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Counterfeit electrical components threaten far more than just callbacks


Here’s a problem that just won’t seem to go away and according to Design Chain Associates, a service provider to the electrical industry, prevention of counterfeit electrical products is at best formidable, and at worst impossible. Underwriters Laboratory began a partnership with the U.S. Customs Service as far back as 1995 to train agents in detecting counterfeits, and industry associations that represent manufacturers have been running aggressive ad and public service campaigns reporting on the counterfeit electrical products problem. Still, these products account for between $300 and $400 million of the $1 billion in total counterfeit products sold in the U.S. each year, according to a joint website sponsored by The Electrical Contractor Magazine and TED Magazine.

This is much more than a U.S. problem. The British Electro-technical and Allied Manufacturers reported in 2009 that other regions in the world have counterfeit electrical products in their supply chains, and in-use, that are large percentages of their total electrical products.

  • Africa 25 to 75 percent
  • Middle East 20 to 40 percent
  • Eastern Europe 10 to 40 percent

According to Robert K. Lowry with Oneida Research Services, Inc., 70 percent of counterfeit electrical products originate in China, and up to 25 percent of the products in the electrical supply chain are counterfeit. He also cites other sources, such as the following:

  • Scrap and obsolete products intercepted on their way to disposal or lifted directly from dumpsters;
  • Products at the end of their service life that are shipped to Asia for disposal because of the more lenient environmental disposal regulations there;
  • Legitimate product with brands removed or covered over;
  • Factories running third shifts to turn out lower quality products using less experienced employees and then selling the products at a discount.

The old mindset of “anything to make a buck” is definitely at work here. Besides the losses to the electrical manufacturers who have to compete with cheaper products, there is a danger with products that are not built the way they should be built by using the processes and materials that have proven to make safer electrical products. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission offers some tips for spotting, and dealing with counterfeit electrical products.

  • Scrutinize the product, the packaging and the labeling. Look for a certification mark from an independent testing organization, such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), and the manufacturer’s label. Trademarked logos that look different than usual may signal a counterfeit.
  • Trust your instincts. If the price is “too good to be true,” it could be because the product is an inferior and unsafe counterfeit.
  • Be extra vigilant when buying from an unknown source such as a street vendor, non-authorized dealer, dollar store, online retailer or an individual. Ask about the return policy. Get a receipt and look for missing sales tax. Businesses selling counterfeit goods often don’t report their sales.
  • Stay informed. Sign up for CPSC e-mail alerts, so when a dangerous product is recalled, you’ll know about it right away.
  • Report safety-related incidents to the manufacturer or CPSC.

It’s becoming truer and truer everyday that you really need to know not only who is working at the job site, but what they are installing.

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