Toxic perfume that irritates the skin and brake pads not fit to be used in a car are just a handful of the alarming counterfeit goods seized from the streets of the UAE.
Designer clothes and branded handbags may harm the image and bottom line of luxury retailers - but low-grade goods could damage the health of consumers, according to investigators.
Experts tasked with training law enforcement lifted the lid on some of the latest techniques used by counterfeiters, and measures to spot fake goods.
“There have been 50 or so raids that we have been involved in with counterfeit goods over the past two years in the UAE,” said Hatem Abdelghani, director of the Intellectual Property department at The Legal Group in Dubai.
“These raids happen in warehouses in industrial areas of Dubai. The counterfeiters are bringing goods into the country and then distributing them from there to other market places, or to re-export these items to other countries around the region.
“Every time we execute these raids we recover samples which are then submitted for analysis to discover exactly what the contents are, and if they pose any kind of health risk.”
The Legal Group has a research team dealing with gathering intelligence to find out who is selling counterfeit goods and where they are being stored.
That evidence is passed on to authorities to help plan raids and make arrests.
Dubai Customs seized Dh72.6 million worth of counterfeit goods during 133 inspections in the first six months of this year.
One Dubai raid in August 2016 by the Dubai Economic Development Department recovered and destroyed 21,632 fake Colgate Triple Action toothpaste tubes, destined to be sold in Russia.
In October last year, 140,000 fake Colgate double action toothbrushes hidden in brown boxes were seized before being exported for sale in Africa.
One of the largest recoveries in the region was in March last year when 393,740 fake toothbrushes were recovered by customs officials in Saudi Arabia.
“We are seeing a lot of counterfeit dental products, with many different brands of toothbrushes and toothpastes,” Mr Abdelghani said.
“When goods are stored they are often disguised as other items, such as dental hygiene products boxed up as spare vehicle parts.
“These traders use fake invoices to deliver the goods, so they can be hard to trace once the products have been identified as counterfeit.
“Some fake perfumes and aftershaves we have recovered are irritable to the skin and can be quite toxic.
“Most of the products are dangerous, but particularly cosmetics that have contact with skin.”
Since 2014, raids conducted on traders selling fake Colgate and Palmolive products have resulted in 30 administrative cases with the Dubai Economic Development Department, 3 criminal cases with Dubai Police, 4 administrative cases with the Sharjah Economic Development Department, 1 administrative case with Ajman Municipality and 2 criminal cases with Ajman Police.
Raids seized 735,344 fake Colgate products, 432 fake Palmolive products and 96,427 Lady Speed Stick deodorants.
Tell-tale signs of fake goods are spelling errors on poor quality packaging, or using small letters rather than capitals in brand names.
“We have been running such training programmes for years and achieved huge number of successful cases against counterfeit products,” said Marmie Santos, from The Legal Group.
“The success of our training programe has helped UAE Enforcement Authorities to be more equipped in conducting their enforcement activities against different counterfeiters.”
In 2016, millions of fake mobile phones, cigarettes, cosmetics and other items valued at Dh1.6 billion were seized in raids by consumer protection officers, with mobile phones the most common product recovered.
Fake car parts are also a big problem.
“We are seizing a lot of fake brake pads and bearings, if these make it onto the auto market, they can be hugely dangerous so it is a big problem,” Mr Abdelghani said.
People need to be aware of what they are buying and we encourage them to question exactly why something is so cheap.
“This is crime itself and is funding further criminality. Consumers should not become part of this circle as they are feeding the industry by buying fake products.
“It is a big war against these traders, and we are trying to keep the consumer on the right side.”