Christmas shoppers warned over danger of counterfeit products

(qlmbusinessnews.com via theguardian.com – – Mon, 3rd Dec, 2018) London, Uk – –

Police warn of counterfeit product danger with online customers most at risk

Christmas shoppers are being urged to be wary of counterfeit products following a rise in cases involving fake goods.

According to KPMG, over the past two years, 39 cases involving a total of £116m of counterfeit and pirated goods – which can range from hair straighteners and perfume to ebooks – have been prosecuted in the UK. The firm said the number of cases reaching court “continues to rise”.

The figures come days after the City of London Police’s Intellectual Property Crime Unit (Pipcu) launched a campaign using the hashtag #shockingfakes to highlight the dangers of buying counterfeit electrical goods.

Pipcu said that as well as the potential health and safety risks, such as electric shocks and house fires, shoppers who bought such items online could unwittingly find themselves becoming victims of identity theft.

KPMG said pirated digital media – such as music, ebooks, video games and computer software – accounted for a sizeable chunk of the total it had identified. Other popular counterfeited items included tickets to concerts and other events, and branded goods such as football shirts.

It claimed some consumers “are seemingly driven by a hunger to maintain a designer lifestyle on a low-key budget”.

James Maycock, a forensic partner at the accountants, said: “Consumers may often turn a blind eye or consider this a victimless crime, but this shadow economy activity often directly promotes money laundering and tax evasion. It can also help to fund other more serious organised criminal enterprises, including human trafficking, drug smuggling and terrorism.”

The City of London Police unit pointed to a June 2018 report from consumer protection charity Electrical Safety First, which found that 30% of those surveyed had been duped by a counterfeit electrical item bought online but advertised as genuine.

The charity also claimed websites sites such as Amazon and eBay were being misused by third-party sellers to exploit online shoppers and sell fake and potentially dangerous goods.

Products highlighted included tumble dryers, so-called Kodi boxes (a type of set-top box for TVs), kettles, travel adapters and hair straighteners.

In April this year, a Guardian investigation found that Amazon’s Marketplace platform was rife with potentially dangerous counterfeits and other knockoff goods despite years of cracking down on mis-selling.

Police said the “true cost” of such items was shown by a fire that broke out at a flat in St John’s Wood, north-west London, in May this year, leading to around 20 people being evacuated. The London Fire Brigade said it believed an unbranded mobile phone charger caused the blaze.

Meanwhile, last Tuesday, Pipcu said it had this year suspended more than 31,000 websites as part of an operation coordinated by Europol, the EU’s agency for police cooperation, aimed at clamping down on counterfeit and pirated items sold online.

Pipcu said it was asking people to “trust their instincts – if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is”. It said consumers should check the spelling and grammar on websites, and the URL, because often the people behind these sites did not pay a lot of attention to this detail.

Fraudsters may try to deceive shoppers by slightly changing the spelling of a well-known brand or shop in the website address.

“Just because a web address ends with “.co.uk” does not mean the seller is based in the UK. If there is no address supplied or there is just a PO Box or email, consumers should be wary,” it added.

While counterfeit products may be financially enticing, some fake items such as perfumes, batteries and alcohol “may seriously damage your health”, said Maycock.

He highlighted a September 2016 court case that led to a father and son being jailed for selling unsafe DIY teeth-whitening kits which left some users with chemical burns. Advertising claimed the product was “used by leading dentists throughout the UK and Europe”, but tests showed it contained up to 110 times the allowable level of hydrogen peroxide, a bleaching agent.

Anyone who has bought an item they believed to be genuine but which they now suspect to be fake can report it to Action Fraud online at actionfraud.police.uk or call 0300 123 2040.