How Facebook is being used to crackdown on dodgy online sales in Hartlepool
Consumer protection chiefs are having to step up efforts to tackle a growth in dodgy dealers and cyber crooks.
Hartlepool Trading Standards says the sale of counterfeit products has moved from the ‘back of a lorry’ to online.
Officials have warned they are monitoring sites and Facebook pages selling suspected dodgy gear and have secured national funding to help target e-criminals.
Sylvia Pinkney, head of public protection, presented Trading Standards’ 2016-17 service plan setting out the department’s priorities for the next year.
The plan states: “Whereas counterfeit goods were once only found at car boot sales or from the ‘back of a lorry’, social media is now becoming a significant source of illegal goods.
“Using the internet to buy goods and services is now commonplace and rogue traders have used this as an opportunity to sell counterfeit and dangerous goods to the unsuspecting public.”
Trading Standards has created a Facebook profile where sites that are suspected of selling counterfeit goods receive a post informing the account holder, and anyone visiting the site, that Trading Standards are watching.
To date, 31 Facebook sites have been identified in Hartlepool and contacted.
Ms Pinkney said: “This has proved very useful and a lot of them just close down the page automatically.”
Trading Standards has also secured national funding to buy specialist equipment to identify and target rogue e-traders operating in Hartlepool.
The service has a stand alone computer that can be used to monitor websites without giving away they are from Trading Standards.
High priority areas in the 2016-17 plan are rogue traders such as cowboy builders, doorstep crime and other scams which the service says can cost residents thousands of pounds.
A total of 24 new no cold calling zones were set up in Hartlepool over the last year.
There were four court prosecutions with others in the pipeline. Two related to cowboy builders or roofers, one of which was jailed for a year. One was for supplying counterfeit goods and one over the failure of a farmer to appropriately dispose of dead animals on his farm.
Ms Pinkney added: “There have been a couple of other cases where they have not gone to court but we have got money back for the victims.”
The plan was approved by Hartlepool Borough Council.