UK Consumers Warned Over Dangerous Fake Beauty Products

Counterfeit make-up and beauty products are arriving in Britain on a large scale, according to The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU). As a result, an awareness campaign called ‘Wake up – don’t fake up!’ has been launched, warning consumers of the potential dangers of purchasing fake products over the internet or through other high risk channels.

Counterfeit products are often passed off as popular luxury brands and can include make-up, skin care, perfume, electrical hair tools and even sun protection products, which often contain little or no SPF at all and so offer no protection from harmful UV rays, as well as containing substances which could cause irritation to the skin.

The City of London Police Unit estimates that UK consumers spend at least £90 million every year on fake goods, due largely to the popularity of online shopping, social media and auction sites such as eBay and Amazon. Consumers are deceived by the look and feel of a product as criminals become savvier at replicating the packaging and other features of designer products. Generic stock images are also frequently used to fool consumers into believing they are buying the real deal.

Over the past 18 months, PIPCU has suspended more than 5,500 websites selling fake luxury branded goods and has seized more than £3.5million worth of fake goods. Safety concerns are now becoming paramount, as the percentage of fake goods seized by customs because of the risks they pose to the health and safety of consumers has doubled in recent years.

Fake electrical tools such as hair curlers, dryers and straighteners are of particular concern as they are not subject to the same vigorous safety tests as genuine items, and so pose the risk of catching fire and causing serious burns.

Laboratory 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.

PIPCU is also urging online shoppers to be aware of the risk they run when purchasing counterfeit goods online of their financial and personal details being used for other fraudulent scams, as well as exposing their computer to malware and viruses.

Haydn Simpson, director of brand protection at global brand proection agent Netnames, shared some tips on what to check if you or your clients suspect counterfeit products when shopping online for beauty products:

  • “Shop around – if one particular website is selling branded make-up at a much lower price than the rest, think twice. If the deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If the branding and logo looks unusual, or if there are spelling mistakes on the packaging, this is a sign that the product may be counterfeit.
  • Does the website use a security certificate? Websites that invest in protecting the personal and financial details of their customers will always use SSL encryption. This is shown by a padlock in the website address bar or, when using certain browsers such as Chrome or Firefox, the URL bar will be green.
  • What do other people say about the website? Social media ‘likes’ and followers are easy to purchase, giving the impression of authenticity. Take some time to search for peer reviews of the website and its products, as these are harder (although not impossible) to fake.”

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