Beware, that counterfeit Christmas gift could be funding modern slavery

Spotting fake products online is more difficult than at a shop or market stall, but it can be done. When in doubt, trust your instincts

Nimesh Shah
Friday 20 December 2019 11:24
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Christmas wrapping hack

In the frenzy to pick up the perfect Christmas present, shoppers like you may be veering into dangerous territory. Yes, really. As harmless as treating our loved ones may seem, more of us unwittingly fall into the underworld of consumer goods at this time of year, with vast swathes of people conned into buying dangerous fakes and at the same time funding criminal activity. This is a prime time for fraudsters to flood the market, taking advantage of shoppers seeking festive season bargains.

Traders operate up and down the country flogging counterfeit Christmas gifts at prices that are too good to be true. Items such as fake Chanel sunglasses and Louis Vuitton handbags are popular and if you want to don the très chic plonker look made famous by Del Boy, then you can also find fake sheepskin coats.

As well as traditional market stalls, this problem has also swept across the internet. Operating behind sophisticated looking sales sites, auctions and social media, criminals use fake trademarks, emblems and bogus certification labels to entice customers into thinking they are buying genuine, safe products. These products often turn out to be nothing more than shoddy and dangerous tat.

According to Customs authorities across Europe, over 37 per cent of fakes picked up at our borders are now dangerous to consumers. Counterfeit electrical items such as hair straighteners, laptops, mobile phones and gaming consoles can cause electric shocks and even house fires, fake perfume (often stabilised by urine) and bootleg alcohol can result in poisoning and chemical burns.

Makeup has been found to contain cyanide, mercury and even faeces, while fake sunglasses pose a very immediate danger. Quality, branded sunglasses meet strict safety standards, but fakes don’t and fail to block UV light from reaching our eyes. In fact, they can actually allow more UV light into the back of the eyes and as a result, can cause more damage to the eyes than not wearing any sunglasses at all. Also popular at this time of year are toys. If they’re a replica then they may break easily. The small parts are a health hazard for young children.

Buying counterfeit Christmas gifts has much wider implications than many imagine. Eighty-three per cent of all fakes come from South East Asia and are the result of workers, including children, held in some of the world’s worst sweatshop factories. In buying this increasingly dangerous junk, you’re not only helping to bring international criminality closer to our families, but you are likely to be feeding the exploitation of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.

The effect is also continuing to grow at home. According to the UK government, the overall UK market in fake goods is worth £13.6bn, which is 3 per cent of all UK imports. Moreover, the government has estimated it loses £3.1bn in unpaid tax from the sale of counterfeit goods and that the figure is growing. With this comes a £4bn reduction in public revenue which could be used for essential public services such as hospitals and schools and inevitable job losses, which have been calculated by the OECD to have reached over 80,000. Added to this is the threat of more and more criminals entering our lives. For these reasons, it’s important that the public report any instances of fraud so that trade associations like the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) can work closely with the enforcement agencies to stamp out this crime.

Unfortunately, spotting counterfeit products online is more difficult than at a shop or market stall, but it can be done. Firstly, I always say trust your instincts, if it’s too good to be true then the chances are that the item is fake. Products like these are likely cheap because they haven’t been tested and certified. So, stick to reputable and trusted traders as well as websites offering legitimate deals. For example, if it’s a perfume deal and the fragrance sale is not happening in store, then it’s unlikely to be an authorised seller.

Also, online fraudsters work very hard to create authentic-looking sites by replicating the style of an official website. Ask yourself, does the logo look right? Is the overall style of the site in line with the brand look? If you’ve answered yes to these questions then look closely. Check the spelling and grammar because criminals don’t always pay attention to the detail. They will try to deceive you by slightly changing the spelling of an established company in the website address. The result could be the arrival of dangerous or trashy goods and the theft of your personal and financial details.

You may feel that you’re safe if a site ends with co.uk. But take note, this does not mean that the seller is based in the UK. If no address is supplied or if there is just a PO Box or email, then this is a warning sign.

If everything seems to look authentic on the site then you can always double check by reading online reviews. Of course, some may be fake. You’ll spot these where there has been a surge of positive reviews because the fraudsters are taking advantage of enthusiastic shoppers wanting to bag a Christmas bargain. Again, look out for poor spelling, grammar, staged user photos and similar wording for red flags. It’s also worth reading forums and blogs to find out what the shopping experience has been for others. Finally, look out for details of a returns policy, rogue traders don’t care about customer service!

The final days before the big day itself are always a mad rush. I urge you to be vigilant, and to not let your guard down by falling victim to buying fake and dangerous gifts for loved ones.

Have a happy and safe Christmas and a peaceful New Year.

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