COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, is a highly contagious respiratory illness that has people around the world scared. In an attempt to avoid getting sick, people are buying items like masks and hand sanitizers. Following the outbreak, most stores and pharmacies have run out of hygienic masks and hand sanitizers. As a result, many consumers have turned to online marketplaces, and prices have spiked. Fear has also created a market for other products that don’t necessarily work.
Coronavirus and Amazon
During this time, many in the U.S. and around the world have turned to online shopping. Consequently, many examine health-related offers on the Amazon platform. Amazon was criticized for examples of price-gouging on its marketplace, such as face masks that were marked up 500%, although it was done by third-party sellers.
Amazon acted quickly and expanded its efforts to stop sellers from profiting illegally or unethically. Reuters reported that Amazon has removed or blocked more than 1 million products from sale since the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak. These products had made misleading claims, such as inaccurately claiming to cure or defend against the coronavirus, Amazon told Reuters. Fox Business talked with the CEO and founder of Fakespot, Saoud Khalifah. He said that his company identifies counterfeit respiratory masks and gloves on Amazon every day. At Fakespot they also identify hand sanitizers, COVID-19 information books and test kits, although not as often. Khalifah told Fox Business, “They are building an inferior product for an inflated price. People can actually get sick if they use masks that [aren’t legitimate]”.
Amazon has also removed tens of thousands of items from sellers taking advantage of low supply by attempting to price-gouge customers. It also suspended more than 2,000 seller accounts in its U.S. marketplace for violating Amazon Marketplace Fair Pricing Policy.
Amazon’s policy requires product information to be accurate or it may be taken down. Amazon can also remove offers that hurt customer trust, including when “setting a price on a product or service that is significantly higher than recent prices offered on or off Amazon”, according to the Amazon Marketplace Fair Pricing Policy. Amazon does that by comparing current prices set by sellers with both current and historic prices on Amazon and elsewhere.
The COVID-19 pandemic gives Amazon the opportunity to grow online sales as governments recommend or mandate that people remain inside and avoid public spaces such as retail stores. This means that people want to stock up but refrain from visiting brick-and-mortar stores. The result is increase in online sales of items directly related to COVID-19, as well as items that consumers stock up on such as toilet paper. Around mid-March Amazon stated that it will not accept new shipments of items that are not essential to its warehouses for the next 2-3 weeks. This means that sellers can sell their products on Amazon, but they will have to store and ship them on their own.
It may be said that with opportunity comes responsibility. Amazon’s responsibility is to sell items that don’t make false promises, that are fake, or unfairly priced. However, this is not always a black-and-white situation for Amazon. For example, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t recommend masks for people who are not sick, but people feel they may help them eliminate the risk of contracting COVID-19.
Coronavirus and false claims
Misleading claims don’t happen only on Amazon. In fact, false claims and reports are common and unhealthy. Twitter, for example, decided to expand its safety rules to remove tweets that “could place people at a higher risk of transmitting COVID-19”, including “encouragement to use fake or ineffective treatments, preventions and diagnostic techniques.”
In March, the New York State attorney general has issued a cease-and-desist order to Alex Jones, a radio host. Mr. Jones falsely claimed on his website that his diet supplement and toothpaste could be used to fight the coronavirus, reports the New York Times. For example, he made a claim that his Superblue brand of toothpaste “kills the whole SARS-corona family at point-blank range.”
Currently, there are no products approved to treat or cure the virus.
Coronavirus and Fakes
Law enforcement authorities around the world are trying to stop the production and sale of fake items related to the corona virus.
Chinese law enforcement authorities have handled cases involving the production and sale of fake masks with the help of e-commerce giant Alibaba. According to news report in China, Alibaba is more carefully examining face masks and other items with the help of an algorithm and AI technologies.
To stop the sale of fake coronavirus products, Interpol announced Operation Pangea XII. According to the Interpol, “police, customs and health regulatory authorities from 90 countries take part in collective action against the illicit online sale of medicines and medical products.”
The Interpol says criminals are cashing in on COVID-19. As of March 19, the operation resulted in the seizure of more than 34,000 counterfeit and substandard masks and other products such as “corona spray”, “coronavirus packages” or “coronavirus medicine”. Interpol says this “reveals only the tip of the iceberg regarding this new trend in counterfeiting”.
In the U.S., six bags full of suspected counterfeit COVID-19 testing kits were seized at the Los Angeles International Airport, said U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) in a statement. CBP officers examined a parcel which arrived from the UK and said to contain “Purified Water Vials.” Upon opening the shipment, the vials were labeled “Corona Virus 2019nconv (COVID-19” and “Virus 1 Test Kit,” said the statement. A few days later, CBP officers seized counterfeit “test kits” for various viruses and diseases including COVID-19 at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, according to CBP statement. CBP says the American public should be aware of counterfeit home testing kits for sale either online or in informal direct to consumer settings.
British health authorities are also combating fake and unlicensed medicines amid the coronavirus outbreak. The UK’s Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) uncovered and seized coronavirus-related items making fake claims, as reported by Metro. They also seized counterfeit face masks and unauthorized antiviral medication.
During the week of action (3 – 10 March 2020) Interpol reports that authorities in participating countries seized around 4.4 million units of illicit pharmaceuticals worldwide. Among them were:
- erectile dysfunction pills
- anti-cancer medication
- hypnotic and sedative agents
- anabolic steroids
- nervous system agents
- dermatological agents
More than 37,000 unauthorized and counterfeit medical devices were also seized, the vast majority of which were surgical masks and self-testing kits (HIV and glucose), but also various surgical instruments.
During the COVID-19 pandemic as well as any other time, it’s crucial to protect your brand online.
Wiser Market offers proactive online brand protection services worldwide. Whether you wish to fight counterfeiting,, prevent trademark, copyright and brand infringements or combat gray market selling and knockoffs, Wiser Market is your partner in countering online threats and protecting your brand.
Wiser Market’s smart solution uses technology and expertise to provide 24/7 global online monitoring and detection, analysis and removal of IPR infringements.
We strive to build a relationship with our clients so we can best meet their needs at all times.
Our brand protection services result in over 90% success rate in taking down counterfeits. At Wiser Market, we protect your brand so you can grow your business.
Is Your Brand protected? Contact us for a FREE brand review.