Almost one in five items of jewellery inspected by Trading Standards officers in Scottish shops was not correctly hallmarked - or was a fake.
Officers from the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland (SCOTSS) undertook a spot check on 1553 pieces of jewellery in 20 local authority areas. A total of 247 - 16 per cent - were not hallmarked or had an incorrect hallmark, while some instances of counterfeit copies of designer branded jewellery items, bearing names including Tiffany and Louis Vuitton, were also found.
All items over certain weights sold in the UK and described as being made from gold, silver, platinum or palladium must have a legally recognised hallmark. Assay Offices test the purity of precious metals, and if an item conforms with the legal requirements for purity, the Assay Office marks it with the appropriate hallmark.
A separate report commissioned by the British Hallmarking Council (BHC) shows that there may be an even greater level of non-compliance with the requirements of the hallmarking legislation online, with up to a third of products supplied unhallmarked.
Sandra Harkness, chair of SCOTSS, said: “The hallmark shows that an item has been independently tested and verified as matching its description and conforms to all legal standards of purity and fineness so protecting buyers against fraud. The market in jewellery and precious metal items in Scotland and throughout the UK is significant, amounting to billions of pounds.
“If some traders don’t get their products hallmarked, hallmark them incorrectly or don’t clearly let their customers know what the hallmarks mean this can disadvantage both consumers and other, competitor businesses who are complying with the law.”
Premises which sell hallmarked items are required by law to display signage, a ‘Dealer’s Notice’, explaining to customers the meaning of the markings on these precious metal items. However, the survey found that almost half of the premises inspected were not displaying the correct notice.
Ms Harkness added: “Trading Standards don’t tend to get a lot of complaints from consumers concerning hallmarking law and this can suggest there are no issues of concern. However, I think our findings and those of the BHC suggest this is not the case. The low complaint numbers are likely to be because consumers don’t know about hallmarking and don’t realise they are being defrauded.
“We would urge consumers to check the hallmarks on items, make use of the Dealer’s Notice which shops must provide and let us know of any concerns. We also welcome enquiries from businesses.”
In most cases of non-compliance, shops were supplied with a Dealer’s Notice to display on the premises or were instructed to withdraw improperly marked and unmarked items from sale until corrected. Counterfeit items were seized and may be reported to the Procurator Fiscal.