Illicit trade in fake goods is a significant and growing threat in a globalised and innovation-driven economy. It has damaging effects on governance, innovation, and, ultimately, economic growth.

In recent years, the OECD and the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) have been gathering evidence on various aspects of this trade. The results have been published in a set of factual reports, starting with Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods: Mapping the Economic Impact (2016). The results have been deepened, expanded and updated in subsequent reports, including Misuse of Small Parcels for Trade in Counterfeit Goods: Facts and Trends (2018), Trends in Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods (2019) and Global Trade in Fakes: A Worrying Threat (2021). Throughout the reports, the issue of abuse of e-commerce by networks of trade in counterfeit goods was constantly present. The misuse of the online environment has become particularly worrying during the COVID-19 pandemic, with law enforcement detecting increasing volumes of various e-crimes.

This report uses a tailored statistical methodology to gauge the degree of abuse of the online environment in the context of trade in counterfeit goods. It also provides highlights of government actions and industry initiatives to counter this risk. Such analysis is critical, not only for a better understanding of this threat, but also for developing effective governance responses to support post-COVID recovery.

The results are a cause for concern. E-commerce is becoming the main platform for some illicit products, including fake and substandard medicines, test kits, protective equipment and other COVID-19-related goods. Counterfeiters misuse modern logistical solutions such as e-commerce, and exploit market gaps lacking effective enforcement standards, such as postal services. Today, e-commerce is becoming a platform for buying counterfeits by consumers in developed countries, and in some countries seizures of counterfeits related to e-commerce purchases constitute the vast majority of all seizures of fakes. The COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the problem: criminal networks have reacted very quickly to the crisis and adapted their strategies to take advantage of the shifting landscape.

This study was carried out under the auspices of the OECD’s Task Force on Countering Illicit Trade, which focuses on evidence-based research and advanced analytics to assist policy makers in mapping and understanding the vulnerabilities exploited by illicit trade.

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