Risks associated with counterfeit products
Within the European Union, Regulation No. 3295/94 sets out the measures prohibiting the release for free circulation, export, re-export or entry of counterfeit and pirated goods.
Counterfeit products, such as pharmaceuticals, spare parts and toys, are of low quality and create significant health and safety threats. Counterfeit toys rarely comply with established safety requirements; this is because safety requirements for children’s toys in the EU are some of the most stringent in the world. If they break easily or if small parts come off, or if they contain hazardous chemicals, they can be very dangerous — and sometimes even lethal — to children. Cosmetics and skincare products can contain as many as 60-70 ingredients and require advanced technology to be properly produced. Perfumes are much easier to copy, as they contain fewer ingredients than for example, hair-colouring and skincare products.
Current counterfeits trends in Europe
Imports of counterfeit and pirated goods now represent 5.8% of all goods entering the EU, according to the latest data from OECD and EUIPO. According to data on detentions of counterfeit products, 56% of custom seizures at EU borders involve e-commerce. At present, counterfeit goods are still largely manufactured abroad and then shipped to Europe either by direct transport or via e-commerce. While up to the recent past, counterfeiters used freight transport to transport counterfeits into the EU in bulk, there has been a large rise in the use of small parcel postal and courier deliveries of the same, particularly through online marketplaces, social media platforms and instant messaging services.
Perfumery and cosmetics (75.3%) pharmaceutical products (71.9%) and sunglasses (71.3%) are the products with the highest share of detentions linked to online purchases. The most common countries of origin for counterfeit items include China (and Hong Kong), Pakistan, and Turkey. By origin of the goods traded online, China sits at the top with more than 75% of seizures of counterfeit goods, followed by Hong Kong at 5.7%, Turkey (5.6%) and Singapore (3.3%). China is also a dominant origin country of counterfeit goods purchased online (68%). Criminal networks based outside of the EU are behind the counterfeit trade, Europol says. Nevertheless, some fake products are increasingly being made within EU Member States as customs checks intensified over the last few years.
The latest Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment , produced jointly between Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), reveals that the distribution of counterfeit and pirated goods increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, almost entirely due to the unprecedented rise in e-commerce. Between October 2021 and 31 January 2022 alone, Europol coordinated an international operation that led to seizures of “counterfeit and illegal puzzle games, video games and related characters, board and card games, dolls and puppets from famous TV series, bricks for children and clothing and accessories from famous brands. The seized goods contain risks such as chemical exposure, strangulation, choking, electric shock, damage to hearing and fire hazards.” By the end of 2021, “999 websites selling counterfeit merchandise were taken down by authorities in Europe and the USA.”
Yung people are most likely to purchase counterfeited products, both deliberately and inadvertently on the internet according to Europol’s analysis of 15-24-year-olds cohort in a recent 2022 study:
The European Commission is currently working on a ‘Counterfeit and Piracy Watch List’ to be published by late 2022. The list will identify the most problematic marketplaces/service providers and enable responsible local authorities and governments to take the necessary actions and measures to tackle infringing goods or services. It will also be an effective tool in raising consumer awareness of potential
environmental, product safety and other risks of purchasing infringing products. The Commission is also launching a targeted consultation in order to gather information on the state of intellectual property protection and enforcement in third countries in order to identify jurisdictions where intellectual property protection and enforcement are of most concern.
Read how to spot and deal with counterfeits here
EUIPO & Europol (2022), Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment 2022, Publications Office of the European Union, Luxembourg
Customs Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights Manual of the Office of the Irish Revenue Commissioners, May 2022
OECD/EUIPO (2019), Trends in Trade in Counterfeit and Pirated Goods, Illicit Trade, OECD Publishing,
Paris/European Union Intellectual Property Office
EURACTIV SPECIAL REPORT on changes in the illicit trade of counterfeit products brought about by the pandemic and technological change.