Alan Titchmarsh Show / In the News / Legal Topics

Rough copy – conned by counterfeit goods

Counterfeit sign-webAt the start of National Consumer week and with Christmas  around the corner, The Alan Titchmarsh Show consumer ‘Dream Team’ turned its attention to the multi-billion pound industry in counterfeit goods.  We take a look at how you can avoid being caught out and how to seek redress if you are.

Fake Ugg boots, copycat wines and spirits and dodgy electrical goods are all flooding the market this year as popular brands and products are ripped off by fraudsters.  To reduce the risks of being a victim of counterfeiters, consider the following:

Packaging: Look at the standard and quality of any packaging. Is it consistent with the quality of the product you are looking to buy? Look out for poor quality labelling including things like spelling mistakes, logos and holograms.

Place: Are you buying from a reputable retailer, either from a store or online?

Price: If the costs is significantly different to what you would expect to pay, there is probably a reason.   If a deal looks too good to be true, it most probably is.

What are the risks?

  • Fake goods can be dangerous. This particularly true of fake electrical products which can cause shocks or fires and fake alcohol which can lead to kidney or liver problems and even coma.  Also, methanol, the substance recently found in fake vodka, can cause permanent blindness.
  • Fake goods can also fund serious crime and are used to raise cash by criminal gangs.
  • Fake goods do economic damage. Because those selling counterfeit goods can undercut those selling the real brands, they cost companies a lot of money. This affects big brand AND leads to job losses on the high street.
  • Fake goods are often made in an unethical manner – for example with fur produced using methods of animal cruelty.

Buying online

It can be more difficult to spot a fake online as you can’t handle the product or view the packaging properly, but there are things you can do.  The Trading Standards endorsed website, www.brand-i.org.uk is an online shopping registry that only lists webstores selling genuine products.  It suggests looking out for the following:

  • ‘.co.uk’ – just because the web address has ‘UK’ in it don’t assume an internet company is based in the UK – check out the physical address and phone number. Although shopping from overseas websites is relatively safe it may be difficult to enforce your basic contractual rights if things go wrong.
  • Geographical address and phone number? Look for the trader’s full address, especially if the company is based outside the UK and not just a PO Box or email address. This can normally be found in the ‘contact us’ section and you should be wary of websites that are only contactable via email alone.
  • Secure payment facility (known as an encryption facility)? Is the website secure? Look for ‘https://’ (the ‘s’ means it’s a secure connection) and the padlock symbol at the bottom (which also shows the page is secure), which should be present on the page you are using when you are giving personal information or any payment details.
  • Clear, transparent privacy and returns policies? Check whether the company has a privacy statement that tells you what it will do with your personal information. Make sure that you can enforce your right to return items where applicable.
  • Description of goods. Are the products accurately described or is there over emphasis on words like ‘genuine’ or ‘authentic’. It would be unusual for words like ‘cheap’ and ‘bargain’ to be associated with luxury brands in particular.
  • Spelling mistakes and grammar. Illegal sites may have been developed from abroad highlighting clear language barriers. Spelling errors are not a good sign! Consider the overall design of the site but ‘glamour beware’ – try to see behind the gloss of the site by considering all the checks listed here. Don’t be fooled by glossy, well-designed sites. Just because the site looks good doesn’t mean it is legally compliant.
  • Research online to see if any other customers have left comments about the company. Consider calling the company if any numbers are available.
  • Common Sense. If you’re not sure about a website, trust your instincts and do further checks.

What are your rights?

If you buy something that is counterfeit then technically you are entitled to a refund.  The Sale of Goods Act 1979 states that any goods you buy from a trader must be of satisfactory quality, fit for purpose and match any description given. However, you may find it very hard to track down the seller if, for example, you bought the goods at a market or ‘pop-up’ shop.  If you bought them online you may find it hard to actually get a response from the retailer, let alone a refund. Nevertheless, it is always advisable to check the trader’s after sale service before you buy.

If you have paid by credit card, and your purchase is over £100 (and under £30,000) you can usually claim the money back from your credit card company (called Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act, 1974).  If you have paid by debit card, or your purchase is under £100, you may be able to get your money back using the Chargeback system. However, your bank is not legally obliged to refund your monies under this system.

Finally, if you suspect a trader is selling counterfeit goods, then you should report them to your local Trading Standards, Crimestoppers and, if it is a website selling fake branded products, www.brand-i.org.uk.

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