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Consumer Rights.

How to spot fake or counterfeit products

A trader may have committed a criminal offence by selling you fake goods or by giving you a false description of the goods, and you can claim a refund or exchange.
Which?Editorial team

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1 How to check if it is a fake product 

Fake goods are sold at low and often very tempting prices. Be wary of deals that appear too good to be true – they usually are.

Don’t buy something you know is far below the recommended retail price, no matter how tempting it may seem.

  • Check the packaging Remember, something that’s supposed to be expensive will not be delivered to you wrapped in plastic. Be wary of anything with low-quality packaging or no logo.
  • Research the item that you’re intending to buy Does it have any distinguishing labels, marks or features?
  • Buy from reputable retailers Don’t expect to buy high-end technology or a designer handbag from a car boot sale or a market stall.
  • Item description an area fraudsters often neglect. Always check the product description, especially if you're uncertain or skeptical of a seller or website or the deal looks too good to be true.

The sale of counterfeit goods can fund large scale organised crime, including terrorism.

Key Information

What is the danger of counterfeit products?

UK Trading Standards warn about the danger of counterfeit products, in particular: 

  • Fake cosmetics can contain substances like  copper, mercury and arsenic, that can cause severe skin reactions, rashes and poisoning.
  • Alcohol  can contain methanol, antifreeze or other substances, and have caused deaths in recent years
  • Toys unlikely to have passed strict safety testing and could have loose parts, posing a choking hazard
  • Electrical goods and accessories  pose electrocution and fire risks
  • Clothes  may not meet fire safety regulations.

2 Report to your local trading standards office

Your local trading standards department may not be able to get involved in your complaint directly, but it may be able to take action against the seller.

Trading standards services differ across the country. Citizens Advice has an agreement with trading standards to help you report a problem and, if appropriate, refer it on.

To report a company or fake product to trading standards, you need to call the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 08454 04 05 06 or you can use the online enquiry form.

Some trading standards offices do have local drop-in centres. Phone the Consumer Helpline to find out if there’s one in your area.

3 Report to Action Fraud

If fraud has been committed, report the problem to Action Fraud via its online reporting tool.

It’s important to report fraudulent activity so that Action Fraud can obtain a clear picture of what crimes are being committed. 

4 Reporting counterfeit products to the retailer

If you do spot or have purchased a counterfeit product it's a good idea to report it to the retailer selling it. If you've bought it you can also return it and claim a refund because the product is not as described

  • If you’ve found a counterfeit item on eBay, it’s best to report it to the seller first. If it’s an item that they themselves bought, they might not be aware that it’s a fake. If you have a valid claim that the seller won’t resolve, consider raising a dispute through the Ebay Buyer Protection process.  You can also report counterfeit items on the item’s listing by scrolling to the bottom and clicking on the ‘report item’ link.
  • If you've found a counterfeit product on Amazon, you can return it and claim a refund in line with Amazon's A-Z guarantee.

5 Getting a refund

If you enter your debit/credit card details into a website that deals in fakes, you could essentially be giving your card details to a criminal, so be careful.

If you do buy an item that turns out to be a fake, getting a refund can sometimes be tricky

However, when you buy goods or services on your credit or debit card, you have extra protection if things go wrong compared with paying by cheque or cash.

You can make a claim against your card provider under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act if the item you bought cost more than £100 and less than £30,000.

If you bought something costing less than £100, or used your debit card, you can ask your card provider to reverse a transaction using chargeback.