On the scent of the fake products... ...which devalue the real thing

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The Independent Online
Trading standards officers are to launch a new national database to crack down on counterfeit goods, which are now estimated to be worth 8 per cent of world trade.

In Britain alone last year pounds 78m worth of fake goods were known to be in circulation and trading standards officers believe that this represents only 10 per cent of the actual trade.

The database has been tried out as part of a pilot project run by ten local authorities with the co-operation of the Federation Against Copyright Theft which combats video piracy and the Anti-Counterfeiting Group made up of companies such as Adidas, Ray-Bans and Marks & Spencer. Information on those dealing in counterfeit goods was shared between local authorities.

It is hoped the new action will help prosecutions by linking the enforcement activities and information databases of the 200-plus trading standards departments in Britain.

Firms are determined to crack down on fakes as they not only lose out on sales but their name can also be tarnished by being linked to products which are often highly inferior. The American designer and perfumier Calvin Klein recruited a team of investigators to track down the suppliers of counterfeit scent and clothing which are flooding British markets after a recent raid in North Wales found 22,000 bottles of imitation CK Be - Calvin Klein's latest perfume - with a street value estimated at more than pounds 750,000.

The most popular targets for counterfeiters remain clothing followed by audio cassettes, CDs, perfumes, computer software, video cassettes, watches and sunglasses. One con-man selling fake perfume in Oxford Street was found to be raking in pounds 400 an hour.

Anthea Worsdall of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group said that packaging of fake perfume often looked very convincing and buyers would be given the real thing as a tester. But when they got home, the perfume had either been nothing more than water - in some cases pond water and in one case it was said to be filled with urine.

And some products are directly putting lives at risk - aircraft spares, car parts, and medical equipment are all falling victim to the fakers' craft. "We ve found examples of motor parts - such as alloy wheels which if they go on cars virtually disintegrate," said Mike Parry, spokesman for the Institute of Trading Standards Administration. "You can imagine the effect of that if the car is going at 70mph and the wheels crumble beneath you... If counterfeit parts are put into jet airlines there is a very real risk to life and limb."

One of the growing areas of selling these goods is car boot sales - a recent survey by the Economic and Social Research Council found that every weekend one million people attend them. "Car boot sales are a means through which these products are sold and trading standards officers do carry out routine checks," said Mr Parry. "Some of the areas now have local registration schemes as well."

Reginald Dixon, director of FACT, said that pirate videos of films such as The Lost World and Men in Black were already in circulation in Britain although the films were not even out in the cinema. A million pirated copies of the Disney smash The Lion King were known to be in circulation. "We estimate video piracy is worth pounds 250m in the UK alone," he said. "It is a massive problem."

He said that pirates were often big business and that there had been well-established links to organised crime. "It has been proved counterfeiting funds organised crime, it funds drugs and child pornography. This is why people should think before buying counterfeit goods. They could be helping to fund a bomb or a bullet."