Counterfeiting: Protecting Electrical Safety in British Columbia

When most people hear the word “counterfeiting," they think of money, stocks and bonds, identification documents or perhaps designer handbags and watches. But counterfeiting is a global problem that can include almost every product we use in our daily lives.

Any product that can be manufactured and sold can be counterfeited. In general, the higher the value of the product, the more likely it is to be counterfeited. But even the most inexpensive items may be counterfeited, particularly those that are sold in high volumes. The electrical industry is not immune to this problem, and counterfeit items can be found throughout the industry.

The goal of this article is to emphasize how counterfeit electrical products negatively affect the electrical industry in British Columbia, and to provide contractors with the tools to identify and avoid counterfeit products.

How do counterfeit products impact you?

The sole motivation for making counterfeit products is profit, and these products are made without concern for safety. Counterfeit products are made as cheaply as possible and sold for as much as possible. However, because of the lack of consideration for safety, consumers who use these products may be at risk.

When a product is counterfeited, the certification label or mark may often be counterfeited as well. For electrical contractors, installing a counterfeit product is the same as installing an unapproved product; it is a violation under the Safety Standards Act, Electrical Safety Regulation (Section 21) and the BC Electrical Code Regulation (Rule 2-024). The cost of correcting installations with counterfeit products varies depending on when the counterfeit products are identified. Electrical contractors remain responsible for the work they have performed, even after their permit has been closed. If counterfeit items are found after a job is complete and the permit is closed, it could be very costly for the electrical contractor to go back and re-install those items. If the contractor is out of business or cannot be found, it can be costly for the owner to go back and re-install non-counterfeit items.

What can you do?

Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. Everyone involved in the electrical industry — from consumer to manufacturer — has a role to play in protecting intellectual property rights and preventing counterfeit electrical products from entering legitimate supply chains. Many of these counterfeit products are being made in countries that lack adequate regulation and oversight — or simply ignore the problem. Electrical industry stakeholders need to be proactive; this means collaboration among manufacturers, distributors, importers, installers, contractors, law enforcement, and government to fight against product piracy and counterfeiting. We want to eliminate electrical product counterfeiting at its source, and to prevent the proliferation of these counterfeit products into ever-expanding markets.

The following tips will help you buy safe, approved products and take the necessary actions if you encounter a counterfeit product:

Carefully check certification marks

In the past, contractors have often relied on certification marks to identify authentic products. However, it is increasingly common for certification marks or labels to be illegally reproduced by savvy counterfeiters. The counterfeiting of certification marks has become a huge issue for certification agencies. For example, Underwriters Laboratories (UL) and (Underwriters Laboratories of Canada ULC) have introduced a holographic UL mark that is required in 28 common consumer product areas, including power supply cords, nightlights and ceiling fans. Some key things to look for when trying to determine whether a UL mark is genuine are: the mark should include the word “LISTED” in capital letters, and there should be a product name and listing number on the UL mark. Missing information or spelling mistakes on labels or product literature are also common tell-tale signs of counterfeit products, so watch for these as well. You can find examples of certification marks, and contact information for certification bodies, in Technical Safety BC's Information Bulletin on Approved Certification Marks for Electrical Products. For a complete listing of certification bodies and their contact information, please visit the Standards Council of Canada website.

Buy authentic

Don’t take the authenticity of electrical products for granted. Actively seek information and education about counterfeiting prevention. Understand the electrical product supply chain, where products and components are coming from, and who is selling them. The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is to purchase products from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or resellers. There is a higher risk of counterfeit when the path of commerce to the original manufacturer can’t be clearly traced.

Scrutinize labels and packaging

Check for certification marks from organizations that certify quality and performance. Avoid products that lack any identifying branding label or affiliation. Be leery of additional markings or labeling not applied by the original equipment manufacturer, with missing or poor-quality labels, out-of-date product codes and non-genuine packaging. As counterfeiters become more sophisticated, counterfeit products become even more difficult to detect this way, creating the need for additional scrutiny. According to UL, the name and address of the company producing the products should be on the box or container. Shipments with no address are suspicious, as counterfeiters make it a point to be untraceable. Packaging quality can be another indication of counterfeiting, as many counterfeiters use cheap packaging to cut costs.

Avoid bargains

When you’re shopping for electrical products, avoid bargains that seem way out of sync with market pricing. Compare the price of that product to a similar product at a different retailer. When it seems too good to be true, the odds are it is.

Pay close attention to products purchased

Quality control is often lacking in counterfeiting operations, so you may be able to spot a counterfeit simply based on its workmanship. Compare the quality of products you routinely purchase across different retailers.

Make sure everything that should be there is there

Counterfeit products often don’t include supplementary materials such as the owner’s manual or product registration card. Another indication that your product may be counterfeit is missing parts or parts from a different manufacturer. Carefully checking that all components are included is an important step in confirming a product is legitimate.

Report suspected counterfeits

If you suspect a product may be counterfeit, contact the brand owner and the certification agency. This will allow authentication of the suspect product, so that potentially unsafe products are removed from the marketplace. You should also alert the retailer or wholesaler who sold the product.

For more information on electrical product counterfeiting or how to get involved with combating counterfeiting, visit the following websites:

Author: George Razzo, Technical Safety BC Electrical Safety Officer

*This article also appeared in the Spring 2013 BCEA Connector

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