%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%Festive shoppers are being warned to avoid fuelling the illegal trade in counterfeit goods this Christmas.
Consumers should take extra care about what and where they buy items parading as luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Armani but at rock bottom prices on the internet or in markets, the Border Force said.
Cash from the counterfeit trade funds organised crime and many who sell the items do not pay tax, costing the UK economy £1.3 billion a year in lost profits and tax revenues, it added.
Officers have so far stopped millions of pounds worth of inferior fake goods from entering the UK in the run-up to Christmas.
These include counterfeit clothes, handbags, sunglasses, toys and DVDs.
Immigration minister Mark Harper said: "Cheap counterfeits undercut honest traders and leave shoppers with goods that are at best inferior to genuine products and, at worst, harmful or unsafe.
"The international trade in counterfeit goods is serious organised crime and is a serious threat to the UK economy in terms of lost profits and tax revenues.
"We have Border Force officers operating 24 hours a day at ports, airports and mail sorting centres detaining counterfeit items that could otherwise end up as gifts this Christmas.
"The public can play their part in disrupting the trade by ensuring they only buy from genuine retailers."
Clive Robinson from Southampton trading standards said fake goods varied widely in quality.
"Some are obviously inferior but others we have to get experts in to decide whether they are fake," he explained.
"We are asking people to say to themselves that if they buy something fake would they like to receive what could a substandard present at Christmas however well packaged it is?
"Fake sunglasses are not often optically correct or offer UV protection, so there are safety problems there as well."
Examples of recent seizures across the country include more than 91,000 items of counterfeits detected at Heathrow Airport ranging from Louis Vuitton bags, Beats by Dr Dre headphones, Estee Lauder cosmetics, as well as Rolex and Bvlgari watches.
More than 30,000 items have been detained at Southampton docks, including 580 Louis Vuitton bags, 400 Louis Vuitton branded belts, over 22,000 various branded sunglasses and 2,000 items of fake jewellery - with the total value of goods estimated at £4.1 million.
At the Coventry postal hub Border Force officers have detained various counterfeit products including Shure Microphones, Callaway X-Hot Drivers Armani Watches, Xbox Headphones, Ugg Boots and Martin Guitar D45.
Andy Lumb, assistant director Border Force South, added: "Many people enjoy finding a bargain but quite simply, if a price appears too good to be true, whether found on the internet or at a car boot sale, it probably is."
After suspected counterfeit goods are detained by Border Force, officers approach the rights holders to verify that the products are fakes.
The rights holder then decides whether or not to bring a private prosecution against the importer.
After this process is complete, the goods are destroyed.
Counterfeit items purchased over the internet - often by unsuspecting buyers - and imported through the postal system can be seized, leaving the buyer out of pocket, the Border Force added.
The biggest scams of 2013
Counterfeit goods warning issued
First Direct found that the most common type of fraud was the 'fake email', which makes up 53% of all scams. This is also known as phishing, and involves the fraudsters contacting you, requesting personal information like passwords and PINs.
They use all kinds of methods to persuade you to reveal your details: from pretending to be your bank, to pretending to be the taxman. Earlier this year HMRC warned people to watch out for scam emails promising tax credit refunds in return for account details - timed to coincide with a major advertising campaign to remind people to renew their tax credits.
This is an old and established scam, but is the second most prevalent in the UK this year. It involves someone getting in contact with a sob story, and asking for a sum of money in return for paying you a larger sum. If you pay up you may get requests for more cash but you will never receive a payout.
This year the horrible twist on the scam was that the gangs pretended to be a victim of the war in Syria, in desperate need of money and able to pay you from money he has hidden overseas, once you give him enough money to escape the country.
This is a new take on phishing, which Financial Fraud Action warned about in August. They said victims receive a cold call asking for personal or financial information. Some 39% of all people targeted by these calls said they found it difficult to tell if the person was genuinely from their bank or whether it was a scam. First Direct says this is the third most prevalent type of scam.
Duplicating your bank cards made up 14% of fraud this year. Old-fashioned card scams are actually on the rise this year. The experts say that the introduction of chip and PIN means 'crude scams' are back in vogue, where criminals distract people in shops and bars, or shoulder surf at cash machines and then steal customers' cards without them noticing.
These also make up 14% of all scams. You receive an email telling you that you have won a lottery. All you have to do is get in touch with the 'claims agent' who you'll need to pay a 'processing fee' or a 'transfer charge' to. These 'agents' are all criminals, who will just take your money and run.
We warned in November of a boom in phoney research calls. Boiler room operatives will call pretending to be university researchers looking into investor confidence. In fact, they are just trying to find out how best to exploit you: asking how much cash you have, your attitude to risk, and determining whether an appeal to greed would work.
Back in May we warned that you could receive a telephone call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from Microsoft. The scammers were using a variety of techniques to extract money from their victims. These included infecting computers with malware and charging to remove it, charging people a fortune for help they didn't want or need, or even just asking for their credit card details.
This is not a new type of scam. For years now different types of Trojan viruses have been embedded in various web pages and links. If you click on the page or link you're taken to malicious websites, which install a virus. The virus then quietly sits on your computer, stealing passwords and account details until it has enough details to empty your bank accounts.
This scam took two very popular forms this year. The first was a link sent in an email pretending to be from Facebook, and inviting you to click the link. When you did, it would install the virus and then send the link to your Facebook friends.
The other form was a page with a fake YouTube video in the background, which claimed to show Rita Ora's famous wardrobe malfunction. However, the site prompts you to enter your Facebook details, so you can see the video and 'personalise your experience'. The criminals then have access to your Facebook account.
As the jobs market continues to be tight, the job offer scam is still a real risk. Financial Fraud Action issued a warning about fake online job offers, that could turn innocent job hunters into unwitting money launderers.
The jobs offered are called things like "payment processing agents" or "administration assistants". They involve the payment of the proceeds of crimes into your bank account. You then pay the cash into an overseas account, effectively hiding the money and laundering it for criminals. In return you receive a share of the money. This is a criminal act.
These reached a peak this year after One Direction collected their Brit award (pictured) and announced a World Tour - and demand for the tickets exploded. The scammers set up fake sites offering tickets to sold-out gigs. Desperate fans trawling the net would stumble across them and take a risk. They handed over hundreds of pounds, the criminals took the money, shut the website, and ran.