Product counterfeiting is an Intellectual Property (IP) crime. It is defined as a deliberate attempt to deceive consumers by copying and marketing goods bearing well-known trade marks, together with packaging and product appearance. Product counterfeits look like those made by a reputable manufacturer when they are, in fact, inferior illegal copies that can have a serious impact on the health and safety of the consumer.
Perfumes, like other luxury goods, have long been a major target for counterfeiting, and are one of the most popular kinds of fakes bought in the UK. However, nowadays other cosmetics and personal care items such as skin creams, soaps and toothpastes are also counterfeited.
Are fake cosmetics unsafe?
Counterfeiters have little regard for cosmetic safety laws. Analysis of past seizures of fake cosmetics and perfumes have found that these products can contain illegal substances which would not pass the stringent safety clearance required for all legitimate cosmetic products. Counterfeits can pose a health threat to the consumer - for example, there have been cases where fake perfume has caused a serious allergic reaction which may prevent the consumer from ever wearing fragrance again, even a genuine product. In August 2018, a Local Government Authority (LGA) report revealed that hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of counterfeit cosmetics had been uncovered by trading standards officers across the country with worrying issues for consumers who had purchased these fake products.
Does counterfeiting finance other crimes?
Profits made from IP crime are used to fund other serious organised crimes such as drugs and arms smuggling, people trafficking, identity theft, money-laundering and child pornography. As reported by Interpol, there is even evidence of profits from counterfeiting funding terrorist activity.
How do I recognise a fake product?
Price, place of sale and packaging are three indicators of whether or not a product is genuine. Low-quality packaging, a poor replica of a genuine logo, and misspellings of brand names, marketing text or guarantees are the most frequent signs of a counterfeit product. However, sometimes the copy is so good that it is very difficult to spot the fake one. To avoid counterfeit cosmetics, the best advice is to always buy from a trustworthy source such as large reputable outlets or an official website.
Which? have produced a guide to spotting fake goods which is available online.
The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG) is a not for profit trade association which campaigns against the trade in fakes, on behalf of companies making every kind of product you can think of. ACG provides a forum for brand owners, government and law enforcement to network and collaborate in the fight against IP crime. See the ACG factsheet on 'The Dangers of Fakes'.
Trading Standards enforcement
London Trading Standards (LTS) runs an annual "LTS Week" consumer awareness campaign. In 2020, this is “London Trading Standards – Protecting Consumers, Safeguarding Businesses through COVID-19”.