In late October, Tiffany & Co. won a $2.2 million judgment and a permanent injunction against several websites that were selling counterfeit Tiffany jewelry. In total, seventy-eight defendants were charged with selling fake merchandise through sites with domain names that were “intended to confuse and deceive consumers,” as the retailer stated.
With domain names like shoptiffanyco.com, salestiffany.net, tiffanyandcomall.com, and tiffanycooutlet.co.uk, it’s easy to see how consumers could have been duped into purchasing phony Tiffany jewelry without realizing they had stumbled onto an illegal counterfeit site. In addition to infringing upon Tiffany’s trademarks by selling counterfeit goods, these sites posed a real threat to the upscale retailer; if consumers lose faith in the validity and quality of a retailer’s merchandise, the brand can become severely tarnished.
Unfortunately, Tiffany’s problem with counterfeit merchandise and internet deception is not a unique case. The Today Show recently warned viewers about other counterfeit retailer websites designed to scam consumers who are looking to get the best prices on gifts during the holiday season.
Federal authorities have cautioned that many websites that appear to be selling popular brands of merchandise could in reality be operated by criminals who are executing a high-level scheme. Some of these websites are so elaborate that they look nearly identical to legitimate brands’ websites, utilizing the same layouts, fonts, colors, graphics, and even logos so that consumers don’t realize they’ve ventured into counterfeit territory. Consumers who purchase items on these sites may receive faulty products – or nothing at all. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials have shut down 1,500 fake retailer websites in the past year, including those appearing to sell mainstream clothing lines, popular children’s products, high-end brand name jewelry, and exercise DVDs.
How can your online retail business avoid falling victim to these elaborate internet schemes?
- Be aware of what’s going on online within your industry
- Frequently conduct internet searches of your trademarked business and product names to ensure that counterfeit sites don’t pop up in the search results
- If you suspect that a party has infringed upon your trademarks or you would like to make sure your intellectual property assets are properly protected, consult your attorney
If you plan on surfing the web for holiday gifts this season, follow these helpful consumer tips:
- Call the customer service number posted on the website you’re looking at and confirm you’re indeed visiting the intended retailer’s website
- Purchase merchandise with a credit card and not a debit card – it’s easier to contest the charges
- Carefully examine websites, paying special attention to any grammatical or spelling errors that could indicate you’re looking at a counterfeit site