All those online retailers popping up on your Instagram feed with amazing makeup brands such as MAC, Sephora, and Kylie Cosmetics or sneaker brands like Nike and Adidas claiming to be “original” are most likely fake…

The amount of counterfeit fake designer fashion and beauty products are alarming and a number of people purchasing it are even more staggering.

Annual trade in fake products is worth around 2.5 percent of total global trade, or about $18 trillion, according to Piotr Stryszowski, an economist with the Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The money goes to organized crime and helps fund terrorism and the trafficking of drugs, people, sex, and wildlife, as well as the lavish lifestyles of its kingpins.

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“It’s the globalised illicit business of the 21st century,” says Stryszowski, who laments it’s not taken as seriously as other contraband, such as cocaine.

Consumers may see fakes as “fun” and feel clever to buy sunglasses or sneakers that look like the real thing but cost a fraction of the price.

The reality, however, is anything but fun for the workers, many of them children who often work in slave-like conditions in secret factories making fake products for gang bosses who, Stryszowski says, “have no ethics and no
respect for the law.”

It’s this human cost that makes counterfeit goods one of the most insidiously dangerous criminal activities in the world today.

London-based intellectual property lawyer Mary Bagnall describes scenes of horror…

Children chained to sewing machines; people locked in underground factories in remote corners of China — that characterize an industry so lucrative yet so low-risk that some crime gangs are getting out of the drugs and people-trafficking businesses and into fakes.

“Consumers are used to the idea of fake handbags and even fashion counterfeits, (which) alone amount to some 2.6 billion pounds ($3.24 billion) worth of lost sales and I think an estimated 40,000 lost jobs annually, and that’s just in one industry,” she said.

Consumers can understand the perils of fake airbags for cars, or fake toys or electrical goods that “could explode in the face of a child,” Bagnall said.

But the fake goods industry goes much further than that…

“What consumers are probably less aware of is the danger of counterfeits in relation to other products — I’m talking now about pharmaceuticals, I’m talking about cosmetics,” she said.

Ingredients found in fake cosmetics include chemicals that can cause disfigurement or worse.

“We have tested cosmetics and what we’ve found is that they will be containing ingredients such as cadmium, arsenic, lead, to very dangerous levels. The worst one we found contained cyanide,” said Matthew Cridland, trading standards manager for Newport.

The vast majority of fakes, more than 81 percent, come from China and Hong Kong.

The biggest victims are in the United States, Italy, France and Switzerland, and include designers and manufacturers of everything from high-end fashion clothing, footwear, jewelry, and watches, to cosmetics, perfumes and medicines.

“With the explosion of online shopping, everybody is very used to ordering from online platforms, and you can order direct from manufacturers, from source countries like China,” he said. “It is harder to track a larger number of small parcels than a smaller number of large shipping containers.”

Some internet sites clearly sell fake goods at a cheap rate and are easily targeted by trademark owners and their lawyers.

Others offer fake goods at close to the legitimate retail price to dupe buyers into believing they are getting the real thing at a discount.

“It’s a vast market and consumers always have an appetite for a bargain,” said Cope. “Until they can easily identify whether those goods are genuine or not, it will be very difficult for them to make that choice.”

Cope also says some people are going to buy fakes no matter what.

“It’s something that will be very difficult to wipe out in its entirety, but we can make a dent,” he said.


So, the next time you see a good bargain on a designer bag on Instagram; you should probably think twice about purchasing it.

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