A nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of counterfeit goods prior to Christmas was launched today by consumer minister Melanie Johnson. The aim is bring counterfeiters to book by tapping the public for leads via the Crimestoppers organisation.

"We know the public's perception of counterfeiting is based on a character like Del Boy selling cheap fakes from a battered suitcase," said Johnson (pictured). But counterfeiters do enormous damage to legitimate business, she added, often have links to organised crime, and sell goods which are usually substandard and sometimes downright dangerous.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Group estimates that intellectual property theft costs UK businesses £9bn in lost revenue and prevents 4,000 jobs from being created each year. Money earned by counterfeiting — in itself a relatively 'safe' crime — is often invested in other offences, such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and sale of illegal firearms.

According to detective inspector David Lowe of the National Crime Intelligence Service, 36 of the organised crime rings investigated in the UK last year were involved in intellectual property theft. Twenty-nine of those were also mixed up in drug trafficking and had an annual turnover of more than £10m.

Digital content such as software is seen as especially lucrative for criminals because, once copied, it can be used to create thousands of fakes at little cost per item.

"By stealing just one piece of copyright material, such as a computer game, the criminal can make many thousands of or even millions of goods incorporating this material illegally," said Johnson.

Previous campaigns aimed at raising awareness of software piracy were run by Fast (Federation Against Software Theft) and Elspa (European Leisure Software Publishers Association), but they lacked the high-profile appeal of Crimestoppers, which has received over half a million calls so far this year.

Crimestoppers, a registered charity, is contactable on 0800 555 111.

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