The price of cheap: Counterfeit goods can harm your health

With Christmas looming and your purse strings stretched to the limit, you might think you are saving money with a bargain on some genuine-looking goods.

But if you have a closer look before you buy, a fake perfume that has a similar scent and name as an expensive perfume brand, could actually have liquid base of horse urine.

Research has also found that fake make-up contains high levels of mercury and the application brushes can be riddled with lice, while knock-off jewellery often contains high levels of carcinogenic metals such as nickel and lead.

The exploits of Delboy selling his dodgy wares out of a suitcase have given us the image of lovable rogues when it comes to counterfeit goods, but the reality is much more insidious.

Counterfeit items can harm your health and your pocket as well as financing crime and putting genuine traders out of business. Knock-offs are estimated to cost the British economy £1.3 billion a year.

New research from professional services giant PricewaterhouseCooper shows that 53% of British people have bought fake goods even though 90% think it is morally wrong, but police and Trading Standards fear the public do not know the real dangers of buying a pirated DVD or fake cigarettes.

In July this year, 20,000 illegal cigarettes were seized from four shops in Lincoln and one of the brands found, Jin Ling, is believed to be the cause of a house fire in which someone died.

The brand is illegal in Europe because the cigarettes are not made to the correct legislative standards and pose a more significant health risk than genuine cigarettes.

Illegally imported tobacco and alcohol costs the taxpayer £3 billion a year, but again the revenue implications are secondary as vodka found on sale in the county contained chemicals used to make paint stripper.

Many bogus goods are sold on the internet, and buyers give over their bank or credit card details to traders who are already breaking the law, so the risk of identity theft is high.

Markets are also popular outlets for sham products: Trading Standards warn the rip-off brand clothing falls to pieces easily and the electrical devices are fire hazards. The DVDs are unwatchable and their sale is known by police to fund the trafficking of people into Britain.

So if you are tempted to buy fake goods this Christmas, remember they could be a massive disappointment to the recipient and cause heartache all round.

If you think you have bought counterfeit products check out Advice Guide or Lincolnshire Trading Standards, where you will also find details of county markets that have signed up to the Real Deal charter to ensure safe and fair trading.