Week 12: Counterfeit brands from fraudulent webshops

26.03.2024 - Online shopping has become increasingly popular, and not just since the pandemic. Nevertheless, caution is required: in the worst case scenario, purchases made online may have unwished-for legal consequences. This is illustrated by the case of a man who received a counterfeit branded item.

Different types of fraudulent web shops

Normally, no problems occur when you order an item from a webshop. If the shop has been in business for a long time, belongs to a renowned company or is otherwise known to be reputable, there is no real reason not to order goods from it. As a rule, you receive the ordered goods and the payment process is secure.

However, when you search for a particular item or shop via a search engine, the reputable shops do not always appear at the top. You should always take a closer look at shops that you have not ordered from before. If the domain has only existed for a few days or weeks, this may already be a warning sign. Missing or inadequate company details, suspiciously low prices or poor online reviews are further signs that you should not go ahead and place an order.

In the case of fraudulent webshops, a typical scenario is that the ordered goods are never delivered and the purchaser loses their money because they paid for the goods in advance by credit card. In a far more deceitful case, the goods are delivered but are not at all what was actually ordered. Either the quality is inferior, or a different article entirely is sent. In this case, a refund is sometimes offered; however, the item must be returned – to China, for example – at the purchaser's own expense. The cost of returning the goods often exceeds the value of the item, which is why many people decide not to bother. This is precisely what fraudulent traders want to happen. They operate in a grey area: they pretend there is an organisational problem in order to avoid accusations of fraud. The effect is the same: the purchaser loses their money.

Customs intervenes

However, ordering from a questionable online shop may mean more than just losing some money, as a case recently reported to the NCSC illustrates. In the case, the victim ordered an item of clothing and became suspicious immediately after placing the order. Fortunately, the purchase was cancelled by the bank and the credit card payment was blocked. Apparently, however, the item was already under way from China. However, instead of the item of clothing ordered, a cheap counterfeit of a fashion accessory from a renowned European brand was sent. The Swiss customs, who are aware of this type of scam, seized and withheld the goods at the border.

But that is not the end of the story. The customs authorities forwarded the purchaser's details to the legal representative of the brand in question so they could assess the situation and consider taking legal action:

We have retained the above-mentioned consignment on the basis of the Trademark Protection Act because there is some doubt about the authenticity of the goods it contained.

We have submitted this case to the rights holder as it is up to them or their legal representative to decide whether to pursue the matter before a court of law (see copy of notification of retention enclosed).

The legal representative of the rights holder reacted immediately (here an excerpt from the letter):

The Federal Office for Customs and Border Security (FOCBS) has decided to confiscate the products that infringe the trademark X or a registered design of X as explained in the attached letter from the FOCBS.

As the recipient of these counterfeit goods, you are responsible for their unlawful import into the territory of the Swiss Confederation under Article 13 letters 2 and 2bis of the Trademark Protection Act (TmPA) and under Article 9 letters 1 and 2bis of the Designs Act (DesA). Our client is therefore entitled to sue for damages (Article 55 para. 2 TmPA and Article 35 para. 2 DesA).

Our client is prepared to settle this matter amicably and definitively in return for payment of compensation of CHF x by means of the enclosed payment slip.

So with the goods ordered not delivered, and a cheap imitation of a branded product sent instead and withheld at customs, the customer must expect not only to lose the purchase price but also to be asked to pay damages for violation of the Trademark Protection Act – even though they did not knowingly order the product.


  • Before any purchase, check out the online merchant in detail.
  • In particular, check when the online shop was registered (e.g. on www.whois.com).
  • Use customer feedback (reviews) to get an idea about the seller. You can find this feedback by searching for the name of the webshop plus "reviews".
  • Alarm bells should ring if an offer is obviously too cheap.
  • Check whether the seller has an 'About' section and whether this is complete and plausible. For example, does the seller give a plausible contact address, a correct telephone number or email address, and a commercial register number?
  • Check the information on cancellation rights, returning goods and shipping costs.
  • If you have any doubts about an online shop, do not place an order.
  • If you are threatened with legal action, seek legal advice.

Last modification 26.03.2024

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