The 12 days of Counterfeit Christmas


    - by Stuart Fuller -

    Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat” so says the old nursery rhyme. However, gone are the days when shops started their Christmas marketing campaigns straight after Halloween. It seems that every year that passes, the pervasive influence of Chinese Singles Day, Black Friday and Cyber Monday becomes greater, encouraging binge-spending that we often cannot afford. Retailers of course count these events as part of their Christmas trading – shoppers alone in the UK will spend approximately £567 each this festive season, according to a report on seasonal spending by Deloitte.

    We all love a bargain, but to what lengths will we go to grab one? Millions will be spent on counterfeit goods in the UK this festive period, more often by unsuspecting consumers who think they are buying the real deal. Whilst retailers try to balance the opportunity of grabbing every penny both in store and online, there comes significant risk to consumers in the form of scams, counterfeiters and every other cybercriminal who employ every trick in the book to grab a share of the multi-billion pound Christmas wallet.

    Whilst the authorities do sometimes win the battles, the war against counterfeiters continues. According to KPMG, between 2015 and 2018, 39 cases involving a total of £116m of counterfeit and pirated goods have been prosecuted in the UK. The firm said the number of cases reaching court “continues to rise”.

    So this Christmas we thought we’d share some of the ways by which the ne’er-do-gooders try to infiltrate the Christmas spirit with their tricks and scams over the next week or so, presented in the words of the world-famous festive song, The Twelve Days of Christmas, to keep us all healthy, wealthy and wise:

    On the First day of Christmas my true love sent to me a Partridge in a Pear Tree – In days gone by, the must-have gift of the festive season was a partridge that would be kept and fed up for a year, then harvested for next Christmas. Today the younger generation want something a little bit more instant to satisfy their appetites.

    One of the most popular restaurant chains in the UK is Nando’s, especially with the 16-30 age bracket. With over 325 restaurants in this country serving freshly-cooked chicken with an added kick of spice, gift vouchers for the chain will be a popular stocking filler this Christmas for many of us. But be warned for email offers that seem too good to be true.

    Phishing emails have been circulating offering the chance to be a secret diner for the restaurant, with gift cards on offer for those who apply in exchange for handing over their personal details, which the scammers then sell on. There are no such schemes being run by the restaurant through third parties, so the best course of action if you do receive one is to delete it straight away.

    A word of advice: It’s far too easy to give up personal and financial details in return for what seems like offers that are too good to be true. Major brands something do offer rewards in return for customer information so be prepared to check directly with them, using social media for instance, to find out if it’s genuine. And remember, if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

    On the Second day of Christmas my true love sent to me Two Turtle Doves – Turtle or Tortoise shell products are banned in many countries including the US. Most popular online marketplace sites have specific statements on their websites about the illegalities in trading real turtle shell products due to their endangered species classification (as well as live animals such as doves!). Interestingly, if an item is described as fake tortoise-shell then it can be sold on most online marketplaces – a rare instance where the fake is better and legally available than the real thing – although the word ‘mock’ may be better used in these situation.

    A word of advice: One of the most infringed brands in the world is Ugg, the Australian boots made with sheepskin (but not real wool inside surprisingly). They have set up a specific website to educate consumers as to what the real thing looks like and providing a mechanism for consumers to report websites who appear to be selling counterfeits. The best form of defence for any brand is education for consumers and staff alone, allowing them to be part of the solution rather than the problem.

    On the Third day of Christmas my true love sent to me Three French Hens – The French have a global reputation for producing some of the most luxurious goods in the world. Whether it be haute couture, fine wine, perfume or chocolate, French brands are renowned as hallmarks of luxury, quality and distinction. Alas, it is this aspiration and desirable quality to own such products that has led to an explosion in such counterfeit items. A simple online search using a famous luxury brand, preceded by the words “cheap”, “discount” or “sale” will results in hundreds of websites that claim to be selling the real thing. At best you would be buying a poor imitation, at worst you could be buying a product, such as fake wine or cheese that could cause damage to health as well as your wallet. That is of course if you receive a product at all.

    A word of advice: Be careful of buying items that are marked “replicas”. In many instances there’s no such thing as a replica - luxury brands only make genuine products and not lower-priced copies.

    On the Fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Four Calling Birds – Inbound call scams, or voice phishing, continues to rise not only in the UK but across the world. The practice involves using social engineering over the telephone to gain access to private personal and financial information for the purpose of financial reward. Fraudsters often pretend they are from a bank or a utility company to gain trust. Whilst the global scale of the fraud is unknown, around 170m fraudulent calls were blocked in 2018, according to a report from Belgian Telecoms company Proximus, with an estimated 15% focused on UK targets.

    A word of advice: If you are contacted by anyone who is asking for financial and personal information, ring them back on the numbers you have and on a different telephone line to allow them to verify your security details before revealing any information.

    On the Fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Five Gold Rings – In his play, The Merchant of Venice, Shakespeare’s character Morocco utters the famous line “All that glitters is not gold” and that can certainly be true for the amount of counterfeit jewellery that floods into our economy every year. In 2017, the cost of seized counterfeit jewellery and watches was $460,162,145 in the USA only. The Ecology Center conducted a study to identify how harmful cheap and fake jewellery was a few years ago and concluded that counterfeits not only harm the revenues and reputation of brand holders but that more than half of the fake goods they tested were harmful, containing a cocktail of dangerous chemicals and toxic metals. The lesson here is to only buy gold and other jewellery from reputable retailers and specialists.

    A word of advice: All gold, silver or platinum jewellery sold in the UK platinum is legally required to be hallmarked by the Hallmarking Act of 1973. This hallmark certifies the metal purity of specific items, such as jewellery or silverware. Branded items often come with their own hallmark. Whilst counterfeiters have caught on, and will often create jewellery with fake hallmarks, you can often find small giveaways such as misspelling.

    There are also a couple of tests you can do yourself to check the authenticity of certain precious items. Firstly there is the Magnet Test – Gold and silver are not magnetic. Hold up a strong magnet to your piece of jewellery — if it sticks, this is an immediate indication of a fake material being used. Secondly, there is a test to determine whether a diamond is real of fake – The Fog Test. Simply breath hot air onto the stone — a real diamond does not retain heat, so will not fog up, while a fake diamond will.

    On the Sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Six Geese-a-Laying – There doesn’t seem to be any type of goods that aren’t counterfeited these days, especially when it comes to food stuff. Fake meat, fake cheese, fake milk and of course fake eggs. Whilst some food stuff are manufactured to be alternatives, such as Oat milk,

    Whilst they first started appearing twenty years ago in China, it is only now that the danger of this counterfeit eggsample is being seen more and more outside of their traditional markets in China. Reports over the last two years have seen an influx of the fakes into India especially. According to reports, fake egg shells tend to be made of gypsum powder, paraffin wax and calcium carbonate while the egg white and yolk have been found to be made of sodium alginate, gelatin, alum, benzoic acid, edible calcium chloride and artificial food colours. That doesn’t sound too palatable does it?

    Unsurprisingly, health experts have warned that consumption of fake eggs can result to serious health issues like brain and nerve cell damage, metabolic ailments, live diseases and. due to the presence of toxic chemicals used in developing counterfeit eggs.

    A word of advice: Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to know what harmful substances are in the eggs, so before you lay out your cash early, avoiding the mad Christmas scramble to poach some cheap eggs, be warned.

    On the Seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me Seven Swans-a-Swimming – Whilst most of us will be tucking into our Turkey this Christmas, some people will go to great lengths to be different and go for the exotic. For those people, Duck or even Goose are seen as too ordinary to be served over the Festive Period and they will go in search of the more exotic. Whilst it is legal (and available) to buy Llama, Kangaroo and Zebra meat in the UK, a number of press outlets have reported an increase in Swans going missing which has led to speculation that some people are hunting them for their meat. In the United Kingdom, every swan is the property of the Crown, and it is thus illegal to buy it in this country. However, it is legal to buy in the United States of America, meaning that some imports could make it into this country. However, without any way of verifying where the meat has actually come from, your “exotic” dish may be something completely different.

    In the run up to Christmas this year, Scottish Salmon producer Loch Duart announced that it had invested in technology to help protect their brand from others claiming their products. Food fraud is estimated to cost UK firms over £10billion annually.

    A word of advice: After the horse meat scandal in 2013, new legislation has meant that food labelling has made it clearer for consumers to understand what they are buying and from where. However, meat bought through “illicit” channels rarely meets these regulations. It is illegal to import or export food products from a number of countries, with heavy fines in place for those who transgress.

    On the Eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Eight Maids-a-Milking – We all love a nice cheese board to finish off your Christmas dinner, don’t we? But how can we be sure that the cheese we are eating is the real deal? Fake cheese is becoming a growing problem for the UK Food Standards Authorities. At this point we need to differentiate between cheese alternatives, such as those made for the vegan market and genuine fake cheese.

    One of the world’s most famous cheeses is Parmigiano-Reggiano. The cheese is a PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) product, meaning that, since 2008, only cheeses that comply with a strict set of rules can be sold as “Parmigiano-Reggiano PDO” or “Parmesan. Except in the USA. In the land of the free, any cheese (or any product!) can technically be classed as Parmesan. In 2012, an investigation into a cheese factory in Pennsylvania found that the cheese it was selling labelled as “100% grated parmesan” was actually cut with fillers like wood pulp and contained exactly 0% real Parmesan cheese, using instead cheaper varieties like Swiss and cheddar.

    A word of advice: Printing technology today means that making authentic, copy-cat labels has never been so easy. Counterfeiters will invest in making packaging as real looking as possible to hide the inferior and sometimes dangerous products within. Our instincts tell us to never to question a product that appears to be in the genuine packaging but that is the key to the counterfeiters success.

    On the Ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Nine Ladies Dancing – We all like to look good come Christmas time but where should we draw the line when it comes to buying luxury brand clothes? One more common trend nowadays by the counterfeiters is adding real tags and labels to inferior products and passing them off as the real thing.

    With just a tiny fraction of all counterfeits seized by officials, the vast majority ends up for sale on physical and online market places. Whilst a small number of people will know exactly what they are buying, more often than not these items will be passed off as “discounted” genuine garments. A simple search online for “cheap” or “discount” along with a brand name will reveal hundreds of websites, all claiming to be selling the real deal. Many luxury brands do not offer their products at sale prices unless it is through one of their own sales channels. We all want to remember those nights out for the right reasons, not for being shown up wearing inferior items.

    A word of advice: One practice that we all indulge in from time to time is driving this issue. Showrooming is now a way of life when we go shopping. We go into a shop, see something we like and instead of reaching into our pockets for our wallets or purses, we grab our mobile phones and check how cheap the item our heart’s desire nearby or online. And remember, there is no such thing as a replica luxury good.

    On the Tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Ten Lords-a-Leaping – What to buy the sports fan who has everything? How about tickets to a game between ICC World Champions England and Australia at the home of cricket, Lords, next summer? Whilst the main sporting action in 2020 will be the Summer Olympics in Japan and the European-wide football championships, tickets for the one-day international will be almost impossible to buy on the open market, forcing fans to look at the secondary market resale websites.

    Whilst that may seem the easy option, rather than trying your luck in the official ticketing process where demand far outstrips supply, how sure are you that come the day, the tickets you bought are actually genuine? The beauty for the ticketing websites in using “print at home” technology is that they no long have to worry about distribution or postage. Selling fake tickets is now as easy as printing multiple copies of a pdf and standing outside the venue reselling the same ticket time and time again or listing them on a variety of websites.

    A word of advice: Only buy from official sources or those that offer a guarantee that if a problem does occur, they will compensate you. If you are unsure about a website, do a search on the Internet and see what others are saying about their reputation. New legislation introduced in the UK gives more protection to consumers buying secondary market tickets but even so, the best protection is to just be cautious and buy official. We all want to see England triumph again against our biggest rivals next Summer but is it worth the risk, disappointment and years of regret in using an unofficial source?

    On the Eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me Eleven Pipers Piping – Whilst pipe-smoking is rarely seen these days, the global tobacco industry is worth a staggering $780 billion, and that doesn’t include the Chinese market. In a report published by The Independent in 2018, it was estimated that almost 45 billion fake cigarettes were smoked in the UK alone, whilst a report published in 2017 by KPMG covering the illicit market in the EU, Norway and Switzerland estimated that the counterfeit and contraband (C&C) cigarette consumption was 8.7 per cent of total use in the EU. These fake cigarettes will often include such harmful substances (as if tobacco wasn’t harmful enough) as arsenic, pesticides and rat poisoning. One main driver behind the demand and consequent supply for counterfeit cigarettes has been the high tax imposed on all tobacco goods by governments across the world. This has led to a massive rise in smuggling across borders.

    A word of advice: Smuggling is still an offence so don’t think that just because you bought genuine products overseas you are able to sell it on at a profit. Over €10 billion is lost annually in the EU alone in customs duties due to the illegal movement of tobacco. Customs officials take a dim view of this action, with nearly 1.5 billion cigarettes seized by border forces in 2018 alone.

    On the Twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me Twelve Drummers Drumming

    Looking at updating your music library over the Christmas period? Be careful where you decide to grab your tunes from. Downloading music from unauthorised sources is digital piracy and the penalties can be severe, ranging from sanctions placed on you from your ISP to large fines. According to a report published in 2018 by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), more than one-third of global music listeners are still pirating music. The number of relatively low-cost, legal streaming services such as Deezer, Spotify and Apple Music has certainly reduced the overall problem but there is still a high percentage of people who still use illegal services such as stream-ripping and using cyberlockers. So whilst the term digital piracy may have disappeared from the media, the problem still remains.

    The Black Market information website, Havoscope, estimate the annual loss to the music industry due to piracy at $12.5bn. Not only will you be breaking the law if you download music from an unauthorised source, but you also risk infecting your computer with harmful malware that is often packaged in the files. That’s not a Christmas present you want to give to any one!

    A word of advice: Digital Piracy continues to be a challenge for rights holders and consumers alike. Piracy is not a victim-less crime. Somewhere rights holders need to recoup their investments. For the sake of a couple of cups of coffee a month, wouldn’t you rather buy the real deal and ensure that your money goes back to legitimate channels to help musicians today and in the future.

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