Press releases

The ‘grotty grotto’ on Santa’s black list

A 'grotty grotto' of dangerous and fake goods will be unwrapped by the Trading Standards Institute (TSI) to highlight the importance of being a 'savvy shopper' this Christmas.

The goods on Santa's black list at the launch of TSI's National Consumer Week (NCW) include a dangerous chocolate fountain which oozes on to the electrics, fake and shoddy 'Jimmy Choo' shoes and radio controlled electric toys that could cause an electric shock. *For more details see Notes to editors

TSI is reminding Christmas shoppers of their rights, giving tips to avoid ending up with 'shocking stocking fillers' - and calling on the Government to take more action to clamp down on dangerous goods.

And the advice is even more important at a time when people may be tempted to buy cheaper, counterfeit goods during the credit crunch.

Father Christmas and 'Savvy' the Elf will be at the Office of Fair Trading in Salisbury Square, London, on Monday 17 November at 11am, where the seasonal duo will unveil a grotto of unsafe and counterfeit products recently seized by trading standards services across the country.

Consumer affairs minister Gareth Thomas will attend the event, when TSI will call on the Department of Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR) to make product safety a key priority to protect buyers and restore consumer confidence.

Ron Gainsford, chief executive of TSI, said: 'The present economic climate could make consumers more vulnerable to cheap, shoddy or unsafe products. Our grotto shows goods that range from dodgy and disappointing to downright dangerous.
'Coupled with the fact that there have been many product recalls over the last couple of years, we believe change is long overdue to protect the public from dangerous goods.

'I urge the Government to prioritise this issue and take steps to make sure consumers are not put in danger by unwittingly purchasing unsafe products.'
National Consumer Week coincides with International Product Safety Week, which is being hosted by the European Commission in Brussels. It will bring together a broad range of consumer product safety professionals from around the globe, representing regulators, businesses, consumer organisations, standard makers and test laboratories.

TSI urges BERR to:

· Promote a national sampling and testing programme for products, backed by adequate funding, and collate the details on a central database.

· Review the use of the CE mark - commonly interpreted by the public as a safety mark or quality mark but which actually only allows free movement of goods across Europe.

· Review the conformity process that allows some products to be CE marked after self-assessment whereas others have to be independently tested.

· Re-introduce a government-funded central database listing details of incidents and injuries in the home and outside to highlight trends and areas of concern more quickly and effectively. These databases were maintained centrally until 2001-02.

· Work closely with internet auction sites to make sure they are aware of their responsibilities on safety.

· Support international collaboration between market surveillance officials to reflect the increasing globalisation of trading problems.

The British Toy and Hobby Association (BTHA) is backing TSI's campaign for better protection against unsafe products.

Roland Earl, Director General said: 'Toy safety is the top priority for the BTHA. Members sign up to a strict code of practice covering not only product safety but also high ethical standards in marketing and in sourcing from factories with proper working conditions for employees.

'The work of trading standards officers in combating counterfeit and dangerous products, as well as in areas such as fraudulent activities, deserves everybody's support. It certainly has the full support of the BTHA.'

The recent economic climate and 'credit crunch' may tempt shoppers to buy cheaper products this festive season - but Ruth Orchard, Director-General of the Anti-Counterfeiting Group, warned: 'Christmas counterfeiters are back with a vengeance and the bargains they appear to offer are not just a rip-off but could also be harmful.'

She added: 'Quite apart from the damage to legitimate industry and the economy, counterfeits pose a threat to consumer health and safety, and the fakers gear up at Christmas time just like legitimate industry.

'This year, with money tight, the risk is even greater than usual and the temptation to make 'savings' by purchasing fake toys, clothing, games and perfume as presents, for example, could cost far more than money.

'Price, place and packaging are all indicators of whether goods are fake and we urge shoppers to buy only from retailers who are established and known to them this Christmas.

'At best, shoddy goods will be a disappointment - at worst, they could prove to be a deadly gift, particularly to young children.'

More information about the Anti-Counterfeiting Group can be found on its website

NCW 2008 has the theme 'Be a Savvy Shopper this Christmas' and is supported by Consumer Direct, the Government-funded advice service.

Consumer Focus, the new independent champion for consumers, has also welcomed this year's theme.

Consumer Focus chief executive Ed Mayo said businesses had a duty to trade fairly but people needed to be wary of dishonest traders.

'Christmas is the high season for rogue traders on the lookout to offload fake and dangerous goods on unsuspecting shoppers,' said Mr Mayo.

'People need to be vigilant about who they buy their Christmas gifts from and always be wary when the price looks too good to be true.

'Look out for traders who might be here today but gone tomorrow. If something goes wrong with your goods the chances of a refund from a fly-by-night trader are remote.'

Top tips from TSI for being a 'savvy shopper' and avoiding shocking stocking fillers this Christmas:

1. Shop around for the best price before you buy - but avoid purchasing from a person or place that might not offer you the consumer protection rights that you are entitled to.

2. Remember the three 'Ps' to avoid counterfeits - person, place, price. As the 'grotty grotto' shows, counterfeit goods can be unsafe, as well as fake and shoddy. Think about the person, place and price of where you are buying from. If goods are faulty or unsafe, your chances of a refund from an unknown street seller, car boot sale, pubs or clubs are remote. If your bargain seems too good to be true, then it probably is!

3. Look for the 'Lion Mark' on toys and games. This mark, developed by the British Toy & Hobby Association, indicates that the supplier has signed a strict code of practice covering toy safety, as well as issues of advertising and counterfeiting. Choose carefully the toy for the child, checking the label for the age group for which it is suitable. Also think how a toy meant for an older child could be kept out of the way of a younger sibling, for whom it may not be suitable. As with any goods, buy from reputable retailers.

4. Get a receipt for the gift you are buying so you have proof of purchase. Receipts mean you may be able to return the gift you have bought outside the 28 days stores normally allow. If you need the goods to do something specific, ask the seller to write down that the items will perform the function you want.

5. Buying clothes and shoes - examine stitching and seams in garments and look carefully for poor quality seals between upper and lower soles on shoes. Remember that you have no right to return shoes or clothing simply because they do not fit. So, unless you are sure what you are buying will fit, you may wish to buy store vouchers instead.

6. When buying online, check expected delivery dates and make sure you order in good time for your gift to arrive. Distance Selling Regulations mean that online sellers have 30 days to supply your goods from the day after you place your order - unless you have paid extra for early delivery. Because you cannot see goods bought online close up, Distance Selling Regulations state that you generally have seven working days from the day after your goods arrive to return them for a refund, if they are not to your liking or do not meet your requirements. However, some things, including flowers, perishable items like food and certain services cannot be returned.

7. Gift vouchers can be a great idea - but you need to be aware of the terms and conditions, often found in the small print. This will tell you when the vouchers expire, which is something that is easy to miss.

8. Christmas food - always check the 'best before' or 'use by' date before you buy and that the packaging is in good condition and has not been opened.
If you are concerned about the quality or safety of something you have bought or need further advice, contact Consumer Direct on 0845 04 05 06.

Notes to editors

The items on display in the TSI 'grotty grotto' include -

? Radio controlled electrical toys at risk of causing electric shock, seized by Brent & Harrow Trading Standards - On 10th September 2008, Harrow Magistrates fined a company a total of £15,000 for possessing for supply a large quantity of unsafe toys. A director of the company was, separately, fined £7,500 for the same offences. The items, which were seized from a shop in Harrow Weald, included radio controlled electrical toys, which were sent for safety testing. An electrical safety expert concluded there was a risk of electric shock due to poor internal wiring - and the transformers could overheat as the pins on the plugs did not comply with European safety standards. Trading standards also seized from the shop a large number of other toys, including a selection of dolls, which had parts that could be a choking hazard, and toy mobile phones which emitted a ring tone louder than the permissible noise levels for children's playthings. For further information, contact Hashith Shah on 020 8937 5511.

? Dangerous scooter seized by Bracknell Forest Trading Standards - Six dangerous toy scooters were seized from an independent retailer following an inspection by trading standards professionals. The scooters were found to have a series of safety defects, including sharp edges on the metal handles, which were deemed to present a significant risk of injury to the user. Also, the safety report found the plastic handlebar grips became detached when in use, exposing a metal tube which posed a safety risk to children playing on the scooter. The general safety advice and warnings about the product were also missing. For further information, contact John Nash on 01344 352589.

? Counterfeit biker jacket seized by Westminster Trading Standards - Trading standards professionals seized 350 fake jackets following raids in a central London store. The counterfeit jackets, branded 'Ferrari', 'Yamaha', 'RedBull' and 'Honda', were on sale for up to £150, almost the same as the genuine article, which normally sells for around £200. Tests showed the jackets were stuffed with flimsy foam, making them unsafe for riders. Genuine biker jackets use high-density foam, rubber or plastic, offering protection in the event of an accident. For further information, contact Sue Jones or Giles Speid on 020 7641 2721.

? Counterfeit 'GHD' hair straighteners seized by Stoke-on-Trent Trading Standards - A number of fake straighteners were seized from a residential property in Stoke-on-Trent. They were being sold on an internet auction site and were fakes of promotional, limited edition pink straighteners brought out by GHD to promote breast cancer awareness. The fakes were on sale for between £70 and £90, which is approximately half what the genuine article costs. The straighteners were brought to the attention of trading standards professionals following a complaint from a consumer that their hair was being singed because the irons were incorrect. For further information, contact Phil Bowers on 01782 232017.

? Dangerous chocolate fountain handed in to Wiltshire Trading Standards - A consumer bought the chocolate fountain online and complained after seeing molten chocolate seeping out of the bottom part of the product where the electrics are located. The product contravened electric safety regulations because it did not have a tight seal to prevent the chocolate from getting into the electrical mechanism. The item was also not properly earthed, it did not bear a CE mark nor was it marked with all the required technical information. The seller had imported the chocolate fountains from China. For further information, contact Tim Unsworth on 01225 713552

? Dangerous hair clippers seized by Blackburn with Darwen Council's Trading Standards - Trading standards officers seized 26 boxes of potentially lethal electric hair clippers which were being sold for £3 in a shop in Blackburn. The 'Richo' easy cut clippers had no fuse inside the plug and no plastic sheathing on the plug pins meaning anyone using them was at risk of being electrocuted. Blackburn with Darwen Council's trading standards team was alerted when a customer brought clippers to its office and complained the product became very hot while being used and smelled of burning. For further information, contact Jane Woodall on 01254 585177.

? Counterfeit golf club handed in to South Gloucestershire Trading Standards - A complaint was received about a counterfeit 'Taylor Made' golf club purchased from an internet auction site, which led officers back to a property in the South Gloucestershire area. It turned out the person at that address was totally innocent. He had previously bought one such golf club via the internet and his contact details were then abused by the person selling the golf club. The fakes have been selling for around £100, while the retail price for a genuine 'Taylor Made' club is around £230. The complainant, a keen golfer, had spoken to the manufacturer after his suspicions were aroused because the club was not playing like it should. The manufacturer confirmed it was not authentic. For further information, contact Neill Derrick on 01454 634009 or Mark Pullen on 01454 634007.

? 'Apple iPod' handed in to South Gloucestershire Trading Standards - a Gloucestershire resident bought it from an internet auction site and the seller was based in South Gloucestershire. The consumer contacted Apple to get a repair done on the 'iPod' and was told it was not a genuine product. For further information, contact Neill Derrick on 01454 634009 or Mark Pullen on 01454 634007.

? 'Jimmy Choo' shoes seized by South Gloucestershire Trading Standards - A resident in Scotland bought these from an internet auction site and received a refund when they complained but contacted trading standards professionals to inform them the shoes were being sold. A small number were seized from the seller, who was traced to a house in South Gloucestershire. They were being sold for around £100 and they normally retail at much higher than that. The consumer had bought genuine Jimmy Choo shoes before so, when the fakes arrived, they knew they were not genuine because they looked shoddy. For further information, contact Neill Derrick on 01454 634009 or Mark Pullen on 01454 634007.

? A range of fake clothing, watches, perfumes and electrical goods from the Anti-Counterfeiting Group - Numerous items of counterfeit designer clothing, watches, perfumes and electrical goods, have been supplied for the 'grotty grotto' by the Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG). ACG says that counterfeiters do not invest in research and development or care about complying with safety regulations, posing an unacceptable risk to consumers. For example, counterfeit perfume can cause a nasty allergic reaction. For further information, contact ACG Secretariat on 01494 449165.

? Exploding joke pen seized by Southend-on-Sea Trading Standards - A nine-year-old child was nearly blinded by an exploding joke pen sold by a Southend toy importer. The pen caused injuries and abrasions to the victim's right eye and caused bruising to his mother's eardrum. The products were tested for compliance against EN71, and were found to produce debris that could cause injuries, flames and glowing residues. A peak emission sound pressure of 149 decibels was produced, when this figure should not exceed 125 decibels. The products also failed to display the required warnings. The importer, pleaded guilty to a number of offences relating to the supply of unsafe toys. The company was fined £5,264.70, including costs, over the sale of exploding pens, exploding chewing gum and exploding lighters. For further information, contact David Baxter on 01702 215863.

? Counterfeit vodka seized by Slough Trading Standards - A selection of counterfeit vodka seized from off-licences and supermarkets in Slough. For further information, contact Angela Satterly on 01753 875226.

? Dangerous bean bag toy monkeys seized by Hampshire Trading Standards - Hampshire Trading Standards Service regularly inspect and take samples from Enhanced Remote Transit Sheds (ERTS). These are holding areas for certain consignments imported from the Far East via Southampton Container Port. In June 2008, samples from a consignment of 12,000 PVC bean bag animal toys of various colours were submitted to Hampshire Scientific Service. The samples were tested for compliance with the Toys (Safety) Regulations and relevant European Toy Safety Standard. The test results showed high levels of lead and chromium in the yellow and orange vinyl coatings. The consignment was subsequently seized and the importer voluntarily surrendered the affected stock to Hampshire Trading Standards Service for destruction. They were destined for use in schools. For further information, contact TSI Press Office on 0845 608 9430.

? Dangerous USB plug transformer withdrawn from the market after investigation by Hampshire Trading Standards - A complaint was passed to Hampshire from another trading standards service after a consumer bought a USB plug transformer and it fell apart. The plug transformer posed the risk of electric shock to the user because the pins of the plug broke off and were left in the plug socket, making it live. The product also did not comply with the relevant standards. The products were voluntarily withdrawn by the importer. They were imported from China. For further information, contact TSI Press Office on 0845 608 9430.

? Dangerous electrical chargers seized by Buckinghamshire Trading Standards - Buckinghamshire sampled 40 chargers, obtained from a range of outlets, after a replacement charger for a games console, bought for 99p off the internet, exploded in a child's hand. Only the 12 branded chargers tested were found to comply with UK electrical safety regulations. The tests revealed that, due to poor internal construction, there was a risk that soldered wires in the unsafe chargers could become disconnected, leading to the possibility of the user receiving an electric shock. The pin size of the chargers was also below the required standard and could cause the product to overheat. The chargers are being sold widely for charging mobile phones, gaming machines, cameras and portable music players and are being imported from China. For further information, contact Gina Green on 01296 382649.

? Dangerous, counterfeit Sensodyne toothpaste seized by Essex Trading Standards - An alert was put out that this fake toothpaste was being sold on the marketplace and Essex found some for sale at a car boot sale in their area. Essex seized around 50 tubes of the toothpaste, which contained chemicals which made users' gums bleed. For further information, contact Peter Coates on 01245 341960

? Counterfeit designer bags seized by Essex Trading Standards - Around 250 fake 'Prada' and 'Balenciaga' bags were seized from a market trader in Essex following a routine inspection. The bags were poor quality and on sale for much less than the real article. For further information, contact Peter Coates on 01245 341960

? Counterfeit Nintendo Advance games, Pokemon trading cards and plastic beakers seized by Essex Trading Standards - Around 1,000 fake games were seized from a market in north Essex following a complaint from a consumer who had bought one for a present for her daughter. The lady complained after realising there were no instructions in the box for the games. The games were very poor quality and did not include any of the safety warnings that video games usually carry. Counterfeit 'Pokemon' trading cards and plastic beakers were also seized from the same trader at the same time. For further information, contact Peter Coates on 01245 341960

? Counterfeit 'GHD' hair straighteners seized by Essex Trading Standards - Officers confiscated 18 counterfeit GHD hair styling sets at a boot sale in July. The electric cabling was found not to be secured and this exposed 240 volt wire that led to overheating of the elements causing the plastic to melt. The counterfeit straighteners were being sold for £35 each. The genuine items retail for between £90 and £110 on the high street. For further information, contact Peter Coates on 01245 341960

Product Recalls

The European Commission has recently released the latest summary of RAPEX (Community Rapid Alert System for non-food Consumer Products) notifications for 2008. For the period covering 1 January to 30 September there have been 1099 notifications of serious risk leading to product recall, 33% of these notifications involved toys. These notifications most often implied a risk of choking (140 cases, due to small parts that can easily detach and be swallowed) or a chemical risk (121 cases, due to presence of prohibited chemical substances). A further 11% of the notifications were for electrical appliances, mostly associated with the risk of getting an electric shock, often combined with the risk of fire. For more details see the Europa website via:

National Consumer Week

Journalists are invited to attend the launch of National Consumer Week 2008 at the Office of Fair Trading, in Salisbury Square, London EC4Y 8JX on Monday 17 November at 11am. The event will include the 2008 Trading Standards Institute Media Awards. If you would like to attend, please register with the TSI Press Office by emailing

Trading Standards Institute

The Trading Standards Institute has represented the interests of Trading Standards professionals for 120 years. We have a long and proud history of ensuring that the views of our members are well represented at the highest level of government, both nationally and internationally.

Our aim is to promote excellence and enhance the professionalism of our members in support of empowering and informing consumers, encouraging and working with honest businesses, targeting rogue traders and rogue trading practices and contributing to the health, welfare and wellbeing of citizens and communities.

TSI members are engaged in delivering frontline trading standards services in local authorities in response to 2 million consumer and business complaints and enquiries each year. They also support the delivery of new initiatives such as Consumer Direct, providing first point of contact practical consumer advice.

They also work in the business, consumer and central government sectors in promoting and influencing the safety, prosperity and enhancement of individuals and markets with a dependency on effective and professional trading standards contributions and interventions.

Consumer Direct - 08454 04 05 06

Consumer Direct is a Government-funded telephone and online consumer advice service that works in partnership with Local Authority Trading Standards Services. It provides clear, practical and impartial advice and information to help consumers resolve problems and disagreements with suppliers of goods and services.

Consumer Direct is available from 0800-1830 Monday to Friday, and 0900-1300 Saturday, excluding bank and public holidays.

Calls cost a maximum of 4p per minute from a BT landline. Calls from mobiles or other networks may vary. Your service provider may charge a minimum cost per call. The advice and information given is free.