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Have you spotted fake poppy merchandise?

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is urging consumers to beware of fake poppy merchandise ahead of Remembrance 2018. Our guest, Helen Barnham, explains what you need to watch out for.

This is a guest post by Helen Barnham, a veteran of the Royal Navy and member of the Enforcement team at the Intellectual Property Office. All views expressed are Helen’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

The IPO and The Royal British Legion have teamed up with the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) to crack down on the rogue traders making money from fake Remembrance goods.

The warning applies to poppy merchandise – scarves, jewellery, poppy pins and larger poppy brooches.

We’re asking the public to ‘buy responsibly’ to help clamp down on this activity – only buy from official Royal British Legion sources and corporate partners.

Close to my heart

It’s fair to say that the poppy campaign is one that is close to my heart. When you see a poppy, what does it mean to you? For me it represents pride, unity and support for our armed forces who protect us, and for their families who support them.

Unfortunately, not everyone respects the poppy as I do – some criminals see the poppy as a way to make money from the public.

After my career in the Royal Navy, I joined Trading Standards where I saw criminality, including counterfeiting, first-hand. Nothing I experienced there prepared me for the lengths the criminal network will go to make money from intellectual property, however.

£150k of fake merchandise

Did you know, last year a large quantity of fake poppy merchandise valued at £150k was seized at UK ports by Border Force officers?

Investigating further, it was found that around 6,000 items were being sold to UK consumers across online platforms, under the guise that they were supporting The Royal British Legion’s poppy campaign.

As a result, members of the public are likely to have parted with their money believing they were helping the charity.

So, it’s not ‘just a poppy’, it’s about a charity being cheated out of much needed funding – a charity that brings old and new comrades together with their families and provides support. It also recognises and remembers those comrades who have fought for our freedom and security both in wartime and peacetime.

The public can help us stamp out this counterfeit activity and be sure of the authenticity of their poppy merchandise by buying direct from trusted sellers and from official Royal British Legion sources. For more information, visit www.gov.uk/ipo.

This is a guest post by Helen Barnham, a veteran of the Royal Navy and member of the Enforcement team at the Intellectual Property Office. All views expressed are Helen’s own and not necessarily shared by Which?. 

Have you spotted any of this fake poppy merchandise? Have you ever reported a fraudulent seller?


Why do we need ‘poppy merchandise’? A simple poppy or other token is enough to show that you have made a contribution. The same applies for other charities.

The public will probably not know what is genuine and what isn’t. A poppy broach might look more appropriate on and evening gown or suit and be more permanent than those made of paper which do come apart if not pinned correctly. However, I agree with Wavechange that the easiest way of avoiding fraud is to keep the merchandise simple so that anything else is obviously not from the British Legion.

ibbygee says:
3 November 2018

VynorHill, there is a lot of commemorative memorabilia produced by the RBL that has a special significance, for instance the brass and enamel pins which were made from recovered artillery shells fired during the Somme campaigns, and the centenary pins being offered this year to recognise 100 years since the end of the first World War. Such pins hold a special place for those that lost family during those periods. Are you saying these shouldn’t be produced? They raise much needed funds for the RBL, all anyone needs to do is to avoid buying anything from on-line auction sites and the like. The RBL has it’s own Poppy Shop on-line and if you buy in the street all official sellers, if not already displaying their ID will gladly show it to you.
All this ‘other merchandise’ is more often than not fake, it’s an easy decision as to where you put your money.

I regard the “merchandise” as simply a token in return for my donation to a charity. so a simple cheap poppy to temporarily pin on my clothing is all I need. It also signifies to other collectors that I’ve already contributed. However if people like the other merchandise that the RBL produces, and it makes the RBL additional money, then that’s fine.

I just hope the RBL does not go into speculative and poorly researched ventures that would lose them substantial money; not something charities should indulge in – play it safe.

The problem appears to be what is for sale. Of course the British Legion can produce what it considers appropriate but the public must know they are buying that and not giving money to those who have no connection to the charity.

The Royal British Legion seems to do a great job, With operational expenditure of £155m, £31m to care and break homes, 1500 full time equivalent employees and only 5 paid more than £100k with a maximum of £140-150k. Seems a very good way to run a charity. https://www.rblcdn.co.uk/media/12546/royal-british-legion-annual-report-2017.pdf.

As with other fake, fraudulent (let alone substandard) goods those who import them and distribute them in the UK should be heavily penalise, when discovered,d to make it not worth their while in future. For that to happen we need to fund product policing properly, a job that should be done by Trading Standards if only we hadn’t decimated their resources. Perhaps we could have used some of the money spent on smart meters if the EU hadn’t insisted on their roll out and timescale.

This makes me very angry that rank commercialism is using millions of war dead heroes for financial gain–they should be named and shamed not hidden.

So I will-

The intellectual property office and Royal British Legion has urged consumers to beware of fake poppy merchandise and to purchase the goods through official channels.
Aliexpress and Taobao, both owned by Chinese company Alibaba have been found to be selling imitation poppies with none of the money going to charity.

Items for sale include the two petal and four petal poppy with some of the brooches containing the phrase ‘lest we forget.’

Multiple poppies have been found on Aliexpress and Taobao (Aliexpress)
One of the sellers used royal names such as Kate to try and shift the items while others used the Royal British Legion’s name.

Most of the poppies found on sale were priced between $1 (78p) and $22 (£17.16).

Claire Rowcliffe, Director of Fundraising from the Royal British Legion said: “It is a sad fact that there are people who actively defraud the public in order to take funds intended for the support of our Armed Forces community.

One item used the name Princess Kate to try and shift the items (Taobao)
“We would urge everyone wishing to purchase a Remembrance poppy brooch, to do so through official channels. For example, you can buy from one of our trusted volunteers, from The Royal British Legion’s online Poppy Shop, or from one of our corporate partners.”

How to avoid fake poppies
be a ‘responsible buyer’ – buy from official channels and The Royal British Legion’s corporate partners
avoid cheaper priced products. If the price is too good to be true, it usually is
Only buy from corporate partners authorised by the Royal British Legion
Buy through the Royal British Legion or The Royal British Legion official eBay site
It comes a year after border control seized thousands of fake poppy branded items that were shipped from China and destined for Manchester.

The fake goods were seized at Tilbury docks and were said to be worth around £150,000.

A spokesperson for Alibaba told the Standard: “AliExpress and Taobao marketplace platforms prohibit illicit, illegal or fraudulent behaviour on our platforms.

“As such, we will be removing listings which are in violation of our listings policy. We will continue to take action against sellers which violate our marketplace terms and conditions.”

Shame on China for allowing this, its all very well saying -“we prohibit this ” that cuts no ice with me , its a very low level of moral standing that Alibaba owned by the richest (or one of the richest Chinese entrepreneurs ) could allow money before British war dead to gain profit for their organisation – “market place” or not , the same lame excuse as used by Amazon .

The Royal British Legion is one of my favoured charities and I am deeply offended by these attempts to deprive it of income by substituting illicit merchandise for the genuine articles. However, I am somewhat disappointed that the Legion has itself strayed over the years into the more commercial styles of poppy for those who wish to display something more ostentatious or ornamental on their person than the standard poppy. The RBL lady who called the other day offered me a number of fancy alternatives to the regular type in ceramic or enamel and I saw someone on TV today showing off an enormous and elaborate badge attached to her dress. Perhaps it was not an RBL product, I don’t know, but it looked unseemly. I cannot blame the RBL for attracting larger donations through the offer of superior poppies but I do regret it. I chose the ordinary poppy in return for my contribution.

The notable thing about the commemoration of the fallen on active service as practised in this country is that there is a certain uniformity about it, irrespective of rank or status, that adds dignity and solemnity to the tribute. This takes the form of similar war memorials made to standard designs by a handful of noted architects of the time, standard headstones for the graves in war cemeteries, and in local cemeteries and graveyards here and overseas wherever there are military burials, the only distinguishing features being the name, rank and number of the warrior and the regimental or service badge. The Royal British Legion poppy is in that same honourable tradition and although its appearance and size have changed subtly over the decades it is still a potent symbol due entirely to its regularity and consistency. We must not allow this to be compromised and I hope the public will stop the trade by not indulging in it.

I concur with your moral reasoning in the size of poppies John –
all are equal in death.

SDWeed says:
3 November 2018

This post would be a lot more useful if a) it linked directly to the poppy page on IPO – currently you still have to search there b) it linked to what IS official merchandise as, with all the new items produced by RBL it is easy to be confused.

Liz Bailey says:
3 November 2018

My friend and I have, for several years, made knitted and crocheted poppy brooches which are sold through local outlets. We buy the yarn and brooch pins ourselves and every single penny raised goes to the RBL Poppy Appeal.
I was surprised and disgusted to see the number of similar brooches offered for sale on eBay being sold for personal gain or stating that a percentage of the sale money/some of the money would go to RBL.
So sad to see the name of such a worthy cause being used in this way.

I notice from a marketing e-mail I have received from M&S that they are also selling glamour poppies in various ornamental designs. They say that all the profits will go to the RBL, but once people have purchased a ‘poppy-for-life’ will they put their hand in their pocket again next year for another one?

One of the important aspects of the Royal British Legion’s poppy manufacturing was that it provided work for wounded veterans. I don’t know if that is still the case but, if everybody else starts producing poppies, will that affect the employment of ex-servicemen and women?

Mrs. Helen Anthony says:
4 November 2018

Actually I looked closely at the small print on the M&S metal poppies and the % of the price going to RBL was disappointingly small. I refused to buy.

It would be interesting to know how M&S calculate the profit; do they proportionately roll all of their overheads into the production cost, and what about VAT?

It would help to raise consumer awareness of fake poppy mementos, by pointing out that:

“The [British Royal] Legion’s 2-petal poppy is a registered trademark and should not be used without permission.”

So sale of anything that is not a 2-petal design is certainly not going to support the BRL in the most effective way.

Obviously, crooks can still produce counterfeit 2-petal designs, but those are then infringements of trademark, where the IPO and Trading Standards get involved. Serious cases can also be reported to BRL on 0808 802 8080.

But IPO is only one aspect of this. Anyone who makes a statement that induces you to purchase any merchandise to support the BRL (or any other charity), knowing that statement to be untrue, is guilty of fraudulent misrepresentation, which is a crime. Action Fraud is the correct way to report criminal activity.

In the case of shops, eBay, Amazon or similar, where the seller can be traced, the contract can be set aside and you should also try to claim damages, which can be donated to the relevant charity.

nosnibor says:
3 November 2018

If people want to where a poppy it is their choice what type it is and where it is from its about respect Not funding the Royal British Legion

The poppy is the symbol of those who died for this country in their millions .
Where is the respect of those profiteers when once a year they pocket the money from our brave, dead young men who laid down all they had in this world ——–

Their LIVES !

How I despise those pieces of trash that make money out of Purity of cause
The Royal British Legion is there 24/7 to help those crippled /blinded / in constant pain from the flesh burnt/torn from their bodies , don’t you remember the horribly burnt face of the Falkland,s veteran ?
isn’t he living with the result,s of defending this country every time he looks in the mirror ?

Thats why I buy a poppy from the RBL , not to outdo /out “big ” my neighbour by saying
look my poppy is bigger than yours or more fancier but to symbolise that I am giving to a GOOD cause
not a profit making Rat who appears once a year to feast on the bodies of the brave dead soldiers of this country.

I would suggest, Nosnibor, that most people buy a poppy in order to support the work of the Royal British Legion, not to decorate their costume. Of course people can buy and wear what they like, but the public makes a judgment.

While it is true that over one and a half million UK warriors have been killed in military conflicts since 1914 the majority of the Legion’s activity is in the practical daily work of mental and physical recovery, care, rehabilitation, and the resettlement of survivors – the wounded or disturbed, including for the widows and orphans of those who have died and the relatives of those still suffering.

Commemoration is an important part of its work in drawing public attention and honour to those who served and the sale of Royal British Legion poppies, and its other products such a wreaths, is vital in sustaining its role. Personally I don’t think the fancy brooches available elsewhere show much respect – in fact the opposite as they are clearly trading on public emotion for profit, not for those afflicted by war or military service.

What I find so heart-warming is that people will give £10 or £20 so that they can wear a simple authentic poppy and will do so again year after year.

Mike ( Peddler ) Palmer says:
3 November 2018

As someone who did my bit for this country between 1960 and 1978 including Borneo and Aden, I feel strongly that anyone who tries to con the British people at this time with a simple flower that means so much to us all should be named and shamed and their profit confiscated.
This year is very special because of the first world war and as such I will be at my village memorial doing my bit. every year, I wear my medals with pride, and this year I will also wear my grandfather’s medals with the same pride. He was one of the lucky ones and returned to us, and when he found out that I was following in my father’s footsteps, he was very pleased for me.
I tend to buy a new pin every year for myself and the wife, this year she will wear my R.N pin. and I will wear my naval surface ship pin. But as I say we both feel that if we were being conned at this time, we would do all in our power to bring down the full arm of the law onto these low lives, because they are taking money from a major charity who looks after all our servicemen be they serving or retired. Mike Palmer

Mike I am with you in body & soul ,thank you for your service .
I have no time for those that rubbish those services rendered for our country and then live in peace on the results of those services .

I bought a poppy brooch through Etsy because I really liked the design, moreso than anything I have seen being sold by the RBL. I usually get a paper poppy but have been known to lose them often, forget to put them on, or watch them fall to pieces. Etsy did not claim to be giving a donation to the RBL so I don’t feel I have been conned but I also don’t feel my purchase necessarily deprives the RBL of a donation. So I will still be wearing my poppy, and I have donated to 4 RBL appeals in the last week (without taking a paper poppy), with a week and probably several more donations to go. I have not donated any more or any less to the RBL than I otherwise would have had I not bought my Etsy poppy. It’s not so much the sellers selling unofficial poppies, moreso those sellers claiming to be giving donations to the RBL when they’re not.

Wars were fought to preserve your right to wear whatever symbol you choose, and long may you do so.

RBL poppies signify that the wearer has made a contribution to its cause. No other emblem says that.

You said it John , plainly and with no hint of being misconstrued.

Greater Love hath no man than this that he lay,s down his life for his friends.

Wasn’t that line, which appears on public war memorials, written by Rudyard Kipling?

Have a look in the New Testament John and the words of Jesus.
I think He predates Rudyard.

I wear my poppy with pride no matter the design. I don’t need to wear the correct poppy to signify/show others I have made a contribution to the RBL – for me to know I have contributed is my only concern.

Thank you, Duncan. Yes, you are right – it would seem that the words are by Jesus Christ as recorded by John the disciple. Of course, the sentence went through various translations from the original Greek before acquiring the elegance in English that it now has as printed in the King James Version and the Authorised Version of the Bible

Rudyard Kipling composed scores of inscriptions for epitaphs and monuments erected by the Imperial War Graves Commission [as it was then named – now the Commonwealth WGC] but not that one. Kipling almost single-handedly invented the language of commemoration using in many different ways the themes of honour, dignity, respect and remembrance.

Although it’s in John’s gospel, John, it’s unknown if Christ actually said those words, since the Johannine works seem to have been written with the aim of showing how OT prophecies were being fulfilled, and certainly not as an eye-witness account of Christ’s ministry.

And it’s believed there were three revisions of that gospel alone, before 110 AD, so as with all writings of the early Christian Church it’s extremely hard to be sure on the facts.

Historically fascinating, but generally highly inaccurate.

Ah ha ! Ian I am not denying John,s gospel could even be third hand but by your exact reasoning you have now provided the excuse that most of the Old Testament is political “fairy stories ” made up by a small nation to frighten its “big brothers surrounding it on the lines -“my god is more powerful than yours ”
Absolute slaughter even down to the farm animals is just blood thirsty.

You know you now have a massive problem as you will have two main religious bodies criticising you and I don’t mean Christians as you allude to—“highly inaccurate ” .
I also have intensely studied ancient religion and most of it is established on very rocky ground.
Purity has to be earned by deed or action the exact opposite of what is happening now in the world.
Or are you saying the Old testament/Tora is the Truth –and nothing but the Truth ?

The OT – all 39 books – is a mix of Myth, Fantasy, historical fact and allusion. Some good poetry in it, too, but with a document extrapolated from the oral tradition it’s inevitably not going to be wholly accurate – more a mix of perceptual political and cultural interpretations of history – as are most history books.

Now that I agree with Ian .

I agree with you, Ian. That’s why I was careful to write “It would seem . . . “.

Of course, we cannot be sure that most of the ancient religious texts are established on very rocky ground, but it is a reasonable presumption based on the balance of probabilities albeit not conclusive proof – this leaves room for those who have complete faith in the scriptures as the literal truth.

The good poetry was, presumably, created when it was translated from the original. The trouble i find with religions is their misuse to stimulate conflict. However, any excuse will do for some.

Some of the poetry survived the translation, Malcolm. some passages in Judges, for example, are especially delightful. Jael and Sisera spring to mind.

Patrick Taylor says:
5 November 2018

” Have you spotted any of this fake poppy merchandise? ”

Should this have been placed with the photo rather than 50 lines later where it may easily be missed.

My wife bought two of the most expensive official poppies for her and an American friend flying over for the service at Amiens. They look truly naff. And the packaging was overlarge.

Seems keen on marketing and being “commercial” can destroy the essential heart of any charity. At least they seem to have better staff cost controls.

I had a look at the official online website and the offerings look decidedly “naff ” as you say Patrick , it seemed badge making has been given to the Chinese who did not understand the meaning and sincerity of what they were producing .

While this may or may not be true reading their small print taken from their “privacy ” agreement with you the customer I take this part –

Some of our >>suppliers<< run their operations outside the European Economic Area (EEA). Although they may not be subject to same data protection laws as companies based in the UK, we will take steps to make sure they provide an adequate level of protection in accordance with UK data protection law. By submitting your personal information to us you agree to this transfer, storing or processing at a location outside the EEA.
Note the word "suppliers "

Taking that as the truth WHY when the British people naturally expect our "poppies " that we wear to be made in the UK by ex service personnel exclusively therebye providing work for them they are made in the far east ?
As a collector of old badges made in the UK the Art Deco examples I have are a thing of beauty to look at even the common union badges , lovely mature design but the ones displayed I looked at have the immature design qualities of those in the Far East , glossy-vulgar – decidedly down market .

This reminds me of the big building I used to visit to repair their telephones it was the RIFTB (Royal Institute for the Blind ) they made beds etc employing many severely visually handicapped people .
Modern crass , dogmatic political decisions were made to close the factory down and sell it off and "Privatisation " was the order of the day in the "sell off Britain " agenda , not much left to sell off only us as slaves to a "new empire " .
Not a thought was given to those who had pride in working even though blinded as they felt they contributed to a nation now cast on the dole . Depression, anxiety etc set in , in the downward spiral of this once great nation put up for sale and turned into banker run.

Where is the sincerity – the quality -the goodness and belief in this nation ? down with the "quality " of those badges , the "designer " should be arrested, brought to trial and condemned for treachery to the spirit of this country.

Your right Patrick.

Duncan – Have you asked the Royal British Legion where and by whom their poppy merchandise is made before jumping to the conclusion that it is made in China?

The point about the RBL’s commemorative material is that it is just a token or symbol. It does not have to be elaborate or last forever.

The paragraph you quoted starting “Some of our suppliers . . .” is fairly standard GDPR terminology to cover all sorts of inputs to production activities. Even home-grown charities and voluntary organisations tend to use it. It covers the use of data servers that might be located overseas, the purchase of consumables like printer ink that might be manufactured abroad, and all sorts of other services and materials. In this instance it does not imply that RBL goods are made in foreign countries.

Patrick Taylor says:
5 November 2018

There is a nice ceramic brooch made in the UK by one of the factories that made the multi-thousands for the Tower. It is tasteful.

Regarding them being made overseas …… it would seem ironic to have the poppies being made in a country which no doubt contributed to some of our dead and wounded. Perhaps reserving the right to UK firms might make prevention of knock-offs much easier.

I mentioned Amiens – it is the Australian cemetery near there. The local shop has a large amount of books about the great War – unsurprising given the huge losses France suffered.

Harry says:
5 November 2018

The RBL is one of the very few charities which I am prepared to donate to on a regular basis. Personally I do not need to wear a badge to signify my support. But for those occasions where the wearing of a poppy is expected I recycle poppies from previous years, In this way I am able to make my charitable contribution go further by not taking another poppy.

Lindsey says:
5 November 2018

I have a Badge/Pin Poppy have had this for a couple of years, but I will still buy a paper Poppy every year

Mickey says:
5 November 2018

I don’t know if the ‘badges’ are made in China or not but China definitely made a contribution to the Allied cause in WW1. See: https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/surprisingly-important-role-china-played-world-war-i-180964532/
I bought several of the metal poppy badges, and do so every year, as I put one on my everyday sweatshirt, one on my jacket and one on my overcoat. This saves time and also saves fiddling with the pin with arthritic fingers. Besides which, the paper ones tend to escape the pin and fall off.
I do, however, wear the ordinary paper poppy when attending our local memorial service as I somehow feel that its simplicity is more appropriate.

Mickey I am not putting down China , just look at their suffering in the 30,s extending into the 40,s at the hands of the Japanese , I have the original trial documents translated at the time (after WW2 ) by the USSR and it makes sickening reading.

No my problem is with the importers as China will “build to a price ” as it has 1000,s of factories . I also have the Chinese government trade conditions with foreign buyers , re-imports not allowed for one.

Janice Frew says:
9 November 2018

I purchased a “poppy brooch” a few years ago, since then I wear it but continue donate – this solves the issue of companies making cash out of a good cause.

Louise says:
4 November 2019

Which one was fake then? 🤷

Josie Roberts says:
7 November 2019

Am I missing something here? Which are fake then?

That,s two of you asking a very legitimate question -Louise & Josie and if this was the 1950,s it would be easy to tell but now both “versions ” are made in China where they will look identical a country of “made to a price ” but as they are easy to reproduce there is no difference in the design.
Thats why they don’t give a running description of the BACK of them , as someone who collected a lot of British 1950,s/60,s motorbike badges I can spot a fake a mile away as they were made in Britain -remember that label ?
Now its all -made in China and the importers can buy in bulk for peanuts and yes webpages of “Made in China ” metal badge companies made to order selling approx -$0.50 each -Custom-Diecast Zinc Alloy Gold Plated –any pattern you like but must buy 1000 -work out the profit on selling in the UK for £10 each .
In the old days the police would show close up photos of the REAR of both genuine badges (made in Britain ) and knock -off’s and it was easy to tell —-not now.