In future, crowd shipping platforms might be used by counterfeiters as a new way to distribute illicit goods. The online transport services are establishing themselves in Europe and allow importing products potentially without any checks.

The increasingly popular crowd-shipping platforms could offer fraudsters new ways to sell counterfeit goods without being noticed. One particular problem might be that platforms such as the American provider Grabr or the Belgium-based company PiggyBee pass on the responsibility for controlling shipments entirely to buyers and couriers.

Crowd shipping means the delivery of parcels by private individuals, e.g. travelers, or independent couriers. Dedicated peer-to-peer platforms enable recipients and dispatchers to tender local or international deliveries of parcels. What’s more, it is even possible to assign people to buy certain goods and then transport them (also known as crowd shopping). Crowd shipping providers promise a delivery that is cheaper, faster, and more personal than deliveries handled by established logistics service providers such as UPS or DHL.

However, this type of shopping might entail risks: As the transactions are privately organized, users often have no guarantee that they will actually receive an authentic product. While the terms of crowd-shipping platforms ban the transport of prohibited products, the providers demand that the recipients and deliverers themselves check whether the transported goods are counterfeit. Yet, it might be questionable how effective these regulations are – buyers and travelers may not always be able to reliably spot a counterfeit; or they may not even bother to check at all.

The founder of PiggyBee, David Vuylsteke, recognizes the risk that crowd shipping platforms are used to distribute counterfeits. For him, however, the social aspect of the peer-to-peer platform actively contributes to the protection of buyers. According to Vuylsteke, online profiles, ratings, and background checks would make it difficult for counterfeiters to ship fake goods repeatedly. To further increase counterfeit protection, Vuylsteke calls on brand owners to inform customs if their products are sold via crowd shipping.

In this context, it is also important to make consumers aware of the dangers of counterfeit products, explains David Lossignol, President of the International Trademark Association (INTA). He told the trade magazine World Trade Review: “We need to highlight what brands bring to society and how counterfeits are directly or indirectly unsafe or dangerous for a person’s health and society generally.”

Sources: Handelsjournal, World Trademark Review