By Emma McKinney
CONSUMER watchdogs have warned Birmingham’s retail sector could lose hundreds of thousands of pounds as they predict the city will be deluged with fake Olympic merchandise.
The news comes as Trading Standards teams across the country are taking part in National Consumer Week until Friday.
Spearheaded by the Trading Standards Institute, the week is focusing on the crackdown of fake sports merchandise on sale in Britain ahead of the 2012 London Olympics and has been called The Good Sports Don’t Fake It campaign.
Birmingham City Council’s Trading Standards team has already seized hundreds of fake Olympic-themed cigarette lighters in a raid on a warehouse in the city, which can not be named for legal reasons.
And they fear it is only the beginning of an influx of counterfeit Olympic goods set to go on sale in Birmingham – with fake sports clothes, equipment, tickets and even travel and accommodation packages expected to dupe innocent shoppers.
Sajeela Naseer, head of the team, said: “Having the Jamaican and US Olympic teams basing their training camps in Birmingham means we expect even more ticket touts and counterfeit sellers in the city.”
And she says the counterfeits are costing the city’s economy hundreds of thousands of pounds.
“These people don’t pay taxes, the money isn’t going into the system, which is costing the local economy a fortune at a time when we are trying to recover from a recession,” she says.
She said all legitimate Olympic goods will be sold through shops approved by the London 2012 Organising Committee (LOCOG).
And she also revealed the murky, dangerous and deadly world behind the sale of fake products.
“I think a lot of people think that selling counterfeit items is a petty crime,” said Mrs Naseer.
“But research has shown that counterfeiting is closely linked to organised and serious crime and form part of a much bigger picture.
“Many people who sell them do it to generate money, they see it as a way of making a high profit with a low risk.“But then they use that money to put it into higher risk, more serious crime.
“We know the money goes into major drug dealing and thefts, it funds weapons and it is used in serious crimes that often result in violence and murder.
“Also, as fakes aren’t made by legitimate manufacturers, we have no idea where they come from, but it has been known that they have been made by children or vulnerable people working in sweat shops and being paid a pittance.”
The watchdogs say the fakes would not only rip-off consumers, but also potentially put lives at risk.
“There’s a lot of issues surrounding counterfeits,” said Mrs Naseer. “One is that they can be highly dangerous.
“For example, these lighters won’t have gone through the rigorous safety checks UK law requires, so they could be dangerous and burn people.“Fake toys are similar, bits could break off and potentially choke or even kill a child.
“People also lose their consumer rights when they buy counterfeits, they can’t take them back if they break or are faulty.”
She said her team has dedicated officers who work around-the-clock to stop counterfeits being sold in Birmingham.
In fact, between 2009 and 2010, Birmingham Trading Standards officers seized more than 80,700 fake goods worth in excess of £647,000, including clothes, footwear and computer equipment.
In the last three years the team has clawed back more than £6 million in cash earned by 25 Birmingham convicted counterfeiters, thanks to Proceeds of Crime laws.
And Since May, the team has successfully prosecuted five people for flogging fake goods, three of which were jailed and two were given community orders.
“We constantly monitor the internet, where we find a lot of counterfeits and a way of tracing them back to warehouses and suppliers,” said Mrs Naseer. “We work undercover and we have a lot of anonymous tip-offs from the public, we carry out dozens of raids and we watch out for street sellers or shops that suddenly pop up and then close a month later.”
She says some fakes are very good, and not easily spotted to the untrained eye.
The team is visiting venues throughout the city this week to warn consumers about counterfeits and advise them how to spot the frauds.
They will be at Birmingham Metropolitan College in Jennens Road, from 10am until 3pm today and Cocks Moors Wood Leisure Centre in Alcester Road South, Kings Heath, from 10am until 3pm tomorrow.
• For more information call Birmingham Trading Standards on 0121 303 6031. Report counterfeiters anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or visit www.crimestoppers-uk.org
TOP TIPS TO AVOID FAKES:
• The biggest difference between fake and genuine designer clothes and accessories is the quality of the materials used to make the item.
• Before shopping for designer clothes, try to check out the real thing in a shop or on the manufacturer’s website. Pick up the item, feel the fabric or material and examine labels to get an idea of how the real thing should feel and weigh.
• Beware of outrageously low prices. All designer clothing fakes have low prices in comparison to genuine designer clothes. Browse other shops before buying so you can tell genuine discounts from clear counterfeit prices.
• The stitching on genuine designer clothes and accessories will always be superior to fakes. Cotton stitching should match the fabric, be tight and straight. In most instances you shouldn’t be able to see stitching on genuine items and there should be fewer noticeable seams across the garment as a whole.
• Misspelled labels and poor logos are an easily identifiable trait of all kinds of fake goods.
• If you’re shopping online, check the retailer is registered to sell the brand.
• Check manufacturers’ websites to see how authentication cards should look as these are often copied by counterfeiters.