Lawmakers on Tuesday pushed officials to crack down on the growing number of counterfeit goods sold online.
“With the rise of popular online market places, counterfeiters have greater access to the market and can easily sell their phony products directly to consumers,” said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) during a hearing by his panel on protecting online consumers.
While authorities have techniques to police ports and shipments for counterfeit goods, online retailers often inadvertently sell products that look authentic. Knock-offs often use stock images to masquerade as brand names.
In 2017, U.S. Customs and Border Protection seized over 34,000 shipments of counterfeit products. Sixteen percent of seized goods contained threats to consumer health and safety.
During his opening statement, Hatch referenced bacteria-infected contact lenses, chemical-laden cosmetics and batteries with thermal runoff.
Senators from both parties pressed officials to do to prevent the sale of counterfeits online.
“This is simply a matter of protecting American families from harmful products and making sure that we are fully mobilized to stop these rip-off artists from undercutting the American brand,” said Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the committee’s ranking member.
Officials from law enforcement and consumer protection agencies said they are working closely with businesses to combat counterfeits.
But they added there are restrictions that make their efforts difficult. For example, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) cannot provide some details on counterfeit products they confiscate.
“CBP is restricted about the amount and type of information about seized items that it can share,” said Kimberly Gianopoulos, director of the U.S. Government Accountability Office. “This restriction limits the ability of rights holders and e-commerce websites to protect IPR [intellectual property rights].”
Gianopoulos told lawmakers increasing the type of information that can be shared with copyright holders and e-commerce companies could help identify fake products and charge counterfeiters.
Lawmakers floated higher penalties for selling fake goods and ways to grant government agencies authority to crack down on counterfeiters.
Wyden pushed Customs to detail, in 60 days, the steps they are taking and authorities they need to address counterfeits.
Hatch vowed the committee would “see what we can do to back it up and help you.”