Why counterfeiting is not a victimless crime

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Jacqui Kennedy, Director of Regulation and Enforcement, looks at why that ‘must-buy’ designer bargain may cost more than you think – urging consumers to be ‘fake aware’.

Whether it’s a sold-out-everywhere Frozen doll, that must-have designer bag or shoes, it can be tempting to snap up a ‘bargain’ when you think you’ve seen one.

But if it looks and sounds too good to be true, then it usually is. Counterfeit goods are shoddy imitations: while they may look like the genuine article, they can often be dangerous.

Over the past 12 months, our Trading Standards officers have seized nearly 15,000 fake items worth more than £111,200 – ranging exploding phone chargers, fake UGG boots, poor quality designer clothes and fake cigarettes and alcohol.

Produced cheaply or imported from outside the EU, counterfeit goods often fail to meet safety standards and have shorter lifespans than legitimate products.

Missing and poor-quality components in counterfeit electrical goods, such as phone chargers, can lead to electric shocks, fires and explosions, while fake children’s toys and clothes can pose hazards through dangerous small parts, long cords or from toxic materials.

Counterfeit cosmetics may contain toxic ingredients like arsenic, lead and mercury which can lead to rashes, swelling or poisoning, while fake alcohol (such as vodka) may be mixed with substances like methanol or anti-freeze which can also cause health problems.

As well as being potentially dangerous to consumers, traders selling counterfeit goods are also harming the local economy, undermining legitimate retail businesses and traders, who support the economy and provide genuine jobs for people.

Our experience shows the profits from fake goods rarely benefit the economy, as it is widely suspected the proceeds go to support the sellers’ lifestyles rather than paying income tax.

More importantly, dealing in counterfeit goods is a criminal offence, so don’t be tempted to such buy items as doing so contributes to that criminal activity which is and bringing crime into the city.

Tips for avoiding fake goods
Shoppers can protect themselves asking these questions, to ensure the goods are genuine:

Is the product a known brand?
Is it normally sold here?
Is the price too cheap or too good to be true?
Does the packaging look poor quality or not quite right?
Most well-known brands will have recognisable logos and packaging, and be sold within established settings, be it a shop or website. If in doubt, check out prices and sellers details.

However, some stores may not be all that they seem. In December 2014, an alleged fake UGG shop was set up in the city centre, with familiar signage, which was selling the trademark sheepskin boots for £50 a pair.  However clicking on the UGG Australia website showed these were unlikely to be the real deal, as genuine UGGs are usually £150.

Fake goods are more commonly sold at car boot sales, on internet auction sites or by street sellers, regardless of where they are sold if the price is too good to be true or the quality is questionable it is unlikely to be a genuine product.

Also when items bought in such settings break or don’t last as long as expected, consumers’ rights to a refund or replacement are unlikely to be honoured – and there’s no traceability regarding the safety or quality of these goods.

When paying for goods, where possible don’t use voucher payments or wire transfers, such as Western Union Transfer.  Purchases made on credit cards between £100 and £30,000 are protected under the Consumer Credit Act  which means the card issuer is jointly liable with the supplier, should something go wrong (eg non-delivery, a faulty product or supplier going bust); this will help in getting a refund and also provides some traceability.

Some products are bought specifically for their safety function, such as sunglasses and condoms, and not worth risking damaged eyesight or unsafe sex for the sake of saving a few pounds.

For more information and consumer advice, visit www.birmingham.gov.uk/tradingstandards