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How covid-19 created a surge the fake alcohol trade

The effects of the global Covid-19 pandemic are still being felt around the world. As we head into another uncertain holiday season, and plunge deeper in to the winter months, let’s have a look at how prohibitions on alcohol led to surge in illegal distillers.

In response to COVID-19, many countries introduced prohibitions on boozy beverages, including Australia, Mexico, Panama, India, and South Africa to name a few. Some of these restrictions included the banning of production, import, distribution and sale of any alcohol. These measures were primarily to ensure the social distancing measures put in place were adhered to. In the UK, restrictions were placed on the sale of alcohol in bars and restaurants, but did not extend to supermarkets and off-licenses. Unfortunately, the strict measures meant that the demand for illicit alcohol surged, and opportunistic fake distillers saw an opportunity to make a quick buck.

These emergency restrictions, while good intentioned, created an environment for organized crime to thrive – and caused legitimate businesses to struggle. As well as diverting revenues for established brands, this illegally produced fake alcohol is commonly made with dangerous chemicals including anti-freeze, nail polish remover and even methanol – of which drinking just 25-90ml can be fatal without immediate medical intervention. Consuming these counterfeit alcohol products can result in very serious symptoms such as blindness, organ failure, and in the most serious cases, death.

In Iran, 728 people died last year after ingesting illegally made alcohol that contained a high dosage of methanol. In the previous year, only 66 deaths  were reported by the same cause. A rumor had spread around the country that it could help cure the coronavirus, and many desperate families turned to the fake remedy after it was spread around by social media. A further 90 people lost their eyesight. In a country where alcohol is prohibited, the counterfeiters could cash in on the increased demand.

The problem is also felt closer to home. In Sefton, UK, a business was recently found guilty of selling counterfeit vodka that was unfit for human consumption. Smakus Food Limited was forced to pay a fine, and cover Sefton Council’s legal costs as a result. The company was found to be selling the counterfeit vodka which had been packaged to look like the Popular brand, Glen’s. The bootleg booze was being distributed from several locations, and the council took action to protect residents as a result.

Just this month in Turkey, 6 people died as a result of drinking illegally produced alcohol in the space of 7 days. In a raid on the suspected distillers property, police found 12 litres of counterfeit alcohol which was due to be sold as the country gears up for the new year celebrations.

So how can you spot fake alcohol?

Ask yourself these questions when you are concerned about an alcohol purchase:

  • Is it being sold in a licensed premises?
  • Is the place it is being sold unusual?
  • Is the labelling poorly printed? Are the colours muted or smudged?
  • Is it unusually cheap?
  • Does it taste different?

What to do if you spot fake alcohol

If you think you may have consumed fake alcohol seek medical advice by calling 111, or in an emergency call 999.

Or, if you have spotted fake alcohol for sale, you can report it completely anonymously to Alcohol Fraud line (Powered by Crimestoppers) on 0800 23 6388

Protect your alcohol brand from counterfeits

SnapDragon Monitoring is a Brand Protection agency working on behalf of brands to remove fakes across the web. If you’d like more information about SnapDragon’s Brand Protection services, please get in touch. Our friendly but fierce team are ready to breathe fire to protect your brand online.


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