Halton Borough Council has been involved in a massive joint operation between local authorities, industry and The Government to crack down on people selling counterfiet goods on social media.
Operation Jasper is the biggest enforcement operation ever seen in the England, Wales and Northern Ireland launched to combat piracy and keep people safe from faulty fake goods, which could be lethal.
The growing use of social media has led criminals to exploit platforms to sell illicit products – according to the latest IP Crime Report 2013/14, social media has overtaken auction sites as criminals’ ‘channel-of-choice’ for counterfeit and piracy activity.
Latest statistics from Ofcom show that two-thirds (66%) of online adults now have a social networking profile, and almost all of those with a profile (96%), have one on Facebook
There are specialist officers within Halton Borough Council who are involved in a number of Facebook investigations which are ongoing.
Halton Borough Council's Executive Board Member for Trading Standards, Cllr Dave Cargill, said: "Counterfeit goods come in a wide variety of guises and whilst the public may think they are getting a bargain they should really think twice.
"Many of the counterfeit goods seized by Halton Trading Standards Officers do not meet the strict safety requirements required by UK safety legislation, for example: babies' toys will often have parts that will pull off and have the ability to choke the baby, or the paint used on children’s toys will contain toxic levels of chemicals,
"Or electrical goods like hair straighteners and mobile phone chargers can overheat with the potential to cause injury or household fires, the list goes on.
"Thankfully our Trading Standards Officers are well equipped to carry out online investigations and will continue to crack down on criminals selling counterfeit goods on social networking sites like Facebook. The criminals think they are anonymous, but I can assure you they are not.”
Officers are emphaising it is not just counterfeits on social media sites that people need to be wary of – it can be a way of people unloading goods that for safety reasons can’t legally be sold in the UK such as some tooth whitener, illicit cigarettes and electric goods that don’t pass our safety requirements.
Over the last few weeks, enforcement officers have raided 12 separate locations, and are still involved in 22 on-going investigations, as part of a crackdown on counterfeiting and piracy on Facebook across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
It has seen The National Trading Standards eCrime Team work alongside the National Markets Group on Operation Jasper, one of the biggest enforcement operations of its kind, targeted at criminals who exploit social media channels to sell dangerous and counterfeit goods and commit copyright theft.
In a few short weeks the crackdown has seen officers raid 12 premises, take down 4,300 Facebook listings, 20 Facebook profiles, issue over 200 warning letters and deliver 24 cease and desist letters at the homes of suspected Facebook sellers.
Operation Jasper brings together officers from 63 local authority trading standards’ teams, police officers, industry bodies and government agencies, and builds on the success of 2014’s Operation Watch.
During the operation officers seized a range of dangerous or toxic products, ranging from Android TV boxes with unsafe mains chargers, to several hundreds of counterfeit Cinderella dolls containing high levels of toxic phthalates to name a few examples. The Android boxes allowed the illegal streaming of movies and sports channels.
A raid on a residential premise in the West Midlands led to the discovery and seizure of a small manufacturing plant turning out counterfeit T-shirts.
Two more residential premises in Worcester contained a host of counterfeit packaged computers, tablets, mobile phones, T-shirts, tracksuits and trainers and these premises have been linked to part of Manchester’s Cheetham Hill area, dubbed “Counterfeit Street” in the press.
Lord Toby Harris, Chair of National Trading Standards said: “Operation Jasper has struck an important psychological blow against criminals who believe they can operate with impunity on social media platforms without getting caught.
"It shows we can track them down, enter their homes, seize their goods and computers and arrest and prosecute them, even if they are operating anonymously online. I commend the National Trading Standards e-Crime team and all other parties involved in this operation.
“Criminals who operate on social media have become brazen because they think operating from their living rooms using laptops – without having to be physically present on market stalls – means they are less likely to get caught. I am extremely pleased that this operation has been able to prove that misconception wrong, but I would also like to urge consumers to remain vigilant and report any suspected online rogue traders to Citizen’s Advice Consumer Helpline on: 03454 04 05 06”.
National Trading Standards eCrime Team to lead and co-ordinate enforcement action bringing together members including the police, British Recorded Music Industry, Anti-counterfeiting Group , Federation against Copyright Theft , Department for Work and Pensions, the Alliance for Intellectual Property Theft, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Electrical Safety Council, Scambusters and Trading Standards teams.