Shopper are being urged to be wary of buying bargain electrical goods which could put their lives at risk.
Fake hair straighteners, smart TV boxes and hair dryers are all potential fire risks if they overheat and cause a blaze, City of London detectives have warned.
The force’s intellectual property crime unit (PIPCU) – which is based in the City, investigates cases throughout the UK to crack down on counterfeit and potentially dangerous goods offered for sale on the internet.
The crack team of 21 detectives and staff investigate an industry which is estimated to cost legitimate businesses £700million.
But Detective Inspector Nick Court said it is not just people running businesses from anonymous offices or their bedrooms.
“We know of links to drug dealing, people trafficking, slave labour and links to terrorism. Criminals are making money anyway they can,” he said.
The force, which is run by the City of London Corporation, has investigated over 100 cases since 2013 and taken down over 60,000 websites with UK domains.
DI Court said: “There are threats to the real businesses which impact on jobs and also on the people who are doing these (counterfeit) things as they are often low paid.
“And in terms of the electrical and physical threat – the items can harm or kill.”
He added fake goods may not have the safeguards the legitimate items would.
“With (fake) hair straighteners you have got a very hot piece of metal close to your head. They don’t have automatic switches.”
Natalie Wong, senior regional investigations manager for UL which tests equipment said: “We have seen anything from self-combusting and exploding items to those which do not have an automated off switch.”
Fake lithium-ion batteries for mobile phones and computers, power supplies and lighting products are also popular money-spinning fakes for fraudsters.
According to research by Electrical Safety First 30% of people it surveyed had been duped by a counterfeit electrical item which was advertised as genuine.
PIPCU detectives say shoppers should trust their instincts and be distrustful of items which look too good to be true. They advise that legitimate designer items are rarely discounted.
Canny shoppers should also check grammar and spelling on websites and on URLs and the website address itself – which could be subtly different from the genuine item.
If in doubt, contact the legitimate company and do not use the fake item.