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Counterfeiting defined

Counterfeiting is the deliberate, unauthorised imitation or reproduction of a genuine product for the purpose of obtaining financial gain by misleading consumers into believing they are acquiring the genuine product. It is an Intellectual Property (IP) crime.

Counterfeiting affects a wide range of products, across several sectors, including food, toys and pharmaceuticals as well as cosmetics.

All cosmetic products can be counterfeited, from perfumes and make-up, through to personal care products like toothpastes, soaps and sunscreens. Such illegal products can have a serious impact on the health and safety of the consumer.

Correlation tables is a form of counterfeiting specific to perfumes, in which a perfume bearing a name and often even a number is marketed and sold based on the branded perfume which it supposedly resembles.

Risks and consequences

Dissatisfaction with purchased products
Counterfeited goods can have a number of negative impacts on consumers. A counterfeited product may look similar to the genuine article but will not provide the expected level of quality, efficacy or enjoyment. Importantly, it will not have followed the legal requirements for safety and may actually be harmful.

Safety risks
Critically, counterfeited goods pose safety risks to consumers. Genuine cosmetic products conform to strict laws that ensure they are safe to use. They undergo strict safety assessments, are manufactured under very specific conditions, and European and national systems ensure traceability of each product. Although companies make considerable efforts to combat counterfeiting, it is important to realise that counterfeit products by their nature are not following these safety rules.

Destruction of products
Counterfeited goods may result also in financial loss to consumers, as some EU member states require that they be destroyed and that anyone found purchasing them are fined.

Organised crime and terrorism
Profits made from IP crime are used to fund other serious organised crime such as drug and arms smuggling, people trafficking, identity theft, money-laundering and child pornography. As reported by Interpol, there is even evidence of profits from counterfeiting funding terrorist activity. Purchasing counterfeited goods can contribute to funding criminal activities of this sort.

Economic and societal impact
Counterfeiting also affects societies and economies at large, from loss of tax revenue to IP infringements that discourage research and innovation. To legitimate manufacturers, counterfeited products result in a loss of revenue, which may lead to forced redundancies.

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Recognising a counterfeited cosmetic product

Counterfeit cosmetics aim to mirror the originals, often making it difficult to identity them as fake. However, one or more of the following traits can help identify them:

  • Unusually low price
  • Unusual place of sale e.g. market or train station
  • Low-quality packaging e.g. spelling mistakes
  • Differences in product and/or packaging e.g. colour, shape and font size
  • Missing information e.g. batch number, PAO symbol etc.


Protecting consumers from counterfeit cosmetics

The customs authorities of EU Member States are key players in the fight against counterfeiting. But consumers themselves also have an important role to play by avoiding counterfeit cosmetics by buying only from reliable merchants, such as reputable sales points or official websites, and by looking out for traits such as those listed above and reporting any suspicious activity. Further information is available from the European Commission

If consumers suspect that good may be counterfeited, they should be encouraged to contact the brand owner or their national customs authorities.

How industry combats counterfeiting

The cosmetics industry takes the safety of its consumers very seriously and companies collaborate with enforcement agencies and other public bodies in combatting counterfeiting. If you think you may have purchased a fake product, or suspect that sales of a product are not genuine, contact the company concerned. All genuine cosmetic products purchased in the EU will carry the name of the responsible company with an EU contact address, and sometimes a customer care line number to call, on the pack. Alternatively, contact a relevant the anti-counterfeiting body in your country:

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