Target large-scale criminal networks with clustering technology
 

Target large-scale criminal networks with clustering technology

Online Counterfeiting

Shift the focus of your Brand Protection strategy to taking down criminal networks, not individual small-fry sellers.

Criminals often act as part of wider interconnected networks, spanning countless online channels and consumer touchpoints across the globe. These networks are known as ‘clusters’.

As counterfeiters have evolved and established these sophisticated multi-channel operations, it has become critical to enforce at a network level to have a lasting impact. We look at the techniques used to identify criminal networks, highlighting how an intelligence-led approach will allow your brand to shut down these operations for good.

How do networks operate?

Bad actors utilize a combination of social media, marketplaces and ecommerce websites to sell their illegal merchandise to large volumes of consumers. As part of this approach, they often funnel consumers to these websites via their social media to complete transactions.

Large-scale counterfeit networks are known to evolve very rapidly to counteract enforcement efforts and are adept in shrugging off ad-hoc takedowns. Utilizing a number of different domains, accounts, and listings, bad actors react quickly to channels that are closed down, they are quickly replaced and the counterfeiting activity continues.

Case study: An evolving cluster targeting football licensees

We monitored a cluster during the 2016 European Championship which sold counterfeit football jerseys. After revisiting this cluster, we noted that it was still active and utilizing a similar business model during the 2018 World Cup, with continued reliance on the same distribution and promotion channels. The cluster contained many domains, email addresses, social media accounts and was associated with a number of offline identities.

Whilst the business model remained the same, the ecommerce sites used to sell the shirts had changed. Many that we had previously identified had been closed down and re-opened under slightly varied URLs, containing the same contact information.

We also identified six Facebook accounts and thirty-three websites connected to this network, although very few of them were the same as had been operating previously. Throughout the tournament, our analysts noticed that if a website was closed, the social media platforms simply switched their promotion efforts to another within the network and the infringement continued unhindered.

Ad-hoc enforcement by external party was ineffective

Enforcement by an external party against single entities within the network suggests that there had been an ongoing battle, but both the nature and scale of the issue was not understood by those trying to close them down. The counterfeiters did not diversify how they promoted or distributed goods, and they did not switch their personal accounts or contact details which implies they did not feel threatened by the enforcement efforts.

This would have been problematic for the brand owners or licensees trying to grapple with the network. With the same distribution framework still intact, the infringers would have been able to freely promote sales and gain repeat purchases. The sellers would have also been able to build up a reliable reputation facilitating the further distribution of counterfeits.

How to fight large-scale networks

Taking an intelligence-led approach to fighting large-scale counterfeiting networks is the only truly effective way to shut down these operations. Incopro uses advanced ‘clustering’ technology to achieve this. By connecting all elements within the network across over 20 data points such as social media accounts, website domains, and marketplace listings and matching key identifying information such as seller premises, telephone numbers, and email addresses, we can build a complete picture of the operation.

Talisman, Incopro’s Brand Protection platform, features in-built prioritization technology that indicates which networks pose the greatest threat to your brand, allowing you to focus your efforts and generate maximum impact. This threat level is informed by factors such as web rankings, visibility to consumers, and whether marketplace sellers are authorized by platforms.

Clustering provides insight into how bad actors use multiple channels and accounts to boost sales. We trace links between all these separate accounts and enforce at scale to take out the whole cluster rather than engaging in ‘whack-a-mole’. This addresses the source of the issue to bring long-lasting results for brands.

Taking down a cluster in 24 hours

In early 2018, an Instagram account promoting counterfeit goods for a leading sports licensor was discovered. Talisman identified the full network, containing over 530 social media accounts, 14,140 infringing URLs, and over 7,000 marketplace listings, and successfully enforced against the entire operation within 24 hours. This comprehensive action cleaned up marketplaces and social media platforms, allowing genuine licensees to regain online market share and put a stop to the erosion of revenues on these digital channels.

Incopro constantly monitors clusters such as the one identified above, so we can continue to understand the behavior of counterfeiters and identify any new trends, ensuring we stay ahead of the curve and deliver real impact that to defend our customers’ brand online.

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