3 Ways to Spot Fakes and Counterfeits

How businesses and consumers can protect themselves against the dangers of counterfeit goods.

Fakes are everywhere. From olive oil to pharmaceuticals, to seafood, sneakers and even digital content, criminals make big money by tricking consumers into buying their counterfeit goods. In fact it’s estimated that over 60% of olive oil is fake, and, in some places, there’s an 87% chance that red snapper is actually a cheaper fish, like perch or tilapia.

For some companies the costs of combating mislabeling and fakes outweigh the risks, and others actually benefit from the fake creation. For example, many social media platforms realize it’s not worth spending money ferreting out disinformation when that type of sensational content is so effective at increasing engagement and therefore advertising revenue.

“As a consumer, you really do need to be skeptical of everything that you’re consuming and looking at,” says Avivah Litan, Distinguished VP Analyst, Gartner.

According to a report prepared for the International Chamber of Commerce, counterfeit and other piracy will grow to 2.81 trillion dollars by 2022.

In times of disruption, shortages and uncertainty, like a global pandemic or a divisive election season, counterfeiters become more active preying on people who have dropped their guard. It’s exactly these environments of desperation and distraction that cause people to become victims of counterfeits.

Here are three tools to spot and stop counterfeits. Gartner recommends that consumers look for at least one that has been used to verify that a product is what it says it is. But for organizations that must ensure products are 100% genuine, it’s best to rely on all three.

  1. Human verification. This includes on-site auditing by regulators who conduct actual physical inspections, sampling and testing to deliver certificates of verification. In the digital space it may also include crowdsourced ratings of reputation, such as seller reviews online.
  2. Algorithmic verification. Machine learning and AI models are trained to analyze and recognize attributes, components and ingredients of the genuine article to provide verification.
  3. Digital verification. Deployed for certification at the origin of a product or piece of content, these tools allow for quality control with digital techniques such as DNA analysis or spectral imaging to capture and record the original as a digital object. Then blockchain and digital tokenization enable tracking of this immutable object from origin to end user to provide certainty that nothing has been changed.

Because each tool by itself is not perfect, all three layered together provide the greatest verification. But the cost increases with each tool, so deciding which to use and when requires carefully weighing risks and benefits against cost. Whatever the level of need to assess the truth, these tools will help you spot fakes and protect yourself and your business from counterfeits.

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