Perhaps you do not have a 300X microscope, an acetone chemical wash, or a database of thousands of technical specs and details to compare – but you, too, can catch electronic counterfeiter’s – and protect yourself from using dangerous products that put you and your families safety at risk!
All of us recognize the symbol for the United Laboratories underwriting. UL has been testing products to protect us from ourselves since 1894 when its founder, Henry Merrill, ran his first test on behalf of firemen – testing materials used in a proposed fire shield for combustibility. The actual founding of the company was inspired by Merrill’s work at the World Fair in Chicago. As an electrical engineer, Merrill began his company and career inspecting and testing things for electrical and fire safety.
Today, the Underwriters Laboratories tests for customers in 104 countries. They are no longer just a tester of electronics and fire safety products, but also developers of standards for sustainability, controls, manufacturing, and more; they offer educational classes to manufacturers and consumers alike to help people become more aware of not just producing a safer, better product but also how to do so more efficiently.
Of course, there’s a downside to being the worlds most trusted name in independent safety inspecting – everyone wants your approval, and if they can’t get it (or know they won’t) they just might fake it. In fact, there are counterfeiters making marks for themselves across every industry – but it is our responsibility to be informed and educated consumers to protect ourselves from risks. It is sad that we cannot trust manufacturers and retailers to only sell us quality materials – but how much of it is a lack of information themselves? When dealing with thousands or millions of products funneled through a giant retail machine, asking for perfection seems a little unrealistic. On the opposite side, when we buy online there isn’t really a system of product verification either – and it is always caveat emptor, let the buyer beware! Instead, it is far better we arm ourselves with wisdom and make smart decisions, protecting ourselves and voting with our dollar as consumers.
If you spend more than one minute reading this Apple-USB charger label, you will easily able to identify several blatant errors that point to the fact that this was manufactured by non-English speaking people who were obviously trying to imitate something – although we may not know what that something is.
When you have something to make a healthy comparison with, the differences become blatant. The problem is that counterfeited materials like this are sold by the thousands everyday, online and locally at low-level, ‘deep discount’ retailers (such as Dollar Tree, Family Dollar, or Big Lots). Counterfeiting electronics and electric components is the most frequent and common instance, but here in the United States it is known for fire sprinklers, smoke detectors, fire hoses, prescription medication, and even fire suppressing foam to be made by copy cats that try to imitate each and every detail in order to sell us untested or inferior products at unrealistic prices. Quality control at computer and electronic manufacturing plants is a huge undertaking – a profession that does deal with tools like acid washes, high powered microscopes, and even x-rays and spectroscopy. In some ways, electronic components are as valuable as money – sometimes more so, depending on what those components are going into. Everything from personal ear buds to space shuttle parts are and have been at risk. Counterfeiting is also a powerfully devious science – otherwise we would not hear about international solar panel producers, Christmas lights by major brand names, and something as minor as light bulbs all falling prey to these kinds of efforts.
The worst part is this: we expect false product to come from countries like China,Taiwan, Singapore, and Malaysia; it is difficult to accept that there are also counterfeiters producing or supplying in places like the US, Canada, Germany, India, and Russia – places we consider progressive, educated, and most of all – civilized, even domestic. Yes, people counterfeit electronics – but now it is becoming known that entire companies (such as Apple and NEC), even Ikea’s shopping experience has been ‘counterfeited’, prehistoric ‘fossils‘, outsourced fake IDs from China, military hardware, and enough shoddily made cigarettes to ensure everyone gets to enjoy some cancer, or worse.What can we do different? We can take the time to inspect what we buy. When we purchase something electric or expensive (or both!) it doesn’t cost us anything to take a few moments to read its labels, perhaps Google it on our smart phone or ask a salesperson at a store about manufacturers warranty or even the frequency of imitation and if they know how to spot fakes. When purchasing for your job, if you can’t inspect the product then ask if it comes with any kind of return policy or if the supplier has a genuine parts guarantee. Last of all, remember that when you are looking online at what you think is an identical product that is drastically cheaper then fair-priced competitors – examine your choices really, really carefully. As we have mentioned before, being cheap doesn’t make something good – and when we value something, it is worth spending a little extra money to make sure that it is good.
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This is an original article written by Mai Bjorklund for Swartz Electric. This article may not be copied whole or in part without the express permission of Swartz Electric, LLC.
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