Christmas shoppers at risk as criminals turn to social media to flog fake goods

02 December 2014

Christmas shoppers at risk

Christmas shoppers looking for a bargain are being put at risk by a new trend in which thousands of potentially dangerous counterfeit products are put on sale on social media every day, warns Electrical Safety First.

Sales of illegal, fake goods on websites such as Twitter and Facebook have increased by nearly 15% in the last year[i] and a quarter of us have come across people trying to flog counterfeit products on our social media accounts[ii].

Electrical Safety First is concerned about this growing trend since, in the past year, the percentage of counterfeit goods seized by authorities because they posed a threat to our health and safety has doubled[iii]  – with the number of mobile phones seized for this reason increasing by over 50% in the last year[iv].

Other top fakes include electrical gadgets that will be at the top of Christmas lists, such as beauty appliances, computers and video games. The Charity is particularly worried about these items, as unlike fake designer clothes or pirate DVDs that at worst may break or not be an exact replica, counterfeit electrical products often contain faulty parts. This means that they could cause an electric shock or even overheat and catch fire – last year faulty appliances caused nearly 6,000 house fires[v].

Electrical Safety First’s research shows that a third of us would consider buying counterfeit goods if it meant saving money or if we couldn’t tell the difference between the fake and the genuine article[vi]. But the Charity is also warning the two thirds of us who say we would never knowingly buy counterfeit products[vii] to be careful, as if undetected fake goods can make their way into shops, market stalls and onto online and social media sites where we could unwittingly pick up a dangerous product.

Phoebe Farrelly, 29, knows this only too well, as she was tricked into buying a fake pair of GHD straighteners from what she believed to be the official website.

Phoebe said: “I had no intention of buying fake GHD hair straighteners and was completely taken in by a website that seemed to be retailing legitimate products; it looked very professional. I paid full price for them – what you would pay in a shop – and they seemed to work fine for the first 12 months. Then they started making a strange buzzing sound and after a couple of weeks started turning themselves on and off while I was using them. Finally, I was using them one morning and they began to spark. They gave out a loud bang and a flame sprung out from where the cord connects to the straighteners, very close to my face. I’m very lucky I wasn’t seriously injured and am now particularly careful when buying things online as I realize just how easy it is for scammers to trick you.”

Phil Buckle, Electrical Safety First said: “Unfortunately, what happened to Phoebe isn’t an isolated incident and time and again we have seen fake or substandard electrical products breaking or overheating and causing electric shocks or even fires. We understand the desire to get a bargain, especially around Christmas when funds can be tight, but it’s not worth risking your safety or the safety of those around you to save a few pounds.” 

Leon Livermore, Chief Executive of the Trading Standards Institute said: “Criminals are becoming more organised in the way they operate – we are urging consumers to take care with their Christmas shopping and beware that fake goods can not only  put their families’ lives at risk, but they are also supporting serious organised criminals operating in their community.

“Trading standards officers are on the frontline of consumer protection working hard with other authorities to remove dodgy goods from the market place.  With 69% now using social media to investigate IP crime, they are hot on the heels of rogue traders’ new tactics.”

Electrical Safety First has worked with comedian David Walliams to revise the beloved public information film Charley Says. In their latest adventure, Charley receives a serious electric shock from a counterfeit karaoke machine bought from a suspicious market stall. For more information about counterfeit products and to watch the video, go to


For more information please contact Rachel, Libby or Rosie on or call 0207 403 2230.

Notes to Editors:

  • Electrical Safety First is the UK charity dedicated to reducing deaths and injuries caused by electrical accidents. We campaign to improve safety regulation and messages, and provide expert information and advice to the public and professionals to help ensure everyone in the UK can use electricity safely. Visit for more information

All consumer research, unless otherwise stated, was conducted from 21st- 23rd November 2014 by Populus on behalf of Electrical Safety First with a sample of 2,101 adults. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults.

[i] In 2012/13, an estimated 532 counterfeit products were sold via social media, compared to an estimated 604 in 2013/14. This does not take into account the untracked sales, which could be in their thousands
Source: IP Crime Report 2013/14, p. 16

[ii] 25% of adults have seen fake or counterfeit products for sale on social media sites such as Facebook

[iii] In 2013, 25.2% of detained products were seized because they were considered potentially dangerous to the health and safety of consumers, compared to 12.7% in 2012.

Source:  ‘Report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights’ 2013, p. 7

[iv] Mobile phones is one of the categories of seized counterfeit goods that has seen an increase in over 50% from 2012 to 2013
Source: Report on EU customs enforcement of intellectual property rights’ 2013, p. 12

[v] 5,800 house fires were caused by faulty appliances or leads between April 2012 – March 2013
Source: DCLG Fire Statistics: Great Britain April 2012 to March 2013, p. 21

[vi] 29% of adults would consider buying a counterfeit product in order to save money or if they couldn’t tell the difference between the product and the genuine article

[vii] 62% of adults said they would never knowingly buy a counterfeit product