December 14, 2021
Mary Beth Westmoreland
Vice President of Brand Protection, Amazon
Executive Vice President, Center for Capital Markets Competitiveness (CCMC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Executive Vice President, Center for Technology Engagement (C_TEC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Executive Vice President, Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC), U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Senior Advisor to the President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
Pandemic restrictions over the past two years have encouraged many businesses to ramp up their e-commerce efforts and many consumers to increase their online shopping. However, with this rise in digital transactions has come countless counterfeit sellers and products, which can deceive consumers and harm business reputations.
In 2020 alone, these fraudulent sales cost American retailers more than $54 billion in lost profits. To help retailers better understand and address the risks to themselves and consumers, the U.S. Chamber’s Global Innovation Policy Center (GIPC) launched Shop Smart, an initiative whose goal is to keep consumers and small businesses safe.
As part of this initiative, Tom Quaadman, EVP of GIPC for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, interviewed Mary Beth Westmoreland, VP of brand protection for Amazon, about counterfeit trends and the company’s new first-of-its-kind Counterfeit Crimes Unit. In their conversation, Westmoreland discussed how Amazon is working to help consumers shop safe — and how businesses can mitigate fraudulent purchases.
Businesses Are Coming Together to Stay Ahead of Bad Actors
There are many “bad actors” on the market who are using false names and contact information, manufacturing fraudulent invoices and infringement packaging, evading detections and colluding. With the increased use of social media to promote products, there are even instances of popular influencers — who have large and loyal followings — promoting counterfeit luxury goods to their audience.
“That's why we have to continue to invest a lot and innovate to stay ahead of these really slick criminals,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland noted the importance of identifying counterfeiters and alerting other businesses of their existence. Many companies, including Amazon, are already doing this. In fact, she said, “about 16% of [confirmed counterfeiters] match seller accounts that had tried to actually register on Amazon,” which has helped Amazon get a jump on stopping fraud.
Companies Are Hiring Employees to Protect Customers
Since fraud is such an ongoing issue, businesses are now focusing more resources and time on identifying counterfeiters.
“We're investing significantly in people, programs and tech to protect customers from counterfeit,” said Westmoreland. “In 2020 alone, we invested over $700 million, and we dedicated more than 10,000 employees to stop fraud, counterfeit and abuse.”
“These investments are working,” she continued. “Last year, less than 0.01% of all products sold on Amazon received a counterfeit complaint from a customer.”
Additionally, when Amazon did receive complaints, it had the bandwidth to investigate every one of them and take action on those bad actors. Such actions include closing their accounts, withholding funds, and involving law enforcement.
Industry Experts Are Educating Consumers About Fraud
To prevent this threat, it’s important for experts to alert and teach consumers to recognize the signs of bad actors.
“All of us in the industry have to do our part in stopping bad actors,” Westmoreland said. “We need to educate folks [about] these counterfeiters. It's not just the fake Rolex watch that you might buy on Canal Street; these guys are bad actors, and so many of them are parts of larger rings of criminal activity.”
However, identifying counterfeiters isn’t always easy — especially in the digital space. That’s why it’s so crucial for companies to call them out while educating and encouraging consumers to stop investing in frauds.
“We don't want to support them,” she continued. “It's really important that we educate consumers about that.”
Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit Will Continue Working with Businesses to End Fraud
Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit (CCU) is a global team that's dedicated to identifying bad actors and holding them accountable to the fullest extent of the law.
“It's a really impressive team … made up of former federal prosecutors, investigators [and] analysts with lots of experience working for organizations like the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the FDA and lots of others,” said Westmoreland. “These folks work closely with law enforcement and our brand partners to investigate and then to litigate both criminal and civil suits.”
The CCU also partners with a wide range of brands to refer counterfeiters for criminal investigation. Together, the CCU has “filed litigation against 64 counterfeiters in U.S. courts” and “disrupted counterfeiters and their supply networks across the world,” Westmoreland said.
“Our goal is not just to chase [counterfeiters] away from Amazon,” she continued. “It’s to stop them for good.”