Buying fake or non-duty paid alcohol is a major concern for retailers because it can present a serious hazard to customers health, can place the licence at risk of being revoked and can also result in significant fines.
Our advice to anyone selling alcohol is to only purchase from reputable suppliers that you have verified and to consider checking stock for signs that it might not be genuine. Some example ‘tell-tales’ of counterfeit goods are ;
- Labels that are not aligned correctly
- Labels that have air pockets or creases
- Labels that appear to be detaching from the product
- Labels with inferior quality printing or paper
- Labels which have glue protruding from the edges
- Labels with spelling mistakes,
- Labels that do not have bar codes or have bar codes with consecutive numbers, eg 123456.
- Labels that do not have batch numbers or have a batch number which seem unusual – eg 111111
- Manufacturers/producers details and country of origin which do not tie with the product.
- Tampered seals, which may mean that a bottle has been refilled.
- Products that appear to be discoloured or have unexpected sediment
- Bottles with incorrect manufacturers details marked into the glass
- Bottles of different shapes, colours or design
- Bottles with fill levels that seem to be inconsistent. Genuine manufacturers tend to be accurate with the quantity in each bottle.
- Products that are delivered in boxes that do not match the product.
Note that this information is only an indication and does not conclusively prove whether something is genine of fake. Just because a product is marked as a known brand does not mean that it is safe to buy. Sometimes a counterfeit may take the form of a ‘new’ brand, but equally it may be sold as something that is well-known.
For products which contain 37% ABV or more, there should be a duty stamp. The inner part of the stamp should ‘light up’ under UV light, normally in green, yellow or white. If the whole label lights up, it is likely to be counterfeit.
HMRC and Trading Standards officers have the powers to seize alcohol where they believe duty has not been paid, so it is sensible to have invoices available for inspection in case you should have a visit. If you do not have documents available, it is still possible to produce them later but it is important to do so as quickly as you can otherwise the product may be destroyed and you will only receive compensation for its value.
A written policy on the measures in place to avoid purchasing counterfeit goods is highly recommended. We can assist with this and tailor a document that is suitable for you.
Our solicitors have experience of defending situations where counterfeit alcohol is purchased by mistake and in representing clients in licence review hearings. This is a serious matter and anyone investigated for counterfeit alcohol sales is recommended to seek legal advice as soon as possible.