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Amazon Levels Lawsuit at Influencers in Counterfeiting Conspiracy

Amazon is making moves to hit back at crafty counterfeiters fleecing the consumer faithful on its massive global marketplace.

While illicit sellers have run rampant for years, a new scheme has caught the attention of Amazon’s legal team. A group of sellers has been attempting to sidestep the company’s anti-counterfeiting protections by promoting faux luxury products on social media apps like Instagram and TikTok, while creating false listings for totally innocuous, unbranded items on the site.

On Thursday, the tech titan announced a lawsuit against 13 individuals and businesses for advertising, promoting and facilitating the sale of fakes through the platform, violating the law and Amazon’s user policies. Filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, where the company is headquartered, the suit alleges that the defendants worked together to sell counterfeit goods through a false advertising ring.

Defendants Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, among others, allegedly conspired with sellers to promote counterfeits on social media and on their own websites, posting photos of generic, non-branded product and luxury imitations side by side, accompanied by the caption, “Order this/Get this.”

The ads implied that Amazon shoppers who ordered the generic items would instead receive the phony luxury products. Fitzpatrick, Kelly-Krejci and other defendants also posted a multitude of videos that described the quality of the counterfeits they were attempting to sell.

“These defendants were brazen about promoting counterfeits on social media and undermined the work of legitimate influencers,” Cristina Posa, associate general counsel and director of Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit, said in a statement. “This case demonstrates the need for cross-industry collaboration in order to drive counterfeiters out of business.”

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According to Posa, Amazon is investing “tremendous resources” to stop bad actors from selling on its platform, and she implored social media sites to take similar actions to vet and monitor perpetrators of illegal behavior.

Defendant Fitzpatrick herself was once a member of Amazon’s influencer program, but was kicked out when the company got wise to her promotion of counterfeits through her own social media and website. The company took similar action against Kelly-Krejci after she began to instruct followers to purchase counterfeits on her own website.

“[N]ow as most of you know amazon has really cracked down on dupes… now they’re are barely any [dupes on Amazon],” Fitzpatrick wrote to her followers. “Our very trusted seller of the last year has moved to DH Gate… I know it’s a big change to switch from Amazon to DH Gate but this guarantees that the links do not get reported and shut down sometimes cancelling our orders.”

Amazon has long faced calls from brands and retailers to quash counterfeiting efforts on its platform. Earlier this week, the American Apparel and Footwear Association (AAFA) renewed a recommendation that the platform’s U.S. business be added to the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) Notorious Markets report after some of its foreign domains were added to the roster in 2019. At the time, an Amazon spokesperson told Sourcing Journal that the company strongly disagreed with the AAFA’s assertions, citing its “proven results” in combatting counterfeiting.

Over the course of 2019, the company invested more than $500 million into anti-counterfeiting and brand protection measures, including machine-learning-based technology, inventory tracking tools and a brand product registry. In June, the tech giant launched the internal Counterfeit Crimes Unit. “As a result of Amazon’s efforts, 99.9 percent of all products viewed by customers on Amazon have not received a valid counterfeit complaint,” the company said Thursday.