Will you be buying a loved one a counterfeit Christmas gift?

Spotting whether something is a bargain or a fake isn't as easy as you might think.
Spotting whether something is a bargain or a fake isn't as easy as you might think.

Times may be tight, but at Christmas we all like to splash out a little, to get that present you know a loved one would really appreciate, even if it's really too far for our bank balances.

So when the prospect of a bargain turns up it’s no wonder that we can be tempted. It’s only natural to want to pay a cheaper price for a must-have item.

Particularly when it comes to designer names or the toy of the year.

But of course there’s always a catch. If something’s seems too good to be true it’s because it probably is - and what you’re buying is unlikely to be the real deal.

Worse, it could even be dangerous. Fake goods are all about cutting costs - and not just for you.

It means products are likely to be poor quality so they won’t last as long, and they will fall short of vital safety standards, potentially putting you and your families at significant risk.

Counterfeit make-up can contain lead, copper, mercury, arsenic or cadmium and can cause swelling, rashes and poisoning; fake alcohol can contain methanol, antifreeze and fuel, causing nausea, stomach pains, kidney or liver problems, coma or death.

What about unofficial children’s toys or dressing up items? They could pose all sorts of problems with loose parts, long cords and toxic materials.

They’re also likely not to meet fire retardant standards. And poor quality and missing components in fake electrical goods and chargers can lead to electric shocks, fires and explosions.

On top of that, counterfeit goods cost the UK economy around £1.3billion a year in lost profits and taxes.

That might not make you too concerned - but think about this: profits made from counterfeit sales can be used to fund larger criminal operations, including organised crime and even terrorism.

Luckily we have trading standards officials who work hard to combat counterfeits the whole year round to protect all of us as consumers.

They are needed more than ever. But we could give them all a Christmas bonus this year and avoid the crazy counterfeit deals.

* Send your consumer questions to askalex@which.co.uk

FAKE FACTS: If you have unwittingly bought fake goods report it to the Citizens Advice Consumer Helpline on 03454 040506.

They will refer your case to the relevant trading standards authority.

If you’ve given your debit or credit card details to a website that deals in fakes, you could have given your card details to a criminal.

However, when using cards you have extra protection if things go wrong compared with paying by cheque or cash.

Visit www.which.co.uk for advice on making a claim.