The 12 days of Counterfeit Christmas

The tradition of price-slashing sales in November in the US under the guise of Black Friday has now spread to this side of the Atlantic and has spawned a little brother, Cyber Monday, designed especially for online shoppers. Last year in the US alone, online spending was up 18% on 2012 at £1.735bn just on Cyber Monday alone as retailers heavily discounted stock in the run up to Christmas.

With the serious online Christmas shopping period well and truly upon us, it is worth remembering a few sage points that will ensure you stay healthy, wealthy and wise this festive season.

We have published a list of the top twelve scams consumers should look out for in the lead up to Christmas. And what better way to present them than in the words of the world-famous festive song, The Twelve Days of Christmas.

On the first day of Christmas my true love sent to me a partridge in a pear tree

Counterfeit Christmas decorations, especially defective tree lights are responsible for thousands of hospital visits each year. Always check the safety information on any electrical product to ensure that they are BSI compliant.



On the second day of Christmas my true love sent to me two turtle doves

2Turtle or Tortoise shell products are banned in many countries including the US. EBay have specific statements on their website about the illegalities in trading real turtle shell products due to their endangered species classification.

Interestingly, if an item is described as fake turtle shell then it can be sold on the online marketplace - a rare instance where the fake is better than the real thing.


On the third day of Christmas my true love sent to me three French hens

3The French have a global reputation for producing some of the most luxurious goods in the world such as chocolate, perfume, wine, cheese or clothes. It is this aspiration and desirable desire to own such products that has led to an explosion in counterfeit items.

A simple internet 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. Most of these organisations do not sell their products for 50% (or more) off retail price - that would devalue their brand. 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.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love sent to me four calling birds

4In early November Essex Police seized over £100,000 worth of fake mobile phones and accessories following a tip-off. Over $100m worth of fake products were seized in 2013 by US customs. The products are relatively cheap to produce and the real products are relatively expensive. In many instances, people buy fake items to "keep up with the Jones'". If it looks like the real thing then they are happy.

Unfortunately, fake phones rarely work as they should and cheap components can lead to injury through battery fires.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love sent to me five gold rings

5Fake jewellery is huge business with an estimated $187m seized in the US alone in 2012, up by nearly 10% on 2011. On face value a number of metals can be disguised as gold and passed off as the real thing to the unsuspecting eye both online and in physical market places.  Shakespeare passed off some of the best advice ever given in his play, The Merchant of Venice, when he told his audience that "All that glitters is not gold".

A simple check is to hold the jewellery to a magnet. Gold has no magnetic properties, whereas some of the cheap substitutes do.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love sent to me six geese-a-laying

6You name it, it is sure to have been counterfeited, but some of the more surprising items are staples items such as bread, flour and more commonly, eggs. Whilst they first started appearing twenty years ago in China, it is only now that the danger of this counterfeit eggsample (and we aren't even yoking here) is being seen in the western world.

Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to know what harmful substances are in the shells so be careful where you lay out your cash.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me seven swans-a-swimming

7Be careful about buying "exotic" meat from unusual sources. Whilst many of us have started favouring Goose over Turkey for our Christmas dinner, a number of local newspapers are reporting an increase in Swan deaths which has led to speculation that 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.

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love sent to me eight maids-a-milking

8Surprisingly, fake cheese is becoming a growing problem for food standards authorities. In a study carried out earlier this year by Trading Standards in the North West of England, 19 out of 20 samples taken from fast food restaurants were found to contain "analogue cheese" - an artificial cheesy substance that is much quicker and cheaper to produce than real cheese.

Whilst few of these pose a risk to health, it does once again question the fact as to whether we really know what goes into our food.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love sent to me nine ladies dancing

9One dilemma that we face during the Christmas festivities, whether male or female, is what to wear? We all want to look good, but at what cost? Fake clothes, often passed off as branded items are estimated to cost the manufacturers over £12bn per annum. 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 of these wont, as a large number of 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 Christmas parties for the right reasons, not for being shown up wearing inferior items.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love sent to me ten lords-a-leaping

10What to buy the sports fan who has everything? How about tickets to one of the most popular events in 2015 - The Ashes test at the home of cricket, Lords? You will not be surprised to hear that tickets for five days of the event will be like gold dust, with prices on the resale websites already at nearly £450 per ticket.

Whilst that may seem the easy option, rather than trying your luck in the official ballot, 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 longer have to worry about distribution or postage. 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.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love sent to me eleven pipers piping

11The figures associated with the trade in counterfeit tobacco products are simply staggering. Recent studies estimate that 11% of global cigarette sales are for fake products. That's over 600 billion cigarettes a year worth an estimated $40bn which is equivalent to twice the entire GDP of Paraguay - one of the major contributors to trade in illicit tobacco products.



On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love sent to me twelve drummers drumming

12Looking at updating your music library before 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.

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's not a Christmas present you want to give to any one!

As such, whilst many retailers will slash their prices to attract bargain hunters in the run up to Christmas, consumers must remain wary of "too good to be true offers" for the must-have festive gifts. To avoid falling victim to the latest online scams, consumers need to remember that if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is.