It's less than 50 days until the Olympic Games kick off in London. But mounting excitement is shadowed by a growing worry about fake Olympic merchandise cropping up. Reports surfaced Friday that 7,000 Olympic-branded bags, 500 cigarette lighters and 400 vests had been seized at a port in England.
"The Games, like all major sporting events, are sponsored by major organizations, and without them, they just couldn't take place," Bill Bilan, chairman of the Trading Standards Institute's Olympic strategy group, told ABC News.
The group is made up of members from each local authority in London's 30-plus boroughs. Bilan, 57, said it was their duty to protect the trademark of the Olympic Games and its sponsors. The institute, a professional membership association founded in 1881, enforces consumer-related legislation.
"There are two acts of Parliament that prohibit this kind of criminal activity," said Bilan. "The minimum punishment could just be a warning, but you could also be looking at an unlimited fine and up to 10 years in prison."
The institute has been working with the Metropolitan Police Service and customs officials to monitor signs of counterfeit merchandise sales. A spokesperson from Scotland Yard said that, while police don't serve a primary enforcement role when it comes to illegal trading, they do offer a helping hand. "If we're involved, it's to make sure the peace is kept. Like if local authorities are planning to seize something, we may accompany them."
And according to Bilan, the closer the Olympics get, the more problems local authorities expect to encounter.
So far, a range of fake merchandise has been seized by Border Force officers at ports and airports around the UK. At Dover, 432 vests were seized last month. At Coventry's international postal hub, 15 fake Olympic Adidas football shirts and 90 fake Olympic Polo Ralph Lauren shirts were found in parcels. And at Heathrow Airport, 100 kilos of fake Olympic ticket holders were detected in freight.
In an email to ABC News, the Border Force quoted Home Office Minister Damian Green: "Our officers have utilised intelligence sources, scanner technology and search techniques to successfully thwart those seeking to illegally profit from the Games."
Chris Townsend, the commercial director of the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, said, "Fake products not only undermine our ability to raise the revenues needed to stage and host the London 2012 Games, but the fake goods themselves are likely to be of inferior quality and not meet the stringent safety and sustainability standards that all official products must meet."
Official London 2012 merchandise bears the London 2012 hologram. If you're trying to sell anything "Olympics" without it, local authorities will be watching from their offices through CCTV cameras, on the streets and in commercial hubs.
Said Bilan, "We're really busy and getting busier."