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Christmas shoppers warned against dangerous, fake toys

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Christmas shoppers are being warned to avoid buying fake and potentially dangerous toys which can contain toxic materials, damage hearing and pose choking or strangulation hazards.

The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, is urging people to look out for tell-tale signs of counterfeit and unsafe products following recent seizures of harmful toys in the run-up to the festive season.

It is also urging people to be wary of turning to suspect online sellers offering next day delivery to get hold of in-demand toys that are out of stock elsewhere, as they may not actually exist, leaving them out of pocket.

Recent toys seized by councils’ trading standards teams include more than 54,000 teddy bears which posed a choking hazard, electric scooters with no safety documentation, and audio items that exceeded legal decibel limits for toys which could damage a child’s hearing.

Counterfeit versions of popular toys – such as L.O.L Surprise! Dolls, which were described as last year’s ‘must-have’ Christmas toy – have been found to contain phthalates, a chemical which can damage the liver, kidneys, lungs and reproductive system.

The LGA is urging shoppers to look for the authentic CE mark on toys or their packaging which confirms they meet consumer safety standards. With people increasingly buying presents online, the LGA is also calling for the CE mark to be clearly included in the information on websites offering toys for sale.

Latest industry figures show that more than 4.2 million counterfeit products, including toys, worth £21 million were seized by councils in 2018/19.

The LGA is warning that fake and potentially dangerous toys typically flood the market around Christmas as criminals exploit a surge in demand for sold-out items.

Cllr Simon Blackburn, Chair of the LGA’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board, said:

“Christmas is a hotbed for criminals who put profit before safety by selling dangerous, counterfeit toys at cheap prices to unsuspecting shoppers.

“Bargain hunters need to be aware that fake, substandard toys can break and cause injuries or pose choking hazards, toxic materials can cause burns and serious harm, while illegal electrical toys can lead to fires or electrocution.

“It’s not unusual for rogue sellers to cash in on desperate shoppers by selling fake versions of ‘must-have’ toys sold out in well-known retailers, or claim to have them in stock on their website when they actually don’t exist.

“Not only is selling fake toys a crime, it harms and ruins the reputation of genuine traders, costs the economy millions in lost tax revenue and often funds organised crime.

“To help avoid buying fake and dangerous toys, shoppers should check toys have an authentic CE mark which show they comply with safety regulations, look out for grammar and spelling errors on packaging, buy from well-known and reputable outlets, and resist cheap offers that look too good to be true.”

Anyone with information about suspected fake goods can report it to their local council via the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.

Case Studies

  • A haul of 54,000 teddies was seized at the port of Felixstowe by Suffolk Trading Standards officers after eyes on the bears were found to be falling out, posing a choking hazard. The bears were all destroyed in a high speed shredder. A similar shipment of more than 1,000 teddy bears, described as “cute but deadly”, were also destroyed. The bears had a long removable ribbon around their necks which posed a strangulation hazard, with stuffing directly accessible via a zip that presented a suffocation risk. The bears had no CE mark, all labelling was in Chinese only, and contained no batch or serial number and no manufacturer or importer details. A separate consignment of more than 500 electric scooters, which the importer was unable to provide safety documentation for, was also seized.
  • Fake and unsafe toys were among nearly 9,000 items seized by Manchester City Council officers following a raid on a business premises. The counterfeit branded goods included Marvel, Lego and Disney. Some of the items posed a significant choking risk to small children and audio items that exceeded legal decibel limits for toys which, if used repeatedly, could damage a child’s hearing. The company was prosecuted and ordered to pay a total of £9,728.

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