At the end of last year Customs officials at Helsinki-Vantaa airport made a surprising discovery: 2,500 counterfeit smartphones. The copies were heading from Hong Kong to the EU market, and Finland offers the shortest route.
"Last year it was smartphones, in 2013 it was car parts," said Riikka Pakkanen of the Customs Board. "When we intercept one shipment, then after a little while they test the waters once again."
In recent weeks they’ve uncovered another shipment of fake phones, and last year some 900 new heads for electric toothbrushes were intercepted.
"They don’t produce just any old junk nowadays," said Pakkanen. "Now for example we have high quality headphones, knock-offs of all the top brands. Sometimes even the real manufacturer cannot tell the difference from photos, and they have to fly to Helsinki to see for themselves."
Customs say that the real enduring favourites of counterfeiters exporting to Finland are toys, clothes and medicines. Pharmaceutical products are especially profitable for the criminal gangs involved, as production is almost free of charge, and the contents can be anything at all.
Although car parts are no longer so common at Helsinki Airport, ball bearings, which are used in many types of machinery with moving parts, are still found concealed in other shipments from time to time.
Counterfeit car parts are a dangerous phenomenon, with brake pads one extremely hazardous item that has been uncovered elsewhere in mainland Europe.
"Counterfeiters aren’t interested in customer relationships, just quick sales," said Pakkanen. "It’s difficult to stay on top of the problem when they’re so innovative. You could say that we at the Customs Board are not surprised by anything any more."
Even relatively inexpensive items, such as disposable breathing masks, have been faked and uncovered at the airport. Around May Day, when children are traditionally given helium-filled balloons, fake balloons are expected.
Even retailers are not in the con, leaving customers vulnerable to purchasing knock-off goods from otherwise respectable outlet.
"Myself I would be concerned about all products that are re-charged in some way," said Pakkanen. "The price of copper is so high, and copper is used in electronic goods. Counterfeiters compromise on the quality and batteries have caught fire and exploded."