Police detectives have issued special advice to Valentine’s shoppers after they seized more than 500 suspected bottles of counterfeit designer make-up and perfume which could be harmful to users.
The items, thought to be worth over £40,000, may contain doses of poisons cyanide and arsenic, as well as human urine and rats droppings.
The goods were seized in a raid on a fake cosmetics factory in London. Officers from the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) at the City of London Police would not reveal the location of the factory, but said the bust took place at the end of January.
After running tests on the products in a lab, officers discovered the perfume contained a number of toxic ingredients. Other products, which included eyeliner, mascara, lip gloss and foundation, were found to be made from harmful levels of chemicals, including mercury and lead.
Consumers unwittingly using these products could develop long term health problems, as well as allergic reactions, skin irritation, swelling, rashes and burns.
Counterfeit make-up is usually produced in unhygienic and unsanitised environments too, leading to the inclusion of rat droppings and even rat poison in some products.
As well as containing potentially dangerous ingredients, officers warned consumers to beware of giving out personal details to non-reputable sellers – either in shops, at markets, or online.
Criminals, police said, often use personal data gleaned from shoppers to commit fraud and register fake websites.
PIPCU detectives said they had put a stop to more than 67,000 counterfeit websites since the unit was put together in 2013.
Consumers can make a number of simple checks to work out whether a website can be properly identified or not.
Shoppers should look out for inconsistent style of font, spelling and grammar on website copy, as well as mocked up images.
“Valentine’s Day is a counterfeiter’s dream,” Detective Chief Inspector Teresa Russell, of PIPCU, said.
“With jewellery and perfume being popular gift choices, it’s easy to fall into the trap of a cheap offer.
“Fake make-up and perfume can contain harmful chemicals and even rat droppings that cause swelling, rashes and burns.
“Purchasing counterfeit goods online often results in your personal details being used to set up new fraudulent websites.
“Treat your Valentine to something legitimate from a reputable seller. Avoid heartbreak, don’t buy fake.”
Meanwhile, Dr Ros Lynch, Director of Copyright and Enforcement at the Intellectual Property Office, said: “We strongly advise shoppers to keep Valentine’s Day safe as well as special this year.
“Counterfeit fashion goods, makeup and electrical items are not only the result of criminal activity, but many can harm as well.”