Print vendor Kyocera is locked in a legal battle in the UK, and several across Europe, relating to counterfeit toner cartridges – part of a wider crackdown on the growing amount of dodgy kit.
The firm seized €10m (£8.5m) worth of counterfeit goods in the whole of last year. But this year, since April alone, the firm has got its hands on fake kit worth €5m – suggesting it is becoming more prevalent in the European channel.
The company claims the rise is partly down to more counterfeiters turning to office and IT supplies and partly due to the industry working together better to find the counterfeiters.
"We are part of a larger group trying to investigate," said Kyocera's consumables and spares sales manager Jonathan Robbins. "We're part of ICCE, the anti-counterfeit group, and React UK and [we work with] printer manufacturers like HP, Lexmark and Brother. We talk among ourselves and do our own little investigations and if we stumble across other manufacturers then we get them involved as well. It's about coming together as a big team and everyone attacking the situation."
Non-genuine products float around the channel in a number of guises. Robbins said his firm's products fall victim to clever black marketeers.
"The manufacturer makes it look and feel like it's a genuine toner but it is not a refill and it's not compatible," he said. "They buy the empty toner containers and ship them back to the manufacturing plants around the world, in China, the UAE, Turkey and eastern Europe. They get refilled with toner and get nice new packaging on the outside – boxes that look identical to ours – then they put them back into circulation and pass them off as being genuine consumables."
Kyocera is currently locked in one legal battle in the UK, and several across Europe, relating to the creation and sale of counterfeit goods, but as the cases are ongoing, it could not divulge any more information.
Robbins said that office and IT suppliers are becoming counterfeited more and more because the authorities have cottoned on to kit which is traditionally targeted, such as handbags and sports kit.
"It started off talking about Gucci handbags and so on, and customs officials are used to those goods coming into the country and [they] shut them down quite quickly," he said. "So the counterfeiters are looking for other ways of making money and office goods seem to be the thing they are going for. They mix genuine and counterfeit goods together in a bundle so you can't see it so much."
In order for customers and channel partners to avoid getting caught up in counterfeit goods, Robbins said working through official, authorised channels is essential. He added that Kyocera is taking matters into its own hands to try to avoid empty cartridges being misused.
"It started off talking about Gucci handbags and so on, and customs officials are used to those goods coming into the country and shut them down quite quickly."
"On most of our toners, we have a hologram and the distribution channel has been issued hologram readers – or 'handy viewers' – so they can read the barcodes," he said. "Also, if they don't think the packaging is quite right, they should contact me or our team and we will go in and investigate it further.
"Also, we have a toner take-back scheme. If a customer has an empty toner cartridge, they can send it on a free postage label back to a collection point where we remanufacture it. The idea is to take the empty toner cartridges out of the market. If we buy them back, there is no second-hand value in it, where it can be recycled into a counterfeit product."
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