UK flooded with fake goods in online shopping bonanza

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The Daily Express was given exclusive access to Operation Rowan, which recovered copies of designer names including Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Gucci, Apple, Chanel and Hermes. Pirates are milking the pandemic online shopping boom and the team also found more than 15,0000 unlicensed Viagra tablets and so-called Premier League football club designer lighters. About 30 anti-counterfeiting staff, police officers and trading standards investigators broke open 20 metal containers on a trading estate in Southall, west London.

More than half of the garage-sized compartments were crammed with fake designer handbags, purses, caps, sunglasses, belts, cigarettes, alcohol, and computer and mobile phone parts.

Investigators say gangs make tens of millions, often as part of wider organised crime operations like drugs and people trafficking.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Group (ACG), which represents firms ripped off by the pirates, says criminals have brought fakes from China and other Far East destinations through UK ports.

Ealing senior trading standards enforcement officer Tariq Mohammed said: “People may think it’s a victimless crime, but it’s not.

“Counterfeiting is linked to organised crime, drugs, modern slavery and child labour. They are ripping off the customer, legitimate businesses and Inland Revenue.

“Whenever we get a tip-off about anything like this we are on to it straight away. We’ll do anything to disrupt organised crime.”

ACG intelligence co-ordinator Graham Mogg said: “There are hundreds and hundreds of criminals involved in counterfeiting but there are some key organised crime groups who manipulate that and do the arranging.

“There are a lot of foot soldiers. They will have a network of traders on a market stall, a van driver – somebody who is prepared to allow storage. You are talking millions of pounds going through bank accounts.

“What we are trying to do is work up the supply chain and find the players.”

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development and the UK Intellectual Property Office say Britain’s counterfeit market – part of a £365billion world operation – is worth £13.6billion a year.

Sales denied to legitimate companies total more than £9.2billion and the taxman loses about £3billion a year.

About 56 percent of seized fakes were sent to UK ports like Felixstowe, Southampton and London. Market surveillance has also revealed more than 90 percent of the fakes recovered on land were deemed dangerous.

ACG director general Phil Lewis said: “Huge sums of money are falling into criminals’ hands from this massive trade.”

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