Amazon has filed a lawsuit against Instagram and TikTok personalities for allegedly participating in a scheme to sell counterfeit luxury goods.
Filed in the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington and made public on Thursday, the complaint alleges that 13 individuals and businesses ran a scam to lure followers into buying fake luxury products -- and deceive Amazon in the process.
The influencers, Kelly Fitzpatrick and Sabrina Kelly-Krejci, allegedly peddled counterfeit items listed on Amazon -- but disguised -- by sellers they conspired with. Amazon claims that Fitzpatrick and Kelly-Krejci used social media platforms, such as Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok -- as well as their own websites -- to advertise fake products.
According to the lawsuit, the influencers posted side-by-side photos of generic, unbranded items and a luxury -- but counterfeit -- product. The text "Order this/Get this" was posted alongside the photos, with "Order this" referring to a generic product listed on Amazon, and "Get this" referring to a fake luxury good, also referred to as a dupe.
As shown in the court filing example below, a generic black wallet would be listed on Amazon, but customers would receive a dupe of a branded product. The generic item, therefore, was nothing more than a placeholder.
Videos describing the "high quality" of the fake products were also published by the influencers.
"By posting only generic products on Amazon, Fitzpatrick and Kelly-Krejci -- and the sellers they coordinated with -- attempted to evade our anti-counterfeit protections while using social media to promote the true nature of these counterfeit products," Amazon says.
Fitzpatrick, a former member of the Amazon Influencer Program, has now been booted out of the program.
Amazon says dupes are still being advertised on her personal website. At the time of writing, the domain is inaccessible, as is her Instagram profile, now made private.
The e-commerce giant says that Kelly-Krejci's scheme was also "detected and blocked."
The social media influencer pool can be a valuable tool for marketers and legitimate, sponsored product placements, listings, and shout-outs do exist. However, as the lawsuit may show, social media platforms can also be abused to conduct fraud and to peddle counterfeit items.
Amazon has attempted to crack down on fake goods and dupes in recent years, investing over $500 million to combat such alleged scams in 2019 alone. In June this year, Amazon launched its Counterfeit Crimes Unit to investigate and launch legal action against "bad actors" involved in the sale of counterfeit goods.
Cristina Posa, Director of Amazon's Counterfeit Crimes Unit, described the alleged scam and defendants as "brazen."
"This case demonstrates the need for cross-industry collaboration in order to drive counterfeiters out of business," Posa commented. "Amazon continues to invest tremendous resources to stop bad actors before they enter our store and social media sites must similarly vet, monitor, and take action on bad actors that are using their services to facilitate illegal behavior."
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