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Booze, tobacco and gadget fakes in police probe

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The Intellectual Property Office's IP Crime Group issued its annual report yesterday, and it highlights some jaw-dropping rip-offs.

A gang in Hackney used "high-tech equipment" to crank out 1.3m litres of counterfeit vodka, enough to buy them penthouse apartments. A less ambitious operation churning out hand-rolling tobacco was busted in Glasgow. The tobacco had thirty times the lead content of the genuine product.

Much of the police's IP work looks out for goods with fake trademarks and designs, covering everything from clothes and jewellery to ciggies, computer games, movies, booze and electronics accessories. Prosecutions under either the TMA or CDPA have increased threefold since 2002. Confiscation orders last year recovered £21.57m from the perps. Auction sites vie with outdoor markets as the most popular outlets for IP crime.

Sometimes the dangers aren't obvious. A footnote on Page 39 of the report points out that "‘pharmaceuticals’ also includes toilet products and condoms".

Strangely, fake batteries continue to be popular. 16 per cent of authorities who responded to the IP Crime Survey reported fake batteries. Perhaps this is the premium end of the fake market - replacement batteries for Apple or Lenovo laptops cost more than the average car battery.

Where IP isn't effectively policed, the business soon falls into the hands of the (real) mafia. Not so in the UK: most IP criminals here aren't organised. But 55 per cent of respondents found a link between IP crime and benefit fraud. The lowering cost of production technology, such as printing, makes it more of an opportunistic crime.

We'll have to wait until next year to find out if the easy availability of genuine article on UK high streets this week affects the demand for fakes. ®

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