During this Help Net Security interview, Nicole Hofmann, CEO at Sentryc, delves into the critical issue of counterfeiting and the detrimental impact it has on industries and brands. Hofmann sheds light on the modus operandi of counterfeiters, who operate with impunity on online marketplaces and digital sales channels, luring unsuspecting customers into purchasing fake products.
Hofmann also highlights the crucial role of self-learning software in identifying and removing counterfeit products from online marketplaces, a crucial step in protecting businesses and consumers from this pervasive threat.
How do counterfeiters operate on online marketplaces and digital sales channels, and what industries and brands are affected by this?
Counterfeiters are bold and fast in replicating original products in demand. They attract buyers with fake discounts and ads that lead them to fake listings on e-commerce platforms or social media profiles. Usually, they use high-resolution images and keywords that remind us of the original product.
There are also rogue websites that look like the original websites of famous brands. Still, if you inspect their URLs, sometimes you will find tiny differences like an extra letter, wrong spelling, numbers in the name, or suspicious foreign domain.
Our findings show that all industries are affected by counterfeiting, but the most vulnerable include luxury goods, apparel, kids’ toys, electronics, heavy machinery, and pharmaceuticals. Our list of clients is suitable proof for this claim as it ranges from B2B manufacturers in the engineering industry over fashion brands to football clubs protecting their merchandise.
How can customers be deceived into purchasing counterfeit products, and what measures can be taken to prevent this?
Customers are usually deceived by the price or a great deal that will enable them to get more products for the price of one. After the purchase, they typically get an awful version of the ordered product, or they are still waiting to receive something. Even worse consequences are happening on rouge websites, which are just stealing credit card data or personal data.
To protect themselves from these frauds, buyers must explore which sources are trusted and learn how to verify the authenticity of products before purchasing. Incredibly low prices, misspelling of the brand name, misplaced elements, or poor pictures can be significant indicators, but counterfeiters are improving over time.
Primarily online, it is easy just to use photos from the original brands’ websites, but the product you get is not comparable with the original. Reviews of the listing can also give valuable insights, but unfortunately, sometimes they get faked too. The primary advice would be: if the deal is too good to be true, it probably is.
If brand owners need protection from counterfeiting, they need proper documentation, such as a registered trademark and patent in the country and region where they might get counterfeited.
We at Sentryc understand how traditional monitoring and removal is time-consuming, no matter how many trademarks the brand protects. That is why we offer brands an automated solution that enables brands to monitor multiple platforms simultaneously and remove fakes often in less than 48 hours.
Can you explain the process used by your IT specialists to identify potential counterfeits of your products?
The first step is to collect data about the products we protect for our clients. This includes pricing information, product images, etc., which serves as a baseline to compare against potential counterfeits. We are using this data to create a client-specific algorithm.
In a second step we are monitoring up to 200 online marketplaces and social media platforms frequently to identify potential counterfeit listings and gather information for further analysis. Lastly, we use the advanced machine learning algorithm to analyze the collected data. The algorithms identify patterns and anomalies, such as image differences, unusual seller behavior, or price deviations.
How does your self-learning software help to identify and remove counterfeit products from online marketplaces?
Our self-learning software uses AI and ML to identify potential infringements and automatically improves the accuracy over time. As mentioned before, it recognizes patterns, and as it processes more data, it improves its ability to detect potential infringements.
The algorithms adapt quickly to changes in the behavior of seller of counterfeits which are constantly trying to hide and not being detect by our algorithms. In addition, constant feedback is implemented into the learning cycle of the algorithm. This can happen through a “human in the loop” approach – meaning our client giving us feedback to a potential infringement – or automated through analyzing the performance of the takedown requests.
You’ve recently been accepted into the Google for Startups Growth Academy for Cybersecurity. What do you expect from this opportunity?
We are very happy and proud that Google has selected Sentryc for this opportunity. We are looking forward to a very valuable exchange with all the other cyber security and trust tech companies.
It is important that we exchange from different perspectives our experiences and join forces for the same mission: making our online and virtual life areas as safe as possible.