Toxic fake makeup sold online: protect yourself

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Cardiff Crown CourtAntony Stone/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Leanne Wetheim, 24, of Gilwern, Wales was given an eight month suspended prison sentence, ordered to do 160 hours community service and pay costs of £2,000 by Cardiff Crown Court, for selling fake designer makeup online. Some of the counterfeit cosmetics contained dangerous levels of lead.

So what was she doing, and how can you avoid being a victim of online fakes?

The crime

Wetheim pleaded guilty to five charges under the Trades Mark Act 1994 after selling fakes from four eBay accounts.

Evidence turned up by investigators revealed that she had turned over around £25,000 over an eighteen-month period. She had received an understandable level of negative feedback from some customers about the quality of the make-up, many adding that it was fake, but she continued to sell the products through eBay.

Investigation

One of the accounts was brought to the attention of Powys County Council's Trading Standards Service. It made several test purchases of what she was claiming were MAC and Benefit products, and the brand holders confirmed they were fakes. Her property was then searched.
It was at this point that a selection of the products taken from her property were sent away for scientific safety testing. One mascara was found to contain 68 mg/kg of lead - compared to the legal limit of 20 mg/kg.

Barry Thomas, the council's Cabinet Member responsible for Trading Standards, said: "The levels of lead found to be contained in these products should act as a deterrent to those who seek to purchase these products from these auction sites as they have no way of knowing what they contain, and ultimately the effect they may have on the health of the person buying."

Clive Jones, the council's Principal Trading Standards Officer with responsibility for Special Investigations, added that anyone taking part in similar criminal action can expect to be caught. He said: "Our surveillance on illegal activity involving counterfeiting is increasing and we ask users of auction sites or any person offered suspected counterfeit goods to be vigilant and to warn us of any suspicious sellers through our contact points. Alternatively ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

Spot a fake

It's a risk we always take when we buy on an online auction site. According to Which? nowadays 23% of all fakes are sold online and 10% of all shoppers have accidentally bought at least one fake. Border Agency staff say they are seizing record numbers of fake goods being brought into the UK. Last year 5.5 million fakes were caught at the UK's borders, with a value of over £10 million.

It is therefore worth taking care when buying through an auction site. You need to be sure of what you are buying and from whom. Check out the comments from those who have bought from the trader in the past. You want there to have been plenty of comments and all positive. Even one complaining about quality should be a red flag.

Ask plenty of questions until you are satisfied with the answers as to the provenance of the product.

And if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is, so steer clear of products at huge, inexplicable, discounts. As this case has proven, not only could you end up with a dodgy rip off, but one that's a risk to your health too.

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