Christmas shoppers looking for a bargain should be wary of counterfeit goods which flood the market in the run-up to the festive season, the UK Border Agency warned today.
Fake UGG Boots, GHD hair straighteners, iPhones and iPads are among the tens of thousands of counterfeit items that have been seized by officers as they have been brought into the country in recent months.
Buyers can be left with products which are at best, inferior to genuine ones and, at worst, harmful or unsafe, Grant Miller, from the UK Border Agency's Heathrow International Trade Division, said.
He added: "We are uncovering all sorts of fake goods, from beauty products to children's toys, and we're warning people to be particularly wary of buying cheap items online or from unofficial traders.
"It's easy to be tricked into thinking you're getting a bargain, but in the run-up to Christmas our message is that if something appears too good to be true it probably is."
Immigration minister Damian Green said: "We are dealing with a huge criminal business. The international trade in counterfeit goods is serious organised crime and, for the gangs behind it, it is low-risk and high-reward.
"Intellectual property crime is a serious economic threat, and it's estimated to be worth around £1.3 billion in the UK each year.
"That is why we have UK Border Agency officers operating 24 hours a day at ports, airports and mail sorting centres and they have seized thousands of counterfeit items that could otherwise have ended up as gifts this Christmas."
Trading Standards Institute chief executive Ron Gainsford said: "In this difficult economic climate money is tight for many of us, but there could be a high price to pay for bargain presents that aren't the real deal.
"Trading standards are working hard with other authorities to stop criminals ruining consumers' festive spirit as millions of low-quality and potentially dangerous counterfeit products are flooding the country in time for Christmas, particularly in markets, car boot sales and online.
"The external appearance and packaging of electrical goods such as chargers and hair straighteners may be copied fairly well, but the internal composition and materials are likely to be substandard and could make the item very dangerous. Similarly toys, jewellery, alcohol and cigarettes might look the part but could turn out to be toxic.
"Check, double check and check again to make sure what you are buying and where you are buying from is the real deal."
Seizures made by the UK Border Agency in the last year include:
:: In August, 45,000 pairs of fake UGG Boots were found in container freight in Southampton, the biggest such seizure in Europe.
:: At Coventry International Postal Hub 13,000 items valued at approximately £14.5 million were intercepted. The vast majority of these were bought online and shipped to the UK from abroad.
:: At the Port of Dover a consignment of fake Disney, Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine and other toys worth around £50,000 were seized in October.
:: GHD hair straighteners worth more than £310,000 were seized at Manchester International Airport in November leading to the arrest of two men.
:: At Heathrow Airport 1,100 seizures were made of items valued at around £10 million in the first eight months of 2011/12 - the same number of seizures as in the whole of 2010/11.
:: A month-long operation in June led to the seizure of 15,000 items of counterfeit designer clothing at Stansted Airport.
Consumer champion Which? also warned of the dangers of buying fake goods online, suggesting that nearly one in 10 people had bought a counterfeit product by mistake in the last two years.
Nearly a quarter (23%) of fake goods were bought from websites including online giants Amazon and eBay, they said.
And more than a third (38%) of those who tried to return the goods after realising they had been sold a counterfeit were stuck with the product, their research found.
Some 34% of shoppers said they had spotted fake goods on sale in the past year, including counterfeit iPods, laptops and video games consoles.
Which? executive director Richard Lloyd said: "It's worrying that so many consumers are being offered counterfeit goods online as they try to save money.
"Don't be tempted to buy fake goods this Christmas. Some of the products we tested weren't just poor quality, they were dangerous.
"Online sites such as Amazon and eBay must take tough action against re-sellers who use their service to sell fake goods to unsuspecting shoppers."
:: Which? surveyed 1,303 adults in Britain in November.
Amazon said it did not allow the sale of counterfeit items on its Marketplace platform, adding that anyone found selling fakes would be subject to action from the online retailer, including removal of their account.
A spokesman said: "Occurrences of counterfeit products on Amazon.co.uk Marketplace are rare and we have an established process in place which enables third parties, including rights holders, to provide us with notice of counterfeit product.
"We respond rapidly to any such notice."
Every customer who orders on Amazon.co.uk is covered by a guarantee and will be refunded or given a replacement if they receive counterfeit goods from a marketplace seller, he added.
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