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Shoppers warned to beware counterfeit Christmas presents

John Fitzsimons
Written By:
John Fitzsimons

People looking to reduce the cost of the festive period are urged to be on guard against fake and counterfeit goods.

Research by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found that around four out of every five people in the UK are looking to spend less on Christmas this year, on account of the cost-of-living crisis, with many turning to cheaper products for gifts.

For example, more than one in 10 said they were planning to buy second hand items for loved ones.

However, CTSI cautioned that shoppers need to be wary of buying unsafe items online this Christmas. Its study found that around 15% of shoppers do not know how to ensure the items they buy online are safe, while less than half (48%) only know to some extent what to look out for.

The dangers of dodgy presents

While buying a knock-off item may work out cheaper, it can also come with increased dangers.

Examples highlighted by CTSI included counterfeit toys which were found to contain illegal levels of phthalates, a plastic-softening chemical which can cause cancer and asthma, as well as counterfeit perfumes which have been found to contain dangerous levels of methanol which can damage the nervous system.

It was particularly concerned about electrical items, including toys, which are operated by lithium-ion button or coin-cell batteries. The law states these must have lockable battery compartments, to guard against the risk of a child swallowing them as the batteries can cause serious internal injuries, but there is a danger that counterfeit goods will not have these safeguards in place.

It’s not just gifts that can cause problems though, with CTSI noting that poor-quality Christmas lights have been known to cause electrical shorts, which can result in house fires.

John Herriman, chief executive at CTSI, said that times are tough so it’s understandable people will want to save money, but emphasised that counterfeit goods are “often a false economy”.

He said: “This isn’t about spoiling people’s fun or causing unnecessary alarm; dangerous products can, and do, pose a real threat to people’s lives. If a shoddy electrical device or set of fairy lights catches fire while you and your family are asleep upstairs, a happy time of year could very quickly become something you’ll remember for all the wrong reasons.”

Dodgy products being sold on Amazon, eBay and Wish

The CTSI warnings follow a Which? investigation which revealed that some Christmas lights being sold on sites like Amazon, eBay, Wish and AliExpress fail to meet safety standards and could put you at risk.

The consumer champion bought lights for £15 or under from the various marketplaces, and of the 12 sets tested, 10 failed to meet requirements of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) regulations, meaning they can not be legally sold in the UK.

Which? argued that some of the sets were so poorly made that anyone using them could be at risk of an electric shock, while they were also a fire hazard.

Only two sets of lights ‒ one bought from eBay and one from Amazon ‒ were found to be of sufficient standard that they could be sold legally.

How to avoid counterfeit goods

So how do you go about protecting yourself from the risks of purchasing a fake item which may not be made to the right safety standards?

A simple first step is to ensure that you only shop with reputable retailers. While you might find an apparent bargain at an online store, if it’s one that you have never heard of before then there is a danger the items on sale are counterfeit.

Another method is to look out for the UKCA mark on products like toys, electrical goods and cosmetics. This mark demonstrates the product has met the required safety standards.

Once items arrive, it’s a good idea to check them over to ensure they are suitable for the age of the recipient and do not have shoddy safety measures in place, such as no lockable battery compartment if it uses button batteries.