Buyers beware of dangers lurking in alluring counterfeit goods

Counterfeit products usually bear the trademark of a legitimate, known and trusted brand. [iStockphoto]

We are back to that time of the year when our TV screens, radio pronouncements and advertising mediums are awash with jiggles and buyer's discounts as the holidays begin. It is a time when consumers want to spoil themselves by buying gifts for themselves and their loved ones.

At this time, consumers should be on high alert not to buy counterfeit goods as they are likely to expose themselves and their families to the health and safety risks of counterfeit products.

Paradoxically, counterfeiters are equally busy scheming how to infiltrate the genuine market to pass off counterfeits as authentic products. and start offering counterfeit products to gullible consumers as they do their shopping.

The extent of counterfeiting in Kenya was laid bare by a survey report titled, National Baseline Survey on the Extent of Counterfeit and Other Forms of Illicit Trade in Kenya in 2019. According to the report the worst-hit sectors were Building, Mining and Construction (23 per cent), followed by Energy, Electrical and Electronics (15 per cent), Textiles and apparel (14 per cent), Plastic and Rubber and Metal and Allied sectors (9 per cent each). It further identified counties where counterfeit goods were prevalent. Nairobi was leading at 88 per cent followed by Mombasa at 45 per cent, Nyeri at 45 per cent, Meru at 34 per cent and Nakuru at 34 per cent.

Some of the most dangerous counterfeit products likely to be sold during the festive season range from foods and beverages, car parts, electronic equipment, alcohol, wines and spirits, and even pharmaceutical products. Other categories with less exposure to health and safety include clothes and apparel, handbags & shoes, jewels, toys and household equipment.

Counterfeit products usually bear the trademark of a legitimate, known and trusted brand, but they are made by unscrupulous people in unregulated places using low-quality ingredients compared to the original products. They are known to pose a myriad of challenges to intellectual property rights owners, consumers, manufacturers and the government.

A good example is the consumption of counterfeit alcoholic products that have led to deaths and blindness in Kenya. Counterfeit cosmetics can cause severe skin reactions. Counterfeit prescription drugs may not contain the active ingredient or could lead to accidental overdose or even death. Counterfeit car parts and electricals pose a significant risk of failure, extreme heat, fires, and exploding and accidents.

Governments lose tax revenues, reducing their ability to invest and provide services and security to their citizens. Manufacturers or companies suffer from unfair competition and lost income and damage to their reputation and branding, meaning that they are inclined to invest less and can provide fewer jobs. The proceeds of illegal trade often end up in the hands of criminal organizations and fund other illegal activities like smuggling, trade in substandard goods, terrorism, child trafficking, money laundering and corruption among others.

According to Anti-Counterfeit Authority statistics, 42.09 per cent of consumers admitted to having purchased illicitly traded products knowingly with 30.76 per cent of consumers being unsure, while 27.15 per cent of consumers said they had not purchased illicitly traded products. This shows that the purchase of illicit goods is widespread and accepted since most consumers can identify illicit goods before purchase.

In Kenya, online and social media platforms have grown in leaps with the positive benefit of growing trade in genuine business and the negative externalities of increased online counterfeit trade based on reported cases to the Anti-Counterfeit Authority.

Counterfeiters prefer online sales due to a greater degree of anonymity compared to traditional physical stores like shops and go-downs. It is a convenient hiding place to evade law enforcement officials' physical scrutiny and investigations. Other outlets are a home-based network of distributors, shops, hawkers and kiosks. Supermarkets and self-selection stores have insignificant reported cases as conduits of illicitly traded products.

While government agencies continue to mount operations to combat the manufacture, importation and distribution of counterfeit goods, it is important for consumers to be on the front line by not buying counterfeit goods. This will deny them the market and lead to promoting the integrity of legitimate trade systems.

Secondly, it is important for consumers to report and share information on suspicious cases of counterfeiting to law enforcement agencies and also to the brand owners to enhance the investigative capacity of law enforcement.

Consumers are advised to be vigilant and extra careful when shopping from online and unconventional outlets. They need to buy from trusted and authorised outlets.

They need to be on the lookout for variations in product details including Kenya Bureau of Standards quality marks or KRA revenue stamps, product labels, colouration, design and trademark pass-offs, poor language and spelling mistakes. If the products have spills and non-uniform filling or packaging avoid it at all costs.

The writer is the Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the Anti-Counterfeit Authority (ACA).