Co-Convener, IAF Task Force on Counterfeit Certificates
Counterfeit certificates in the testing, inspection and certification (TIC) industry have always posed a significant problem for the reputation, reliability, and trust in certification worldwide. Besides being a criminal infringement of intellectual property of accreditation bodies (ABs) and certification bodies (CBs), generating tangible and intangible losses for these entities, counterfeit certificates are a major means of facilitation of traffic of counterfeit and illicit goods and services. This traffic amounts to close to 10 billion USD, is run by multinational organized crime and is closely linked to corruption, fraud, and drug and human trafficking. It poses a direct threat to health and human lives around the globe.
Counterfeit certificates are making a false claim about a product or a company, with the intention to deceive or mislead end users. There are various types and systems for counterfeiting certificates, often well-funded and sophisticated, including parallel systems to IAF and the International Laboratory Accreditation Cooperation (ILAC), websites with lists of “accredited” certification bodies and databases for validation. In some cases, accredited CBs or individuals from ABs are complicit in organizing the counterfeiting schemes of large operations.
The impact of counterfeit certificates at the organizational level includes misleading users, loss of confidence, loss of business, poor/dangerous quality, unfair competition, and again, most importantly, facilitation of international traffic of counterfeit goods and services.
For many years the IAF and its members have worked on minimizing vulnerabilities and managing risk to counterfeiting through various measures, the most important of which is the creation of the IAF CertSearch global database of management system certificates, which aims to provide a reliable tool to verify the validity of suppliers, manufacturers and traders to confirm the legitimacy of partners in the global supply chain. It has also been welcomed as a tool for the global law enforcement community, including police, border control and customs, to proactively limit the options of counterfeit traffic.
Populating the database with all 1.6 million management systems certified companies will be the strongest preventive move, eliminating about 20 to 25% of counterfeit accredited certificates that circulate globally. As an example, over the last months of operation of the CertSearch database, populated at 650,000 companies as of March 2022, it was able to identify over 12,000 counterfeit certificates, linked to 47 IAF ABs, which is about 68 percent of IAF MLA signatories being affected by fraud and counterfeit in this small sample alone.
Currently, the IAF Task Force on Counterfeit Certificates is developing a preemptive and proactive anti-counterfeiting risk policy, which includes vulnerability assessment, proactive and reactive measures. Some of the key components include evaluation of vulnerabilities for counterfeiting, vulnerability treatment, policies, procedures, technical and organization measures, due diligence methodology, cybersecurity protection, unique authentication, incident management, investigation, reporting to authorities, intelligence-led impact, liaison with stakeholders and partner organizations, enforcement and peer support.
Globally, there are over 80 international and regional organizations fighting counterfeit goods and services traffic, of which counterfeit certificates have an important role in deceiving supply chains, customs, and end users. The cooperation of IAF experts on counterfeiting with organizations like the World Customs Organization, Interpol and Europol has proven valuable and helpful in preventing or identifying and prosecuting counterfeiting in various regions of the world. What is now key to our success is to launch the global validation tool and the preemptive/proactive strategic risk policy tools in order to eliminate the 25 percent accredited counterfeit certificates from circulation as well as another 20-25 percent of unaccredited fake certificates from the market.
With the interest and endorsement of international partners, multinationals, small and medium-sized enterprises, and financial and government institutions, we can rise to the expectation to provide the global chain of trust in accredited certification we are expected to deliver in an ever-changing and unstable global environment.
Ivan Savov is Chair of the European Federation of Associations of Certification Bodies (EFAC), IAF TF on Counterfeit Certificates Co-Convener, member of IAF TC since 2005, representative to ISO/CASCO and EA since 2009.
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