A whistleblower wants authorities to stamp out sales of illegal cigarettes, booze and fake designer brands on social media in Spalding.
Vodka at £11 a bottle, tobacco sold loose from a clear plastic bag, medicines, and counterfeit items bearing the names of Nike, Armani and Superdry are just some of the ‘bargains’ found over the last few days on two popular Facebook sites.
The whistleblower, who has handed his findings to Lincolnshire Trading Standards over several months, says the same names appear over and again as sellers.
Some cigarettes are cheap but known brands while others, it is feared, are fakes that fail to comply to self-extinguish standards like those linked to the deaths of four people in Spalding house fires – one in 2012 when a woman of 71 perished and a second last year when three men died in the same fire.
The whistleblower told us: “I just think that by highlighting this issue, it will make more people aware about the dangers of purchasing fake or illicit goods as well as letting the people selling these items know that, hopefully, a new crackdown will now happen.
“Items for sale have included tobacco products in bulk, bottles of vodka, also in bulk, as well as beers by the case.
“I have also seen for sale fake designer clothing on these same social media sales pages.”
“When the person selling was questioned online about if they were real or fake they admitted they were, indeed, fakes.”
He believes most of the tobacco products advertised are illicit, costing the UK more than £2billion a year in unpaid duty.
“Not only are they most probably illicit but also they could be putting the health of those who choose to smoke them in danger because of the unknown,” he said.
One brand of cigarettes is for sale at £45 for 200, some £50 below the normal retail price.
Bottles of vodka are offered at £11, giving buyers around a £9 saving on the usual price in the shops.
The whistleblower says: “This not only costs the UK more than £1.2billion per year in lost revenue but, with many items not legitimate, do we really know what we are drinking is safe.”
Fake clothing sees so called Armani EA7 hoodies costing £12 when the true retail item costs more than £90.
The true cost of a genuine Michael Kors handbag can range from £92 to £270 but on a Spalding Facebook site the fake item sells for as little as £25.
The whistleblower is also worried by a seller listing medicines “which are clearly not labelled for the UK market” and believes that could pose a danger to people who buy them.
County trading standards public protection manager Ian Newell said officials are concerned about illegal sales on social media and does all it can to have sites “taken down” as well as issuing warnings to sellers.
He said: “Last year in Lincolnshire there were about 12 sites taken down, of which seven had tobacco and alcohol implications.
“Since 2012 trading standards have had 94 completed prosecutions and about one-third of those involved tobacco and alcohol – six of those prosecutions were for offences on social media, Facebook or equivalent.”
Mr Newell said three of the prosecutions for offences on social media led to proceeds of crime confiscations.
In the biggest case dealt with by his department, the seller of counterfeit DVDs had to pay back proceeds of crime totalling more than £100,000.
Trading standards have issued repeated warnings about the risk of fires from non self-extinguishing cigarettes and Mr Newell is concerned they remain on sale in South Holland when Spalding has experienced four tragic deaths in house fires started by the fakes.
Mr Newell says the bulk of sales of illegal products still appear to be concentrated in the High Street, including shops where raids have uncovered sophisticated hides for counterfeit goods like cigarettes.