counterfeit goods.
Trade in fake goods creates profits for organised crime gangs at the expense of companies and governments. The goods can also contain toxic chemicals creating hazards for the public and environment.
Authorities, legal firms and companies in the UAE are working together to clamp down on the illicit trade. For example, authorities seized more than 300,000 counterfeit Toyota parts worth Dh10.5 million across the UAE in 2020.
Al Futtaim Toyota conducted the sweeps along with UAE government authorities.
Mr Ghani said fake cosmetics are one of the most common categories of products being pushed by errant traders in the Emirates, followed by auto parts and cleaning products.
On a global scale, international trade in counterfeit and pirated products amounted to as much as $464 billion in 2019, according to the most recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
While it has decreased by $45 billion — from $509 billion in 2016 — the report said the “volume of trade in fakes has remained significant”, representing about 2.5 per cent of world trade.