County trials initiative to curb sale of fake goods on social media

This story was published 7 September 2018

North Yorkshire has provided the trial location for a national initiative that aims to protect consumers and small businesses from the harm caused by the growing trade in fake goods on social media buy-and-sell groups.

Welsh Trading Standards and Police and National Markets Group members seizing counterfeit goods destined for sellers on social media

The Real Deal Online programme has been developed by the National Markets Group for IP Protection (NMG) in conjunction with the National Trading Standards eCrime Team (NTSeCT), which is hosted by North Yorkshire County Council and City of York Council. The programme sets out to heighten awareness among administrators of social media groups of their legal responsibility to prevent the promotion and sale of counterfeit goods and other illicit products within their groups.

It will be rolled out at locally by Trading Standards Services and establishes a process for trading standards officers to contact administrators of social media buy-and-sell groups to help them run a fake-free group. Administrators are invited to follow the Real Deal Online Code of Practice. This requires group administrators to welcome local trading standards officers as members and to agree to five steps designed to prohibit and combat the sale of counterfeit and other illicit goods.

A pre-launch trial was implemented by NTSeCT with North Yorkshire Trading Standards Service. Seven social media buy-and-sell groups in the region, with a total of more than 41,000 members, agreed to the Code of Practice and now display the Real Deal logo on their selling pages.

County Councillor Andrew Lee, Executive Member for Open to Business, said: “Hosting the National Trading Standards eCrime Team in North Yorkshire gives our Trading Standards team a great opportunity to be at the forefront of initiatives such as this. I’m delighted that the work trialled here has not only found favour among local buy and sell groups but is now being embraced nationally. It is essential for the healthy economy of North Yorkshire that we do all we can to protect consumers and legitimate traders.”

Scott Lambert, administrator of Harrogate Everything, which has almost 6,000 members, said: “I’m happy there is a scheme for these online groups. We, as buyers, got fed-up of seeing counterfeit goods strewn all over Facebook and set up our own groups. We are happy to work with trading standards on this trial and hopefully help towards reducing the amount of poor quality fakes, dangerous fakes and the like.”

Mark Bonney, administrator of three buy-sell-swap groups in Hambleton and Richmondshire, added: “The idea behind the Real Deal initiative is sound, getting folks to read the info is a different ball game. However, I'm most happy to support what in my eyes is a much-needed lean towards tighter control.”

The initiative is an extension of the NMG’s Real Deal campaign, which has been in place at physical markets and car boot fairs for nearly ten years.

Graham Mogg, ACG Intelligence Coordinator and Chair of the National Markets Group for IP Protection, said: “Just like markets and car boot fairs in the physical world, local buy-sell groups on social media platforms can provide great bargains and a friendly, lively environment for individuals to trade with each other. However, as online and social media marketplaces are not uniformly regulated, they can offer easy opportunities for those who wish to stay below the radar and trade illegally, particularly in counterfeits and copyright infringing products.

“When illicit traders move into a local selling group, a whole host of problems follow: consumers are ripped off and sold inferior, potentially dangerous goods; revenue is lost from the economy to the black market; and often the trade in fakes is linked to the funding of organised crime.”

Mike Andrews, National Co-ordinator of the National Trading Standards eCrime Team, added: “Most shoppers and the administrators of buy-sell groups would be horrified to think that they may, unwittingly, be funding organised crime. And many administrators are not aware that, ultimately, they could be held responsible for allowing illegal products to be advertised by members of their group. The Real Deal Online programme is designed to help. It offers anyone running a local selling group the opportunity to work closely with participating Trading Standards Services who will help them to introduce procedures to deter illicit traders from joining the group and causing harm.”

Groups that follow the Code of Practice can display the Real Deal logo to assure shoppers and traders that it is a fake-free shopping zone. Already, 24 UK local authority trading standards services have expressed interest in introducing Real Deal Online. Read more information about the campaign here.