Holiday-makers may be tempted to buy fake designer goods on their trip abroad this summer – but it's never a good idea, according to the European Consumer Centres Network.

The ECCN warns: "A counterfeit copy is usually cheap but can end up costing you a lot more in the long run. In many countries, the laws against counterfeit products are harsh.

"In some European countries, you can be fined up to €10,000, not only if you purchase a counterfeit product, but also if you bring it in to the country."

It adds that "rules and laws governing counterfeit products vary within the EU".

IP crime costs EU billions

The latest Intellectual Property Crime Threat Assessment, produced by Europol and the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) last March, said around 66 million counterfeit and pirated goods were seized in the EU in 2020.

It estimated that €119 billion of products involving IP (Intellectual Property) crime were imported into the EU in 2019, representing up to 5.8% of total imports into the bloc.

The report said that IP crime continues to pose a "substantial threat" to the health and safety of EU consumers.

Tourists walk past replica designer merchandise in Barcelona, Spain

How to recognise counterfeit goods

The most obvious indications are location and price – if a Prada handbag is being sold cheaply on a beach, for example, then it’s obviously not the real deal.

"The counterfeit product can end up being more expensive than the genuine product if you are forced to pay fines," states the ECCN.

Signs a product is fake include the seams and labels being of inferior quality (file image)

Other signs a product is fake include the seams and labels being of inferior quality. The inside should be made with the same care as the outside.

The ECCN advises people to read the laundry instructions tag carefully – text in counterfeit products are often misspelled.

If in doubt, ask where the product was made and keep a receipt.

US Customs office in California displays suspected counterfeit Louboutin shoes after seizure

Dangers of faking it

Counterfeit beauty products and perfumes can cause severe allergic reactions.

The ECCN also warns of other potential dangers when you purchase bogus items such as – are your fake sunglasses really protecting your eyes?

Many counterfeit products do not comply with applicable safety requirements and can be immediately dangerous.

Ask yourself: "Is that fake toy for your baby girl free of toxic substances? Are you sure your fake battery won’t explode when you’re using it?"

If toys easily break or lose small parts, they can be fatal for children.

The ECCN notes: "Another thing you should keep in mind when buying a counterfeit product is how the item was manufactured.

"This can impact on the environment, people, animals, both near you and globally."

Expert verifies the authenticity of a watch at Beijing Extraordinary Luxuries Technology firm in China

It causes human suffering

According to the US-based Transnational Alliance to Combat Illicit Trade, "amongst the worst crimes associated with illicit trade is the demand it creates for forced and child labour to carry out the tasks of making counterfeits".

In a 2021 report, it noted that the counterfeit phenomenon, was far from a victimless crime: "As is evident by the sheer number of cases of forced labour in counterfeit apparel, footwear and luxury goods, the use of forced labour is a pervasive problem in both the manufacturing and sales of goods.

"Similarly, the manufacturing and sale of counterfeit electronics is also a sector where forced labourers are abused by organised criminals, with severe human rights consequences as a result."

Protecting yourself online

Online traders are obliged to provide you with clear and correct information about your consumer rights, such as the 14-day withdrawal right or the legal warranty of at least two years.

No information on EU consumer law on the website? Then look somewhere else!

Always go to the official website of the brand to check whether the web shop you are visiting is recognised as an authorised retailer.

When you buy something online, you should only pay on a secured payment page (displaying a padlock or key logo, and whose URL address begins with "https").

Presentation by French Customs of counterfeit items seized in the Loire region

It is also preferable to pay by credit card, as you may be able to recover your money from the card issuer in case of fraud.

Do not hesitate to compare prices among different websites, and always take the total price into account (are VAT, delivery cost, custom duties, etc included?)

Do not trust the URL address. Just because an address ends with ".ie" does not necessarily mean that the company is actually located in Ireland, for example.

Instead, check if the company has a geographical address and contact number.

What’s happening here in Ireland?

The sale of counterfeit goods is rife in this country – and that’s not fake news.

A report earlier this month from the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) found that 43% of 15 to 24-year-olds in Ireland had intentionally bought at least one fake product online in the past year.

The most popular counterfeit items were clothes (21%), footwear (16%), electronic (12%) and hygiene, cosmetics, personal care and perfumes (13%).

Revenue and An Garda Síochána are responsible for acting against counterfeit goods in Ireland.

Gardaí take action in respect of inland detections while Revenue has responsibility for detecting such goods at the point of import and export.

Excavators crush confiscated fake goods in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Many of the counterfeit goods detained by Revenue are intercepted in postal or courier hubs, addressed to individuals who have purchased them via the Internet.

Occasionally, larger consignments are detected in shipping containers.

In a statement, Revenue told RTÉ: "Where goods are suspected of infringing IPR, they are detained pending confirmation by the appropriate right holder.

"If goods are confirmed to be counterfeit, they are seized."

What if your bags are searched at the airport returning from holiday? Revenue said: "Detecting and prohibiting counterfeit goods brought into the country in personal baggage is more complex because the procedures laid down in EU law relate to goods imported from outside the EU.

"Notwithstanding this, if a Customs officer detects suspected counterfeit goods in a passenger's luggage at our ports or airports, the officer will determine the facts of the matter on a case by case basis."

Bottles of fake perfumes on display at the customs office in Antwerp, Belgium

Revenue echoed the warnings from the ECCN: "Goods that infringe IPR [Intellectual Property Rights] may also be harmful to consumers.

"This is particularly true of goods such as electrical goods, car brake pads, toys, etc., which are often of a poor quality and do not conform to accepted safety standards.

"Counterfeit medicines, perfumes, cosmetics and household cleaning products may contain unregulated dangerous substances posing serious health risks."

Gardaí from the Intellectual Property Crime Unit have made frequent seizures of counterfeit goods in recent years.

These include 50,000 children’s toys which were destroyed in 2020 after failing to pass safety checks and that same year, a lorry containing suspected €200,000 worth of counterfeit clothing, sportswear, perfume and candles was seized in south Dublin.