As part of an operation to eradicate the sale of counterfeit and illicit products such as tobacco and make-up to Derby residents, Derby City Council’s Trading Standards team have taken to Facebook to tackle the issue head on.

Recently, there has been a rise in sites like Facebook being used as a marketplace for unscrupulous sellers to flog fake make-up, hair straighteners, clothes and even tobacco. Although these products might seem like a bargain, they could be potentially dangerous and if you’re unhappy with a product, the seller can easily disappear leaving you unable to claim a refund and out of pocket.

In response, the Trading Standards team have worked with Facebook page and group administrators to encourage them to remove posts for counterfeit products and report the sellers to the team.

The sale of counterfeit goods costs the UK economy hundreds of millions of pounds each year, with organised crime gangs causing significant damage to industries that produce legitimate, high quality goods.

What are the main dangers of purchasing counterfeit products?

Electrical items are rarely safety tested and could pose significant fire and electrocution risks.

Counterfeit cosmetic products could cause serious harm to consumers as Trading Standards nationally have discovered these products can contain dangerously high levels of lead, arsenic, mercury, copper and cadmium. The heavy metals have been linked to health problems ranging from allergic reactions and skin sensitivity to nerve disorders and even death.

Although genuine tobacco products are harmful to consumers, counterfeit tobacco poses additional risks. For example, counterfeit cigarettes may not self-extinguish (as legally required in the UK) if left unattended and become a fire risk.

How can I help stop the fraudsters and protect myself on Facebook’s marketplace?

Facebook doesn’t verify the products for sale. If you can, it’s a good idea to check anything you want to buy in person before handing over your cash.

As always with online sales and as a general rule, if a deal seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Because Facebook doesn’t facilitate the payment or delivery of items you will have to work out the details with the seller. Which? recommends:

  • Avoid advance payment – Try to avoid paying for anything in advance without having seen it.
  • Take a screenshot – It’s a good idea to take a screenshot of the listing to keep a record of how the product was described when you purchased it. That way you have evidence should there be a dispute.
  • Buy for the right price – Check other sites, such as Amazon, Ebay, Gumtree and other online auction alternatives, to find out about other prices, and make sure you compare the difference in cost of buying new versus second hand.
  • Check the profile of the person you’re buying from – Consider causes for concern, such as:
    • The profile has been set up very recently
    • There are lots of grammatical and spelling errors
    • They’ve not been tagged in any photos – a real person usually will have been
    • None of their Facebook friends are in their local area. The more global their friendship list, with very few or no local friends, the more suspicious.

For more advice about selling and shopping safely on Facebook, visit the Which? website.

Councillor Matthew Holmes, Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Public Protection commented:

“Social media platforms like Facebook have now expanded into a market place for selling goods, not just a way to keep in touch with your friends and family.

Whilst the vast majority of sellers are honest and well-intentioned, as always there is a small minority of people who’s sole intention is to try to rip buyers off. That means that it’s sadly not uncommon for sellers to be peddling fake, and in some cases, potentially dangerous products.

I would urge anyone who has come across what they suspect to be counterfeit or dangerous products on Facebook or other platforms, to report this to Trading Standards via the Citizen Advice Bureau.

The councils Trading Standards team are monitoring local Facebook selling groups and where a someone is found to be advertising fake or dangerous goods, we will take the appropriate action which could include prosecution.”