Knowingly selling cheap alcohol branded as the good stuff is obviously a very bad thing to do.  Selling horse meat and calling it lamb is equally bad.  There’s a reason for the many different consumer protection laws we have in the UK: as consumers, we all have an interested in being protected from buying something (whatever it is) that is not what we innocently believe it to be.  Especially where the fake status of that product is known to the supplier/seller and where those fakes put public health or safety at risk, the penalties are deservedly high.

Although it is unable to give any firm statistics, the National Food Crime Unit tentatively estimates the potential value of counterfeited food and drink in the UK to be £1.17bn.  It has also identified more than 20 organised crime groups with links to food, drink or animal feed.

So, as a business owner buying in good faith, how can you protect yourself from buying fakes?  And what should you do if the worst happens and you discover that your stock is not genuine?

If you’re buying (and then selling) alcohol, the Food Standards Agency has provided four tips for spotting fakes, which they call the 4 Ps and whilst they’re aimed at consumers, they are just as relevant to traders:

1.Product: apparently vodka is the most counterfeited spirit.  So be doubly alert for vodka supplies.

2.Price: If the price looks too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Packaging: poor quality labelling with spelling mistakes may indicate a fake.

4. Place: make sure you always find a reputable and trust-worthy source.  (There are all sorts of ways that you can double-check this, from looking at the supplier’s registered address and running a quick check on their accounts and trading status, to looking for testimonials from other traders whom they supply and making a few calls to them.)

If you discover you’ve inadvertently received fake goods, remove those goods from your shelves immediately.  Don’t destroy them – they’re evidence that you’ve been unlawfully hood-winked by your supplier and if you’re to have a hope of reclaiming your money and getting any other relevant compensation, you’ll need them. Quickly take advice from an experienced legal expert.  The steps that you take next may be key to preserving not just your financial position, but also your reputation and any trading licenses you may hold.

With the National Food Crime Unit indicating it plans to crack down on food crime, and noting that it has the backing of international agencies (http://www.policeprofessional.com/news.aspx?id=25770), anyone in the business of buying or selling food products should take note of these developments and at all times avoid the temptation of a cheap deal or a ‘back of the lorry’ ‘windfall’ purchase.  That ‘too good to be true’ deal could cost you your right to trade.