Copyright 2001

[ December 5th 2001 ]

Shoppers are being asked to watch out for the so-called 12 cons of Christmas in a bid to catch criminals behind a multimillion pound bonanza of fakes. A Crimestoppers campaign launched today urges conned shoppers to turn in the crooks - with a reminder that behind illegal street traders are big-time criminal gangs with potential profits running into hundreds of millions of pounds.

The counterfeit industry runs alongside legitimate retailing so the run-up to Christmas is the chance for crooks to shift a lot of fake gear. The masterminds behind the fakes business are smart, and study the market to produce their own versions of the most popular gifts.

This year, according to manufacturer victims, the 12 cons of Christmas will be: Children's favourites. Watch out for fake Harry Potters in many forms - games, dolls, clothing. Also on the counterfeiters' list are Star Wars, Bob The Builder, The Tweenies and Lord Of The Rings. As well as being cheap imitations, some of the toys will fall apart and are potentially dangerous for small children.

Leisure clothing with logos - baseball caps and sweatshirts with well-known names like Ferrari and Guinness printed on them. Instead of the real thing these are likely to have been manufactured in an East End sweat shop. Football team replica outfits. Computer games such as Lara Croft, Pro Evolution Soccer. They may look real but are they going to work? Designer-label clothing - especially fleeces this year, with Chanel and Calvin Klein labels particular favourites.

Watches and luxury goods - be wary of brands appearing to be Rolex, Gucci, Nike and leather goods like Louis Vuitton. Fake perfume and cosmetics - an old favourite, and a great moneyspinner for the gangs since lookalike bottles are so easy to make and filled with little more than water. Music - fake CDs and cassettes packaged to look like the real thing. Trainers - if they seem incredibly cheap they are almost certainly not a real bargain.

Computer software - the only guarantee is that it won't work. Films - pirated videos have always been a big money spinner but the growing boom in DVDs makes them a lucrative source of income for the fakers. A Christmas drink - even your seasonal tipple could be fake. Some of the items - such as the fake Mot et Chandon champagne doing the rounds may be harmless sparkling wine. However, some fake vodka can cause blindness. Another thing to avoid is alcopop - made from antifreeze.

John Anderson, of the manufacturers' Anti-Counterfeiting Group, said: 'One of the primary aims of the Crimestoppers anti-counterfeiting campaign is to shake members of the public out of the misplaced belief that counterfeiting doesn't hurt anybody.' There are, anti-counterfeiters say, fake Pokmon watches which could choke a small child and Star Wars toys with dangerous levels of lead in the paint. During Christmas 1998, trading standards officers in Scotland seized Pounds 15 million worth of counterfeit brake shoes - made of compressed grass.

Some fake clothing - including Teletubbies items - have in the past been found to pose a fire hazard to anybody wearing them. About a half of all fake toys and perfumes are sold at Christmas. And about a third of all fakes overall are sold at this time of year.

Legitimate businesses lose about Pounds 9 billion a year to the counterfeiters. Organised criminals can afford to invest in fakery. They can buy concentrated fragrance in industrial amounts and mix them up to approximate famous brands. It only costs a few pence to produce the goods, and they can turn in a hefty profit.

In the same way they bulk-buy 'blank' sweatshirts. The gangs get someone in the rag trade with a computerised embroidery machine to copy a designer logo and attach it to the blank. The gangs can even respond to market demands by ordering up extra copies of labels which sold particularly well the previous weekend. If you come across a Christmas con you can call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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