Could you spot a fake?

HAVE you ever bought something that you know is fake? Probably. In the second part of his series on Felixstowe docks, JAMES MARSTON finds out how we are stopping the growing counterfeit business at the border.

HAVE you ever bought something that you know is fake? Probably.

In the second part of his series on Felixstowe docks, JAMES MARSTON finds out how we are stopping the growing counterfeit business at the border.

THIS week Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs press office released the following statement to the Evening Star.

“On June 1 HMRC seized approx nine million cigarettes in a container on a farm. It is highly likely the cigarettes are counterfeit and tests are ongoing. They were branded as Regal but the packets/labelling was suspicious.

“The container was full of cigarettes - there was no cover load. The load came in through Felixstowe docks. The address is Brooklands Farm, Brewery Lane, Melling, but no arrests so far and investigations ongoing. Details were only confirmed this week.”

This story is far from unusual. Counterfeit goods are big business and it's growing.

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Steve Middleditch, HMRC counterfeit expert, heads up a team dedicated to stopping counterfeit goods entering the country. He said: “Counterfeiting affects all sorts of trade sectors and infringes all sorts of different products. It is no longer just luxury goods, counterfeiting affects all levels of value of goods.”

Counterfeiting infringes intellectual property rights-both design rights and trade marks or patterns owned by a company or individual.

Steve said: “The majority of work we do, relates to trademarks. As well as ripping off different trade sectors these people are making money with inferior goods and we are concerned with the health and safety and wellbeing of the end user.”

Cigarettes, children's toys, sunglasses, soft drinks, toothpaste, batteries, shoes, hair care products, ceramics-the list of counterfeit goods is endless.

Steve said: “Some of these things are either ingested or rubbed into the skin. This can be dangerous. Batteries have been known to explode. People think they are buying genuine goods but they aren't.”

Counterfeiting is a global problem.

“The majority of counterfeit goods come in from china and south east Asia. Some can be very good copies and others are clearly poorly made. Counterfeiting works at a number of levels. There is some collusion with the consumers, if they are offered high value goods at a low price then they have a good idea it is counterfeit but in other cases the consumer believes they are buying genuine products.”

Using targeted intelligence, Steve's team checks consignments entering the UK through Felixstowe.

He said: “We would keep aside a container and examine it in one of the examination sheds. Some consignments are full of counterfeit goods others have counterfeit goods hidden inside.

“It can be as simple as one row of counterfeit cargo in a load of genuine cargo or they employ a more complicated strategy like keeping small counterfeit items of high value in non branded cargo.”

Steve's department works closely with a range of firms and he knows how important it is to build up a relationship with trademark owners in combating counterfeiting.

He said: “From April 2005 to March 2006 at Felixstowe we had 480 seizures of infringements with a street value of £43million. Worldwide customs estimate 10per cent of all trade across the world may be in counterfeit goods with a value of £50bn a year. Counterfeiting is global and growing.

“The EU has a long history of manufacturing quality items. We are protecting the consumer and there are hundreds and thousands of EU jobs at risk from counterfeiting.”

Counterfeit goods are distributed in a number of ways if they are successfully smuggled into the UK.

Steve said: “Counterfeit smuggling is the result off organised crime. These are the same people who are importing drugs and cigarettes and involved in terrorism. Consumers should be suspicious of goods that are cheaper. Counterfeiting is a huge business. There was recently a case of counterfeit Asian flu vaccine and you can imagine the implications of that.”

Its not just counterfeit goods that Steve's team is looking out for. He said: “Our duties include all controlled goods. There are tariffs set by the EU that have to be paid on the import of food and Felixstowe is also a port of entry to Europe not just the UK. There are different rates of duty depending on the product.”

One of the HMRC's largest areas of concern is the increasing amount of counterfeit cigarettes that are entering the country. Millions are swamping the market and they are dangerous.

A large scanner than can check a whole lorry as well as containers is used by HMRC to try to detect the contraband before it leaves the port.

In just three minutes experts can x-ray a container or lorry and check for tell tale signs of cigarettes or, of course, drugs.

Glass lead, foil is used by criminals to shield the goods from prying eyes but HMCR are used to all the tricks. They know about false bulkheads, low value goods with high value illicit substances, they have found drugs in cat litter and frozen foods and cigarettes hidden in CD racks.

Chris Harrison, scanner supervisor, said: “We rely on intelligence to make a selection then we can scan the load. We can tell what's in the load by the density of the goods.

“You train your eye for what you are looking for. It doesn't take long so we don't hold up legitimate businesses.”

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