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A fortnight’s summer break isn’t complete without picking up a bargain or two, but many of us return home with goods that may not be genuine. This can be a bad move, as besides risks of ‘replica’ watches stopping or ‘cut price’ trainers splitting, many counterfeit products, readily available abroad, pose serious dangers:


Alcohol

The dangers:
Many fake bottles of whisky and vodka contain high levels of methanol, a chemical that can cause blindness, coma, and even death. In March 2003, a 42-year-old woman died after drinking counterfeit vodka laced with this substance. John Fox, Principal Trading Standards Officer at Leicester City Council, says: “We’ve come across drink that called itself vodka which was actually pure methylated spirits. That would cause liver damage, possibly blindness.”

How to spot a fake:
As many different alcohol brands are faked, there is no golden rule for identifying counterfeit booze. Look for mistakes on the packaging, especially with logos and designs. In particular, be wary of brands you do not recognise. If in doubt, always buy from a reputable stockist or duty-free outlet.


Perfume

The dangers:
Counterfeit perfume can often burn your skin or leave you with a nasty rash. Tests on some fake fragrances have revealed that urine has been used as a stabiliser. Handley Brustad, Senior Trading Standards Officer at Cardiff County Council, reports:” With perfume, you really don’t know what you’re getting. We had one bottle of ‘perfume’ analysed, and found it to be pondwater with a fragrance added.”

How to spot a fake:
Be wary of products with low-quality packaging, no logo, or mis-spelt brand names. Again, the biggest warning sign is the vendor. As perfumes are perceived as high-end products, they are mostly sold in large, reputable outlets – distrust the man on the street promising a bargain. Always buy from a trustworthy source.


Sunglasses

The dangers:
Sunglasses are seen as an easy target by counterfeiters, as consumers are attracted by the promise of 'designer' versions at ‘bargain’ prices. However, fake sunglasses may not provide any protection at all against ultra-violet rays, leaving the wearer at risk to eye damage. Brian Burgh, Principal Trading Standards Officer at City of Sunderland Council, says: “They might look good, but they offer you no protection at all. They’re lethal.”

How to spot a fake:
Watch out for 'designer' sunglasses sold unpackaged, or in flimsy unmarked plastic sleeves. Test the hinges. They will be inferior in fake versions. A lack of peel-off certificate - usually a small label affixed to one of the lenses - proving UV protection is another pointer. Brian Burgh comments: “The big giveaway with fake sunglasses is you can just scratch off the name. I’ve done that with a few pairs in front of retailers, and they weren’t impressed!”


Cigarettes

The dangers:
In China alone, around 100 billion counterfeit cigarettes are produced each year, many of which end up in popular holiday destinations. As fake cigarettes are not subject to any regulations, they often contain excessive levels of tar and nicotine, presenting an increased risk to smokers. For example, fake cigarettes seized in Camden in 2002 were found to contain 75% more tar, 28% more nicotine, and 36% more carbon monoxide.
Cigarettes can also be contaminated with substances such as plastics, wrapping materials, and even sand.

How to spot a fake:
Fake cigarettes usually have packaging that closely resembles the brands they imitate, while the cigarettes themselves often taste noticeably different. Look closely for spelling mistakes in the small print on the box. Other clues are foreign, or mis-spelt safety warnings – or no safety warnings at all. If in doubt, buy from a reputable stockist or duty-free outlet.

For more information, visit the Anti-Counterfeiting Group’s website, www.a-cg.com.

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