For nearly 100 years, the Better Business Bureau has helped consumers avoid fraud and scams by helping them find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. We are uniquely positioned in representing both the interests of the business community, which supports our work, and the interests of consumers, who benefit from our efforts.
The BBB logo is one of the most recognized symbols in America, and we work hard to prevent its abuse from those who use our name and logo to perpetrate fraud against consumers. We also cooperate with law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the Secret Service to foil these scams whenever possible.
The BBB takes online fraud and deception very seriously, and that's why we are in favor of legislation, international agreements and the internal policies of the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) that help curb this rampant Internet fraud and criminal activity. That is why we support the overall goals of the Stop Online Piracy Act or SOPA (H.R. 3261) and the Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act or "PROTECT-IP" (S. 968).
It only takes a few minutes of web browsing to see why more legal protection for intellectual property is so urgently needed. There are economic, safety and privacy concerns related to unchecked piracy, counterfeiting and trademark infringement on the Internet, all of which undermine legitimate businesses and harm law-abiding consumers.
On the economic side, creative material in every field is pirated constantly — movies, music, software, video games — to the tune of $58 billion in economic output lost to the U.S. economy annually, according to the Institute for Policy Innovation. This robs the U.S. of 400,000 jobs, steals $16 billion from shareholders through lost company earnings, and rips off taxpayers to the tune of $3 billion in lost taxes to federal, state and local governments every year.
On the safety side, rogue websites are often designed to deceive consumers into believing they are legitimate by misappropriating trademarks from respected businesses and entities (including the BBB and our accredited businesses) to foster trust with those who visit the sites. However, these sites are often run by criminals who purvey shoddy fakes that can, in many cases, endanger consumers' health and safety. Sites that sell counterfeit medicines, batteries, smoke alarms and brake pads are just a few of the many examples where the criminals who operate them have put consumers at considerable risk.
As far as privacy and security, consumers who share sensitive personal and financial information with these sites are exposed to an increased risk of victimization by malicious online activity such as "phishing" scams, identity theft or computer viruses.
While we recognize there are controversies surrounding this legislation, these bipartisan bills are bringing attention by all stakeholders to legitimate intellectual property concerns that can no longer be ignored.
American consumers and businesses need to be protected from rogue websites, the vast majority of which operate outside the U.S. and out of the reach of American law enforcement. The tools that currently exist are not sufficient, and all interested parties, Congress and ICANN need to come up with a workable solution.
The coalition of support for intellectual property protection is broad, and includes law enforcement, business groups, consumer advocates, and local and state elected officials like Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malleyand Attorney General Doug Gansler.
At a time when our economy is struggling to add jobs and businesses are straining for meager profits, the last thing we need are rogue websites pedaling pirated and often dangerous products to Americans. The BBB proudly stands with hundreds of businesses, trade associations, professional labor organizations, state attorneys general and district attorneys, all of whom are concerned about the serious problem of foreign rogue websites that profit through copyright infringement and the sale of counterfeit products. The passage of these bills will ensure a safe online environment for U.S. businesses to operate and will help protect consumers from fraud, identity theft and unsafe counterfeit products.
Steve Cox is president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for 116 BBBs operating across North America.