News item

PIPCU urges the public to 'Wake up - don't fake up!'

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) have today (18th May) launched an awareness campaign warning consumers of the risks posed by fake beauty products. 

In a call for consumers to ‘Wake up - don’t fake up!’ the City of London Police unit is highlighting the dangers of buying and using counterfeit goods such as make-up, perfume, electrical hair stylers and sun-cream. 

In the UK it is estimated that consumers spend at least £90 million every year on fake goods (1) and with the popularity of the internet and online shopping, the production and sale of fake goods on the web is increasing. Counterfeit beauty products in particular are becoming increasingly common and easily available on auction sites, online market places, rogue websites and social media. 

As we move towards a more digital world, checking the authenticity of a product is proving to be a lot harder, as consumers cannot gauge the look and feel of a product as they did before when buying on the high-street. Generic stock images are also frequently used to deceive consumers into believing they are buying the real deal.

In the last 18 months, PIPCU has helped to protect consumers from being ripped off online by suspending more than 5,500 websites selling fake luxury branded goods as well as seizing more than £3.5million worth of fake goods. 

In addition, the percentage of fake goods seized by customs because of health and safety concerns to consumers has doubled in recent years (2). These include items such as perfume, make-up and electrical beauty items.

Fake electrical beauty goods, such as hair curlers, dryers and straighteners are not subject to the same vigorous safety tests as genuine items and so the bogus product is often very dangerous. It could cause electrocution or overheat and catch fire, potentially burning hair, skin and scalp as well as putting homes and lives at risk.

Laboratory tests have shown counterfeit perfume often contains poisonous chemicals including cyanide and even human urine. While fake cosmetics such as eyeliner, mascara, lipgloss and foundation have been found to contain toxic levels of chemicals and harmful substances such as; arsenic, mercury and lead. All of these can cause allergic reactions, such as skin irritation, swelling, rashes and burns as well as leaving the consumer with longer term health problems.

Counterfeit make-up is often produced in un-sanitised and un-hygienic factories and there have been cases where rats’ droppings and poison have also been found in the phoney cosmetics.

In 2014 PIPCU dismantled a criminal operation suspected of importing and selling counterfeit goods. The team seized a shipping container which contained what is believed to be more than 4,700 counterfeit versions of one of the UK’s most popular beauty brands, including foundation, bronzer, lipgloss, eye shadow and eyebrow pencils. 

In addition, in 2013, EU Customs seized over a million suspected fake cosmetics and perfume items with a retail value of more than 55million euros (3).

Fraudsters have also been known to knock-up counterfeit sun-cream and pass it off as well known and trusted household brands. However they often contain little or no SPF at all and so offer no protection to harmful UV rays which could lead to long term skin damage, as well as containing substances which could cause irritation to the skin. 

In addition, PIPCU is urging online shoppers to be aware that by purchasing counterfeit goods online they are running the risk of their financial and personal details being compromised and being used for other fraudulent scams, as well as exposing their computer to malware and viruses. 

City of London Police, Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall who oversees the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) said “Many people don’t know about the real dangers counterfeit beauty products pose to their health and so that is why this week we are urging the public to Wake up - don’t fake up!

“Criminals are exploiting every opportunity to fool customers into buying counterfeits in order for them to make some quick cash - putting peoples’ health, homes and lives at risk. Beauty products are meant to enhance your features however the fakes can in fact do quite the opposite. Our general rule is; if it seems too good to be true then it probably is!

“Not only could these products have serious implications to your health and wellbeing but by simply going online and buying from a rogue site or dealer, your personal and financial information is at risk. 

“We have had victims who have bought fake items online only to discover later that the criminals behind the site have used their payment details to make further purchases or even use their personal details to set up hundreds of illegal sites selling counterfeit goods.”

Intellectual Property Minister Baroness Neville-Rolfe said: "Counterfeit goods pose a real threat to public safety, steal ideas from businesses and rip-off consumers.  That is why the Government is committed to cracking down on fakes and I am delighted with the energy PIPCU is bringing to tackling this issue.

“Buying illegal goods also runs the risk of supporting other activities of organised crime, from drug smuggling to people trafficking. It is never a victimless crime.

“Everyone should follow the advice to make sure they don't put themselves and others in danger by buying fake goods."  

Electrical Safety First, a charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents, is supporting PIPCU’s ‘Wake up – don’t fake up!’ campaign this week.

Phil Buckle, Director General of Electrical Safety First said: “Counterfeit electrical products are dangerous. Time and again we have seen these items overheat, cause electric shocks and even fires. By purchasing and using these counterfeits, even unwittingly, consumers are putting themselves, their families and their property in danger. We understand the desire to bag a bargain, but it is simply not worth the risk just to save a few pounds.” 

PIPCU is a specialist national police unit dedicated to protecting UK industries that produce legitimate, high quality, physical goods and online digital content from intellectual property crime. 

The operationally independent unit was launched in September 2013 with funding from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The unit is based within the Economic Crime Directorate of the City of London Police, the National Policing Lead for Fraud.

Notes to editors:

(1) – Home Office - Understanding organised crime: estimating the scale and the social and economic costs - Research Report 73

(2) – European Union - ‘Report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights’ - 2013 - page 7

(3) - European Union - ‘Report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights’ - 2013 - page 25


City of London Police Detective Superintendent Maria Woodall is available for interviews upon request. Please contact Alice Skeats on 0207 601 2160 for more information.

A young woman who purchased counterfeit straighteners unknowingly, which then exploded and caught a-light is available for interviews upon request. A quote detailing her account is included below. Please contact Alice Skeats on 0207 601 2160 for more information.

Social media

You can follow the unit’s campaign activity on social media. The hashtag for the campaign is #WakeUpDontFakeUp and the unit's dedicated twitter account is @CityPolicePIPCU


Are available upon request.

Consumer advice and tips for safe online shopping

- The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) has produced ten top tips for consumers to follow to avoid falling victim to counterfeit fraud when shopping online. 

1. Trust your instincts – if an offer looks too good to be true, then it probably is. Legitimate designer items are rarely discounted, so do not rush and be fooled into believing you are getting a good deal.

2. Check the spelling and grammar on the website and of the URL – often the people behind these sites do not pay a lot of attention or care to this detail. Fraudsters may also try to deceive you by slightly changing the spelling of a well-known brand or shop in the website address.

3. Look to see where the trader is based and whether they provide a postal address – just because the web address has ‘uk’ do not assume the seller is based in the UK. If there is no address supplied or there is just a PO Box or email, be wary.

4. Only deal with reputable sellers - only use sites you know or ones that have been recommended to you. If you have not bought from the seller before, do your research and check online reviews. People will often turn to forums and blogs to warn others of fake sites. If you are buying an item online you can check to see if the website is a legitimate stockist by visiting

5. Ensure the website address begins ‘https’ at the payment stage – this indicates a secure payment.

6. Keep security software and firewalls up-to-date. Regularly update your internet browser when a new patch-security update is released.

7. Don’t access links in unsolicited emails – fraudsters will design these, along with websites, to look genuine to trick victims into entering personal information, when in fact they are fraudulent. Always type in the website address or use a search engine to find a site. 

8. Ask the trader if there is a returns policy or guarantee. Most rogue traders will not offer this.

9. If you are not sure whether the items are genuine, do not enter your payment details – it is not worth the risk.

10. Watch out for pop-ups appearing asking you to confirm your card details before you are on the payment stage. Never enter your PIN online.

- If a consumer has unfortunately purchased an item they believed to be genuine but now suspect this may not be the case they can report it to Action Fraud online or call 0300 123 2040. 

Alternatively if a consumer suspects someone to be involved in the sale or trade of counterfeit items you can report this to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 or online at: 

Information on The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU)

In the last 18 months PIPCU has helped to protect consumers from being ripped off online by suspending more than 5,500 websites selling fake luxury branded goods. Read more about the latest seizures that took place earlier this year here. 

In recent months PIPCU has diverted more than 10.3million views from pirate sites to a police warning page, received thanks from Sly Stallone after arresting a man on suspicion of leaking the Expendables 3 and arrested a man believed to be the biggest illegal uploader of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) content.

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) was initially funded by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) until June 2015, but in October 2014 it was announced the unit would receive £3million to further fund the unit until 2017. 

Case Study

Phoebe Farrelly, 30, Camden was misled into buying fake hair straighteners from what she believed was a legitimate retailer. She explains below:

Phoebe said, “I was shopping around online for some new hair straighteners, when I came across a site which looked really professional and had really good reviews. They were a fraction cheaper than the retail price, but it wasn’t a massive cut and I was still paying a lot, so I wasn’t worried. 

“They arrived and worked well for the first twelve months but then they started to make a strange buzzing sound and then turning on and off when I was using them. I thought it was odd, but it didn’t bother me too much. 

“Then one morning I was straightening my hair and was holding the stylers close to my face, when they started fizzing. Then before I knew it, there was a loud bang and they exploded. The end of the styler had burst into flames where it connects with the wire. I immediately dropped them and turned the power off at the wall, hoping I wasn’t going to be electrocuted. I feel incredibly lucky that I wasn’t seriously injured however I was left feeling very shaken up. I now make sure I am really careful when shopping online as I know just how easy it is for fraudsters to trick you.”

Phoebe is available for interviews upon request. Please contact Alice Skeats for more information on 020 7601 2160.

DATE: 18 May 2015