The police, Trading Standards and port authorities in cooperation with brand owners are all working together to stop this type of illegal activity in the interests of consumer safety.
According to the Home Office, in the UK it is estimated that consumers spend at least £90 million (€126m) every year on fake goods and City of London police say this is becoming a more common practice due to the rise in the use of the internet with social media and online marketplaces facilitating the selling of fake goods.
“As we move towards a more digital world, checking the authenticity of a product is proving to be a lot harder, as consumers cannot gauge the look and feel of a product as they did before when buying on the high-street,” says the PIPCU.
“The problem with counterfeit products is that the packaging and look of the product can be almost impossible to tell from the real thing,” adds the Cosmetics Toiletry and Perfumery Association (CTPA).
“Unfortunately, the product inside is nothing like the genuine product. Not only is it not likely to work as well as it should, it may actually be unsafe and cause you harm.”
According to City of London Police, Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall, this is why the ‘Wake up – don’t fake up’ campaign was launched to urge people to be more vigilant and aware of the dangers counterfeit beauty products pose.
“Beauty products are meant to enhance your features however the fakes can in fact do quite the opposite. Our general rule is; if it seems too good to be true then it probably is,” she says.
“Not only could these products have serious implications to your health and wellbeing but by simply going online and buying from a rogue site or dealer, your personal and financial information is at risk.”
In the last 18 months, PIPCU has helped to protect consumers from being ripped off online by suspending more than 5,500 websites selling fake luxury branded goods as well as seizing more than £3.5million worth of fake goods.
In addition, the percentage of fake goods seized by customs because of health and safety concerns to consumers has doubled in recent years.
Last year, PIPCU dismantled a criminal operation suspected of importing and selling counterfeit goods, seizing a shipping container which contained what is believed to be more than 4,700 counterfeit versions of one of the UK’s most popular beauty brands.
In addition, in 2013, EU Customs says that it seized over a million suspected fake cosmetics and perfume items with a retail value of more than 55million euros.
Looking further into the world of fake cosmetics it gets even grimmer too as lab tests have shown counterfeit perfume often contains poisonous chemicals including cyanide and even human urine, while fake cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara, lipgloss and foundation have been found to contain toxic levels of chemicals and harmful substances such as; arsenic, mercury and lead.
Counterfeit make-up is often produced in un-sanitised and un-hygienic factories and there have been cases where rats’ droppings and poison have also been found in the phoney cosmetics.
PIPCU is urging online shoppers to be aware that by purchasing counterfeit goods online they are running the risk of their financial and personal details being compromised and being used for other fraudulent scams, as well as exposing their computer to malware and viruses.