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Amazon sues alleged counterfeit sellers

With two separate lawsuits filed in Washington state, the online retailer appears to be taking a harder stance on counterfeits.

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Amazon has been more aggressive in court lately in trying to clean up fake reviews, too.

Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Amazon filed two lawsuits against sellers of allegedly counterfeit products, part of a broader crackdown on fakes sold through the internet retailer.

The lawsuits, filed in a Washington state court on Monday, allege more than 20 companies and individuals were involved in selling knockoff exercise and furniture moving equipment.

The suits follow a handful of lawsuits that crack down on fake customer reviews, but appear to be Amazon's first against merchants accused of selling fake goods.

Amazon, which declined to comment for this story, has escaped the criticism leveled at other online retailers, most notably Chinese rival Alibaba, for selling counterfeits through their websites. Amazon has mostly avoided such criticism, in part because of its years of investments in anti-counterfeiting technology and staff.

As the Seattle retailer continues to grow at a rapid pace, however, suppressing counterfeit listings may be getting more difficult. The company now lists hundreds of millions of items online.

In one notable counterfeit flashpoint, shoemaker Birkenstock pulled its products from Amazon earlier this year amid what it said was a rash of counterfeits. Last month, Apple sued a supplier of allegedly fake charging cables and power adapters that were sold on Amazon.

Amazon has already made it harder for third-party sellers to list items from big-name brands like Nike and Hasbro without additional fees and proof that the products came from the manufacturer or a distributor.

"It's somewhat overdue," Emily Wilcox, co-owner of baby clothing company Fayebeline, said Monday after hearing about the suits. "If Amazon is going to continue to be a nice platform for sellers and a place for people to build brands, we need that type of support."

Wilcox said her company, which generates nearly all its revenue on Amazon, has had to hire a contract worker to search Amazon on a weekly basis to find and try to remove counterfeits of Fayebeline designs. While she said fakes on Amazon have been manageable for her business, she's heard from other Amazon sellers who have been "completely crippled" by counterfeiters.

Amazon says just "a small number of bad actors" are involved in trying to sell fakes on the site.

In one of the new counterfeit suits, Amazon alleged ToysNet of California, Disk Vision of Florida and 10 unknown individuals supplied and sold on Amazon bogus Forearm Forklift furniture moving straps, which are trademarked and patented by Above All Co.

In another suit, Amazon alleged Cheng Hak Yung, also known as Joana Wong Ferreira, and Man Hong "Sandra" Chau, both of New York, as well as 10 unknown defendants, made and sold fake TRX workout gear.

CNET wasn't able to reach the defendants, except for a a woman named Man Hong "Sandra" Chau, a dentist from Flushing, NY. She said she hadn't heard of the lawsuits when reached by phone Monday.

"I've never sold anything on Amazon," she said. "I buy things on Amazon."

Since September, Amazon has blocked the alleged counterfeit sellers from its site and removed all their listings from Amazon.com.

Amazon alleged breach of contract and false advertising in the suits, and asked the court to allow it to permanently ban the defendants and their employees from selling on Amazon's websites.

Amazon is looking for these broad bans because counterfeiters tend to take great lengths to hide their identities, often changing to new seller accounts and payment methods, as well as using several fake names and addresses, to get back on Amazon even after first being caught.

Amazon also said these sellers tend to keep offshore bank accounts, so they can move their funds from illegal sales outside of US jurisdiction.