TAKE a close look at the photographs. They show quite a haul, don’t they? A treasure trove of handbags and gladrags, scented candles and silver bangles, designer watches and pretty boxes, Ugg boots and all sorts of loot.
It’s almost as if someone nicked Santa’s sack from his sleigh and emptied the whole lot on their living room floor.
Well, a crime has been committed but it wasn’t perpetrated on a fictional festive character. All of these items are fakes, forgeries, counterfeit, completely non-kosher; the kind of thing a bloke down the pub might try and sell you with a nod or a wink, or you might discover on a website which appears to be innocently offering customers a real bargain.
But, in fact, they have all been seized by trading standards officers across Scotland in a major crackdown on the dodgy goods business – a business which in these straitened times has been escalating and improving the quality of its fakes.
The dodgy goods have been brought together to show the vast range of counterfeits available, as part of the first ever Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Summit which is being held in Edinburgh today and tomorrow.
The conference brings together the police, trading standards, government and businesses to aim to make Scotland a hostile environment for so-called “Knock-off Nigels”.
But forget the cuddly-sounding name. The trade in fake goods, says the Scottish Business Resilience Centre, organiser of the summit, is around £1.3 billion a year, which seriously harms businesses and funds organised crime cartels involved in drugs and human trafficking.
Fiona Richardson, Cosla’s chief trading standards officer, who is based in Haymarket, says: “We always have to defend ourselves against the argument that we’re protecting big business and their sales by cracking down on cheap counterfeits, which are obviously going to be attractive to people.
“But the public has to realise that the people who make them and sell them are involved in other criminal activity – and the sale of fake goods goes towards the funding of other organised crime, such as drugs and even human trafficking, of which there is growing evidence.
“And, of course, it ultimately does affect the businesses producing the real goods, and will therefore impact on jobs.
“It’s a lot more complex than just being able to buy a cheap CD.”
She says that there are two easy ways to know that your bargain buy is actually a fake – the packaging and labelling will be poor quality and the price will just be too good to be true.
“If something seems remarkably cheaper than you would expect it to be, be it a bottle of vodka or a Chanel scarf, then there’s a reason for that, and it’s because it’s not the real thing,” she says.
“People are being targeted in different ways now, particularly through Facebook and Gumtree and online sites based outwith the UK, which makes it all much harder for trading standards to police, so the public has to be on its guard.
“Pretty much anything which is valuable, particularly if it has a designer name attached, will be targeted by counterfeiters.”
Yet despite having a host of luxury good stores, when it comes to counterfeits Edinburgh’s problems centre around tobacco and alcohol.
Councillor Cammy Day, the city’s community safety leader, says: “People should be aware of fake tobacco and alcohol, which as well as being illegal can be dangerous to health. Legal alcohol and cigarettes are strictly controlled but counterfeit products are not tested and could contain dangerous chemicals.
“It has become increasingly difficult to tell if something is fake as labelling is generally of better quality these days, but a good indicator is the price – if a packet of cigarettes is a lot cheaper than usual, it may be suspicious and shouldn’t be bought.”
Ms Richardson adds: “Since the market at Ingliston closed, Edinburgh’s problems have reduced somewhat, but there are stores which sell fakes and then there are pop-up stalls which can also be selling counterfeit goods.
“Replica football strips are a massive problem. Given the price of the real thing people are attracted to replicas, but all it does is lose their football clubs money.
“We know that Celtic, for instance, lost £10 million in revenue last year through people buying counterfeit strips, so that’s money not going into the club. And all football clubs have this problem.”
Today’s summit then, which will be attended by Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill, who will restate the government’s determination to block illicit trade and combat serious crime, will also see experts debate how prevention, intelligence and enforcement can be enhanced through agencies working more closely together.
There will also be a debate, organised by the Scottish Youth Parliament, to discuss the downloading of “free” music or games from the internet.
Everyone loves a bargain, but as Scottish Business Resilience Centre director Mandy Haeburn-Little says: “People need to stop to think about the true cost of fake goods. Can you be confident that those cheap cigarettes, perfumes and alcohol are actually safe?
“However, it goes much deeper as those products are likely to have supported child labour or human trafficking, or used to fund serious organised crime.
“Collectively, we can help tackle this problem through raising awareness and changing perceptions.”
Medical products market is rife with damaging imitations
LEGS were crossed and eyes watered when it was revealed by the Evening News online yesterday that trading standards officials had seized a batch of counterfeit condoms which had been lubricated with the industrial hand cleaner Swarfega.
But they are not the only dodgy medical goods which counterfeiters try to pass off as the real thing.
Other discoveries have included fake abortion pills and erectile dysfunction tablets, as well as bogus dental equipment. Pills which promise rapid fat loss are another big market for the rip-off merchants.
Fiona Richardson says: “Worryingly, there’s a huge market in counterfeit health products which are mostly sold online.
“Some might not affect the person taking them at all, but others could very well damage people’s health.
“People should not buy medication from anywhere unless it’s a reputable business.
“It’s a similar story with electrical goods, and one of the most popular counterfeit products are GHD hair straighteners, which ultimately end up burning people’s hair and scalps. The fact is, people don’t know what they are going to get when they buy goods online and we just want them to stop and think about the potential consequences of going for a cheap option instead of going to a registered supplier.”
According to statistics, the public is far more trusting of buying medicines on the internet than they were five years ago, and one in seven adults admit to buying their pills and potions online. Yet this is despite the fact that between 50 and 90 per cent of all medicines sold on websites which conceal their address are fake.
And counterfeit medicines can contain harmful ingredients such as rat poison, boric acid and lead-based road paint, too little or too much active ingredient, and are often produced by people who have no appropriate qualifications.
Chairman of the Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group, police inspector Alan Dron, says: “Criminals have no scruples. All they care about is making money and have no concerns about the dangers of selling dangerous products to unwitting consumers. People should get their prescription medicines through the health service – the risks are not worth it.”