eBay has been scaling down and appears to be phasing out a program aimed at removing counterfeit merchandise from its marketplace, opting instead to rely on users and brand owners reporting items through the site and the Verified Rights Owner (VeRO) program.
Through the Enhanced Member Reporting (EMR) program, which dates at least to 2008, eBay recruited experts in fields prone to knock-offs like coins and autographs to flag counterfeit listings, providing a more detailed reporting mechanism than that available to general users.
eBay spokesman Ryan Moore declined to comment on the rationale for winding down the EMR program, but said the company has been taking “steps toward a more formal process for reporting and removing bad activity and items in various categories.”
“We’ve also broadened our internal team’s expertise … in an effort to detect and investigate bad activity in a more streamlined manner,” Moore added, noting that the EMR program does still remain active “in a few categories.”
Some sellers initially greeted the EMR initiative as a sign that eBay was getting more serious about cracking down on fake goods on the marketplace. But over time, users began to question the efficacy of the system.
Brian Simpson, an expert in Cartier watches, participated in the EMR program but described a frustrating experience of “serial reporting” bogus listings in that category, only to see them linger on the site.
“Over the course of a year or so I just discovered nothing was being done,” Simpson said. “I just always got the feeling they didn’t care. They just didn’t care. It was all lip service.”
It wasn’t like that at first, Simpson said. He recalled that for roughly the first six months of his participation in the EMR program, eBay would promptly take down fraudulent listings he reported, often within an hour or so.
But the knockoff Cartiers persisted, and Simpson’s efforts to contact eBay devolved into runaround phone calls with customer-service representatives who were completely unfamiliar with the nuances of the category he was reporting on.
“People are stonewalled and it’s a veiled curtain,” Simpson said.
The last straw for Simpson came when eBay took down the listing of a watch he advertised for sale under the VeRO program. Simpson said the item – a Cartier watch with a Movado movement – was perfectly legitimate, and that he had documentation from the watchmaker to prove it, but eBay objected to the use of the two brand names in the same listing.
After pleading his case to the company, to no avail, Simpson gave up on the EMR program, and he remains critical of what he sees as an arbitrary approach to counterfeit detection, one where legitimate items can be delisted while obvious fakes remain on the site.
eBay’s Moore declined specifically to address the criticisms of the EMR program. As to the “more formal” process for flagging knock-off goods he mentioned, Moore explained:
“The Report an Item feature and VeRO program provide the most streamlined and efficient ways in which eBay can quickly and accurately identify and address illegitimate items, and we investigate each notification and take appropriate action on reported listings.”
Despite the company’s efforts at policing its site through VeRO, EMR and user reporting, abuse remains widespread, according to Geoffrey Potter, a partner at the law firm Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler, where he chairs the anti-counterfeiting practice team.
“eBay continues to be rife with counterfeits and stolen merchandise in just unbelievably massive quantities,” Potter alleged.
“It’s sort of interesting – in this sort of age of global trade it doesn’t take a lot of ingenuity to source or manufacture counterfeits. It doesn’t take much capital, either,” he added. “The difficult part has always been the distribution – who can distribute counterfeits in mass quantities – and the conduits that have allowed people to do it are the Internet conduits, the primary one being eBay. And so we see lots and lots of merchandise flowing through it that’s fake.”
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