14th June 2021

The counterfeiters’ worst enemy

As anti-counterfeiting agency WRi celebrates its 10th anniversary, the company’s founder, Graham Mogg, talks about why taking down traders in fake goods is now more important than ever.

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One of the problems with social media is that whether you go looking for counterfeit goods to buy or not, they come to you
I worked as a detective dealing with serious organized crime and I can categorically say that IP crime is part of that – we see the evidence on a day-to-day basis

When Graham Mogg left the police force in 2011 after more than 30 years of service, he wanted to find a way of combining his expertise in law enforcement with his knowledge of intellectual property issues – particularly the damage that counterfeit goods inflict on society. This spurred him on to set up brand protection and investigation agency WRi Group, which gave him an opportunity to continue with both his IP protection work and his passion for taking down criminals.

“In the police service I was a conduit to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) as head of their Intelligence Hub,” says Mogg. “My role there was to engage with all parties to tackle intellectual property crime through an intelligence-led process.

“I set up WRi to focus on investigations around intellectual property, and thought I could bring something new to the environment that wasn’t there already. I had contacts in the police, in government, in trading standards, and with brands. It initially started off as a private investigation company to deal with counterfeit goods – it became a lot more than that over the past 10 years.”

During the course of that 10 years, much has changed – not least the boom in online retail, which has only been accelerated by the events of the past year. What are the most significant IP protection issues – and threats to the consumer – that have emerged during that time?

“When WRi started in 2011, it was predominantly physical goods in retail shops and physical markets that we were working on,” says Mogg. “More recently, from about 2014, we’ve been inundated with counterfeit goods being sold online and on social media in particular. That’s obviously a key threat to a lot of brands, but it’s also a threat to consumers and law enforcement, who have limited time and limited capacity to tackle the problem.

“The increase in consumer spending online is replicated within the counterfeiting world. One of the problems with social media is that whether you go looking for counterfeit goods to buy or not, they come to you because the algorithms within those sites chase down customers for the counterfeiters.”

The direct harm caused by counterfeit goods is well documented, and runs the gamut from house fires caused by knock-off phone chargers to horrific injuries caused by counterfeit cosmetics. There is perhaps a widespread perception though that fake goods, while usually inferior to their legitimate counterparts, justify their existence by providing a bargain-basement alternative to the more expensive products offered by named brands. As Mogg points out, this is not only wrong; it is dangerous as well.

“People tend to think of counterfeiting as a victimless crime,” he says. “But it exposes consumers to unsafe products; most of the products that we buy as part of our investigation work are inferior to the genuine article, and a lot of them potentially have safety issues that could impact on the consumer.

“We see a lot of the electrical products in particular, like batteries and chargers, that are known to cause house fires and electrical shocks, and explode in people’s pockets. Although genuine brands’ products can sometimes seem expensive, they’re expensive for a reason.”

Crime links

When it comes to those perpetrating the trade in counterfeit goods, Mogg believes the size and seriousness of the problem is often underestimated. As he points out, the trade is large-scale and international, relying on global criminal networks whose activities blight the lives of millions.

“A number of investigations that we’ve been involved in clearly show links to serious organized crime,” he says. “For example, there was a manufacturing plant in Leicester that was using individuals who had been smuggled into the UK in breach of immigration rules. There are also links to groups involved in drugs and firearms trafficking. And money laundering is always there with counterfeiting.

“People still ask us to prove the links to organized crime but if there’s a trader buying in China who’s arranging manufacturing and distribution, who has a network of businesses to transport the products across the country and then sell them online or through physical retail shops, that’s a pretty organized infrastructure.

“I think because most people still think organized crime means robbers with masks and guns, they don’t see intellectual property crime as being organized. In the police I worked as a detective dealing with serious organized crime and I can categorically say that IP crime is part of that – we see the evidence on a day-to-day basis.”

Economic impact

In addition to the immediate and obvious consumer detriment fake products cause, Mogg believes it’s important to look at the bigger picture, and highlights the harm inflicted by such goods on society as a whole. This is particularly relevant in light of the COVID pandemic and the strain it has put on vital public services, particularly the NHS.

“The money that is being fed into counterfeiters isn’t being fed into the legitimate retail trade or the UK economy,” he says. “The money that funds the NHS comes from everybody’s taxes. And when you’re paying counterfeiters, who are just criminals, that money is going outside to the illicit trade.

“It impacts on everybody, collectively. I learned that at the IPO and I continue to learn that in the work that we do.”

Alongside the NHS and other vital public services, the shortage of financial resources has also dramatically hit trading standards over the past decade. How does WRi – which serves as a bridge between privately owned brands on the one hand, and public enforcement bodies such as trading standards on the other – fit into that picture?

“WRi brings a support mechanism to local authorities,” says Mogg. “We work with trading standards and we understand the difficulties they face. We try to bring in additional finance to support them. We pay for storage, we pay for transportation; that takes the onus off local authorities if there are cases that they can’t progress with themselves. We’ll take them off their hands, and we look at it from a civil or a private criminal prosecution perspective.

“We’ve brought a private prosecution of a trader with the support of trading standards; they raided the premises several times, but the trader still wouldn’t stop. We prosecuted the trader on behalf of our clients and got a very successful outcome.”

WRi’s close relationship with trading standards is enhanced by the fact that several of the company’s employees are former trading standards officers themselves. “We still believe that trading standards is the lead agency to enforce and has the best knowledge and capability to do that,” says Mogg.

“I’ve chaired the National Markets Group on behalf of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group for the past six and a half years; WRi sponsors the Real Deal initiative, supporting local authorities and market operators to enforce and protect consumers. We finance and resource projects that target areas of particular concern for our clients but also for consumers. We’re not just here to make money; we’re here to protect consumers and business, and have contributed to projects that have allowed that to happen.

“I’m proud to be a member of the Welsh branch of CTSI,” Mogg adds. “I was the first member of the police force to become a member of a CTSI branch 15 years ago and I’ve recently been appointed Vice Chair of the Welsh branch, which is a huge privilege.”

Sharing knowledge

A big part of WRi’s focus is on providing trading standards officers with the skills they need to effectively take down the counterfeiters, and the WRi Academy was established with that in mind.

“WRi Academy was set up to make sure that there’s a robust infrastructure of training for trading standards officers,” says Mogg. “We’ve trained thousands of trading standards officers over the years, and will award them with CPPD points. The Academy is there to support trading standards, to make sure they have the access to training and content that police officers take for granted. It is there to offer practical skills from people who have been there. And we’ve had some fantastic feedback from local authorities thanking us for the for the work we do.

“We’re very proud of our business vision of a world without counterfeit goods, and we work towards that,” Mogg concludes. “As individuals, we all work together for a common cause to try to reduce the availability of counterfeit goods and illicit trade.”





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