A study found that popular Christmas gift items such as clothing, make-up, jewellery and handbags bought online were most likely to be found to be counterfeit, with 45 per cent of people saying they had accidentally purchased a knock off item.
The report, from Edinburgh brand protection firm SnapDragon, surveyed consumers and found that 78 per cent of shoppers are concerned they may be purchasing potential fire hazards, items containing harmful chemicals, funding illegal activity or simply not getting what they paid for.
The company said that in the UK it is estimated that consumers spend at least £90 million every year on fake goods and the continual growth of the bootleggers means the volume of fake goods sold online will soon surpass those sold by legitimate physical vendors.
The report also found that around four per cent of people also said they had bought baby or nursery items which were found to be fakes - potentially putting youngsters’s health at risk due to toxic paint or dangerous parts.
Rachel Jones, chief executive of SnapDragon Monitoring, said: “Our figures show a high proportion of people are concerned they may not be getting what they pay for when shopping online. Indeed, almost half of those looking for goods have previously been caught out. The trade is potentially putting shoppers in danger as well as damaging legitimate businesses.
“Knowing to look out for websites with poor grammar and prices just below what you would expect to pay are good places to start when wondering if your purchase will be genuine.”
Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University, said: “There is a group of consumers who are actively looking for a bargain and want to get something that they can show off, but at a cheap price. Then, perhaps more worryingly, there are people who are buying products that aren’t what they say they are.”
He added: “The internet is as branded a place as anything else. If you go to a trusted brand, you can expect to get what you think you are getting. But if you go to a small start up, which you do not know anything about and you are buying a product at a tenth of the price, then alarm bells should perhaps start ringing.”
In 2016, Snapdragon claims, UK shoppers were twice as likely to see counterfeit goods on sale online as they were in 2015, while 76,000 jobs in the UK are estimated to have been lost due to counterfeiting.
Earlier this year, a “dangerous” version of popular children’s toy the fidget spinner was found to be on sale online. The “Naruto Razor Tri-Spinner Fidget Toy Game” was intentionally laced with razor blades, was described by the authorities as “unregulated” and “counterfeit” but not “criminal”.
Experts say that fake toy companies are pricing their wares at just under recommended retail price to make them more attractive to consumers, but still pertaining to be a quality product, rather than a bargain basement item.