Understanding of Illicit Crime Operations to Understand Counterfeiting Operations

How has your knowledge of the operations of illicit crimes influenced your understanding of counterfeiting operations or vice versa?

Chris T. Macolini 

Partner, MIC Worldwide

Information on operational aspects of illicit trade is important in providing a high-level view of the who, what, where, when and how of counterfeiting groups. This information is key when establishing a strategy on how to combat counterfeiting. If we understand that the completed counterfeit products are being manufactured in a particular country for further distribution, then we can focus efforts on that country. If, on the other hand, we find that manufacturing is taking place locally from component parts manufactured in several different countries, then the strategy would be completely different. Disrupting one of the key component parts may be enough to diminish or even eradicate local production. Information can also provide an understanding of how the products, components, or even money is moving locally, nationally, or internationally, which would also influence your anti-counterfeiting strategy. 


Rod Khattabi

Chief Accountability Officer & Justice Initiative Director, Grace Farms Foundation

Information regarding the operational aspects of illicit trade crimes have influenced my understanding of counterfeiting operations by revealing numerous overlapping facets that exist between both crimes. These similarities, such as complex trading routes, exploitation of Free Trade Zones, technological advancements to escape detection, and connections to criminal or terrorist organizations, reveal specific tactics regularly utilized in counterfeiting operations. While these factors regularly occur in illicit trade crimes, they provide a specific context for a more comprehensive understanding of counterfeiting operations and their specific strategies. With regards to combatting these crimes, I believe many of the key tactics to escape detection are shared across crimes of illicit trade, thus, approaches to combat these crimes, regardless of product, can be implemented and utilized throughout the world—even in different governments and locales. Therefore, improving law enforcement and governments’ capacity through increased customs access for investigations, information exchange, record keeping and public-private partnerships, are but a few strategies to help stem illicit trade, regardless of the illicit product being traded or where the crime is occurring. 

Consequently, one strategy to combat counterfeiting crimes is particularly important. That is public and private partnerships—especially their ability to raise public awareness related to counterfeiting operations—as public understanding and urgency surrounding the issue is severely lacking. Raising public awareness is important because it can bring to light the direct and indirect impact that counterfeiting has towards affecting the entire public through national security, as these operations can fund criminal and terrorist organizations. While public awareness is important, so too is the ability for private companies to work alongside the public sector and government, as counterfeiting sufficiently impacts private companies’ products and brand integrity, which can also influence the public sector.


Sven Bergmann

Chief Executive Officer, Venture Global


Illicit trade over the course of the pandemic has continued to become ever more decentralized. Instead of shipping counterfeits and illicit goods by the container load, many criminals have shifted to express cargo and small parcel shipments to avoid detection. Online illicit marketplace offerings are now dominating the playing field. Instead of owning the entire illicit distribution chain from production to end consumer, crime is increasingly offered as a service and compartmentalized further. For example, criminal groups are specializing in production, while others specialize in transportation or payment, or money laundering, and offering crime services to other criminal groups. As a result illicit trade has become increasingly pervasive in society and harder to combat. 

To combat this we are working with our clients to be increasingly adaptive and pliable in their approach and strategy modeled after the Special Operations Teams. Second, it is important to be future focused with technology and tactics to be able to enforce against “crime service providers” which can serve as a choke hold. For example, instead of enforcing against hundreds of sellers or marketplaces, an enforcement action against the underlying crypto payment provider who facilitates the money laundering can take out multiple networks and help throttle activity. Lastly, we think it will be ever more important for all participants in the brand protection space to be more collaborative and engage actively in the policy-making process in the United States and globally to provide better enforcement tools and rights to brand owners and law enforcement. 



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