How to avoid purchasing counterfeit electronics

April 14, 2021   By Terri Williams

How to avoid purchasing counterfeit electronics

Counterfeit electronics have always been popular. While footwear, clothing, and leather goods are the most counterfeited products, electrical machinery, and electronic products take fourth place, according to Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL).  

From fake smoke alarms and batteries to counterfeit ground fault receptacles, this problem is both expensive and dangerous. Here is what you should know about purchasing counterfeit electronics.

What are common types of counterfeit electronics?

One example includes counterfeit lithium-ion cells and batteries. According to UL, through 2020, these items resulted in approximately $1.82 trillion in global economic damage. This includes more than $323 billion in online counterfeiting, and 2.5 million jobs lost globally. 

According to Brett Brenner of ESFI, there are also other problems with purchasing these types of fake items. “Counterfeit electronics have not been tested by Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratories (NRTLs) and are therefore unsafe and can pose hazards to yourself and your home,” he says. “Electronics with NRTL certification undergo independent testing to ensure they are safe with proper use and are free of recognized hazards that could cause injury or death.”

In the case of counterfeit lithium-ion cells and batteries, the UL reports that these items cause $125 million in medical costs treating product-related injuries each year. That’s because these counterfeit items can cause extreme heat, smoke, electrolyte leaks, and fires.

“Avoid purchasing products without NRTL certification, as they may not be designed to meet applicable industry standards,” Brenner advises.

Popular items lead to more counterfeit products on the market

Another common example of counterfeit electronics is fake iPhone adaptors. Apple’s iPhones are the most popular smartphones on the market, but they’re also the most expensive. This leads consumers to search for less expensive accessories whenever possible – and that’s what makes counterfeit iPhone adaptors a lucrative business.  

UL researchers tested 400 counterfeit iPhone adaptors – which they were able to identify by the unauthorized UL certification markers. These fake adaptors came from several different countries, including the U.S., Canada, Australia, China, and Thailand. 

The tests revealed a 99 percent failure rate for the counterfeit phone adaptors. And several reports from around the world have also supported UL’s findings.

In one well-publicized story in 2013, a man in Thailand was electrocuted, and in a separate incident a few months earlier, a Chinese woman was electrocuted. Both victims died, both were on their phone while it was charging, and both incidents were blamed on unofficial iPhone chargers.

In 2018, a woman in Brazil was found dead wearing her headphones while her phone was charging. The brand of her phone was not disclosed, but it was believed that she was using a counterfeit charger.

Counterfeit electronics span across the tech industry

Counterfeits aren’t limited to Apple products. In 2019, a man in Thailand was electrocuted and died while either talking on the phone or listening to music as his Samsung phone was charged. Police officials cited a faulty charger for his death.

In addition to batteries and phone chargers, there are other counterfeit products that pose dangers. According to ESFI, cell phones make up approximately one-third of the counterfeit consumer electronics that are seized at U.S. borders.  

“Any type of counterfeit electrical product poses significant safety hazards and can cause deaths, injuries, and substantial property loss in the home and the workplace if left undetected,” Brenner explains. “The biggest risk for electrical counterfeits would be the fire risk they pose.”

Whether it’s a phone charger or an extension code, a counterfeit product can easily overheat, and Brenner says this can burn down your home, and injure you or your family members. “Counterfeits could be made from low-quality components or may not be what they seem, for example, a circuit breaker not functioning how a real circuit breaker should,” says Brenner.

Avoiding counterfeits

So, how can you ensure that you’re not purchasing counterfeits? Brenner provides several tips:

  • “Only a mousetrap offers free cheese,” he says. So, if it looks and sounds too good to be true – it probably is.
  • “Only purchase from trusted sources,” Brenner says. Buy your electronics from official suppliers with a reliable reputation. It’s also a good idea to avoid unverified third-party sellers on online marketplaces.
  • “Check electrical manufacturers’ websites to find authorized retailers and dealers,” Brenner advises. These items may be more expensive, but they’re less likely to break down or cause a fire or electrocution hazard.
  • “Only purchase items that have been tested and marked.” Look for indications that the item has been tested by trusted sources in the industry.
  • “Only use licensed, insured, and bonded contractors that will stand behind their work,” Brenner advises.  Unfortunately, dishonest contractors will use counterfeit products to increase their profit margin. However, when you do business with reputable contractors, you can usually avoid these tactics.
  • “Products and packaging with typos and misspellings have a high likelihood of being counterfeit,” Brenner says. Legitimate companies are more likely to use professional product packaging that was written and designed by a team of experts.

 

Terri Williams is a freelance journalist with bylines at The Economist, USA Today, Yahoo, the Houston Chronicle, and U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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