Illegal and counterfeit alcohol

Counterfeit alcohol can seriously damage your health. Know the signs that alcohol may be fake to avoid potentially dangerous products.

There’s no way of knowing what is in counterfeit and illegal alcohol. This means that drinking it can have serious health consequences, and can even lead to death.

Keep yourself and your friends and family safe by knowing the signs to look out for to help you spot illegal and counterfeit alcohol products.

What is fake alcohol?

Counterfeit or fake alcohol is made in unlicenced premises or in people’s homes and then sold. Typically it is low-to-medium priced, market-leading brands of vodka and wine that are being faked, usually by producers from outside of Scotland.

Did you know?

Counterfeit products often have links to organised crime, both in Scotland and abroad.

Health risks from drinking fake alcohol

Although the taste can seem right, the contents, strength and quality of counterfeit and illegal alcohol can have serious, adverse health implications.

Illegally produced alcohol should never be drunk, as there is no way to know what chemicals are in it and how it’s been made. You also won’t know how strong it is because it hasn't been produced to commercial standards.

As a result, you could become seriously intoxicated and acutely unwell much more quickly. Learn more about the symptoms and risks of alcohol poisoning.

How to spot counterfeit alcohol

There are several ways to spot fake alcohol:

  • The price is too good to be true. The most obvious hint that a product isn’t what it says on the label is a very low price. It should set off an alarm bell immediately and you should ask yourself ‘why’.
  • Suspicious labelling. Check for poor-looking labels and spelling errors - a good indication the product is counterfeit.
  • Beware of brand names you’ve never heard of. It’s always best to buy alcoholic drinks from retailers you know and trust.
  • Spirits in bottles of 35cl or larger and 30% ABV or higher need to have a duty stamp. This indicates tax has either been paid, or is due to be paid, on the contents of the bottle. It’s usually incorporated into the label or stuck on the glass. If it’s not there, it’s illegal.
  • Vodka, the most commonly counterfeited spirit, should look completely clear, with no white particles or sediment visible in the bottle. Avoid any that's not entirely clear.
  • If the alcohol tastes or smells bad, don't drink it.
  • Check the cap is sealed properly.  If the seal is broken, don’t drink it - even if it’s not illegal, it could have been tampered with.

Remember, if you’re in any doubt, the best advice is not to buy or drink it.

What to do if you spot counterfeit alcohol

If you think you’ve drunk fake alcohol, seek medical advice by calling 111. If you feel very unwell or suspect alcohol poisioning, seek urgent medical advice by dialling 999.

If you see any products you think could be fake, report them completely anonymously to the Scottish Food Crime Hotline (run in partnership with Crimestoppers) on 0800 028 7926 or by using the Scottish Food Crime form.

Contact the Scottish Food Crime and Incidents Unit

Food crime can affect you and those closest to you. Take the time to report it by phone or online.