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Check, double check and check again, lest you end up with fake stuff this Christmas

Look before you buy, it may be counterfeit. If it seems too good to be true – it probably is.

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That is the warning from UK Border Agency and Trading Standards officers as they launch a warning to shoppers over counterfeit goods in the run up to Christmas.

Fake UGG Boots, GHD hair straighteners, iPhones and iPads, designer clothes and Hello Kitty products are amongst the thousands of counterfeit items seized by the agency’s officers in recent months. For that reason they’re asking festive shoppers to be careful about what they buy and where they buy it from.

Grant Miller, from the UK Border Agency’s Heathrow international trade division, said:

‘Cheap counterfeits undercut honest traders and leave shoppers with goods that are at best inferior to genuine products and, at worst, harmful or unsafe.

‘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.’

Damian Green, Home Office minister, 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.’

As well as attempting to evade duty and VAT, importers also put consumers at risk from potentially dangerous, unregulated products.

Ron Gainsford, the Trading Standards Institute’s chief executive 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.’

Notable seizures made by the agency in the last year include: At Heathrow Airport: 1,100 seizures were made of items valued at around £10 million in the first 8 months of 2011-12 – the same number of seizures as in the whole of 2010-11. Many seizures were commercial quantities.

At Southampton: 45,000 pairs of UGG Boots were seized in container freight in August, the biggest such seizure in Europe.

At Coventry international postal hub: 13,000 items valued at approximately £14.5 million have been intercepted. The majority of these were items bought online and shipped to the UK from abroad.

At Stansted Airport: 15,000 items of counterfeit designer clothing were seized following a month-long operation in June 2011.

At Dover ferry port: a consignment of fake Disney, Hello Kitty, Thomas the Tank Engine and other toys worth around £50,000 was seized in October 2011.

At Manchester International Airport: GHD hair straighteners worth more than £310,000 were detained in November, leading to the arrest of 2 men by Greater Manchester Police. During the same month the agency intercepted more than £250,000 worth of fake cosmetics.

After suspected counterfeit goods are detained by the agency, officers approach the rights holders to verify that the products are fakes. The rights holder then decides whether or not to bring a private prosecution against the importer. After this process is complete, the goods can be destroyed.

Counterfeit items purchased over the internet and imported through the postal system can be seized, leaving the buyer out of pocket.

In 2009 Heathrow-based agency officers were given an award by the anti-counterfeiting group, a world-wide trade association, for their work in combating black-market fakes.

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