Counterfeit goods – fake products deliberately made to seem genuine – have been produced and sold for many, many years, but the growth of the internet has made it easier for more counterfeiters to sell more goods to more people. Many are so skilled that it is almost impossible to determine a fake from the real thing. Fake goods commonly sold online include designer garments and bags, watches, electrical items and cosmetics. The availability of pirated CDs, DVDs, games and software has declined as downloads and streaming become more popular.
The manufacture and sales of counterfeit goods is illegal. Buying counterfeit goods, however, is not illegal, even if you do so knowingly. However, there are many reasons why you should not do so.
- Typically, counterfeit goods are of inferior quality to the genuine article and may not look as good, in the case of clothing, fit as well or in the case of electrical items, work as well. They may not even be fit for purpose.
- Buying counterfeit goods may put your safety (or that of others) at risk. Fake electrical goods are not tested as genuine ones have to be, so may cause shock or catch fire. Fake fragrances and cosmetics will, again, be untested and may contain high levels of toxic chemicals.
- Some websites advertising and selling counterfeit goods are unsafe to use in that your personal details could be compromised, and/or your computer or mobile device infected by malware.
- Buying counterfeit goods damages the businesses of the manufacturers of the genuine items, and the livelihood of their employees. It also reduces the volume of money going into our country’s economy.
- Some counterfeit goods are produced using slave labour.
- Proceeds of the sale of counterfeit goods are often used to fund more sinister organised crime such as people smuggling, slavery and terrorism.
- The details you enter on a website selling counterfeit goods could be exploited by criminals, for example, they could set up further illegal websites with you registered as the owner.
- Producing and selling goods for financial gain by using a trademark without the owner’s permission are crimes which carry heavy penalties, including substantial fines and/or imprisonment.
If you are tempted to buy counterfeit goods
- However desperate you are to get hold of an item, never knowingly buy a counterfeit version, for the reasons listed above.
How to avoid unknowingly buying counterfeit goods
- Buy only from reputable sellers you know to be genuine from experience or recommendation. Read forums and blogs.
- Check the website’s grammar and spelling – including the spelling in the website address. Fraudsters often make slight changes in the address to fool you into believing it is genuine. It is always best to manually type in the address you know to be correct.
- If buying from an auction site, check the seller’s credentials, and read reviews.
- Be wary of goods advertised on social media sites or via text message.
- Check to see if the seller has a postal address, and not just a PO Box or email address.
- Remember that a .co.uk address is no proof that a website is based in the UK.
- Check for a returns policy or guarantee. Most rogue traders will not offer these.
- If a normally expensive item is offered cut price, ask yourself why this is the case.
- Check that the payment page is secure – read our advice page.
- Never pay for goods by bank transfer, a request for payment in this way often indicates a scam, and your bank will not be obliged to refund your money.
If you are a victim of counterfeit fraud, report it to Action Fraud or call 0300 123 2040. If you are in Scotland, contact Police Scotland on 101.
How to report Intellectual Property (IP) crime
Via the Citizens Advice website or call 03454 04 05 06.
For a Welsh-speaking advisor call 03454 04 05 05.
If you wish to remain anonymous, contact Crimestoppers or call 0800 555 111.
Your local Trading Standards authority is the leading agency enforcing criminal IP legislation. If you have concerns or are aware of any person or business that may be involved in IP crime, you can contact one of the organisations above.