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Pauley adds it’s probably fine to buy a contractor’s leftover 10-pack of circuit breakers on eBay, but greater numbers raise more questions about where they’re coming from. “When you see higher volumes and a supplier saying it can deliver any amount, you have to ask if this is a legitimate source,” says Pauley. “This is why you can’t just run to the Internet to buy circuit breakers. You have to know your sources and start further up the food chain. If you wait until a product is delivered, it’s probably too late.”
Anthony Todarian of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) adds that it and other agencies regularly issue product alerts and recalls when it finds counterfeit products, and that eBay and other online sellers have promised to remove them when they’re notified.
While close visual inspection of devices and documentation is supposed to help find counterfeits, several sources say the external appearance of many fakes is so good that they’re almost indistinguishable from their genuine counterparts. In fact, even newer identification technologies, such as RFID chips and laser etching can be quickly adopted by counterfeiters too. This makes it even more crucial for users to check the insides of devices and test their performance.
“Many counterfeits look pretty much like the real thing. They may even have duplicate die marks and moldings that serve no purpose. We even added a holographic label to one product, and then the counterfeiters did it nine months later,” says Pauley. “Sometimes our engineers have to take apart devices to compare the legit and counterfeit version, and the fakes ones quickly fail if their performance is tested.” Todarian adds these failures occur because the only way for counterfeiters to make money is by leaving out the needed capabilities and safety features included in genuine products.
The bottom line on counterfeiting is that it’s an ongoing battle, much like the eternal manufacturing and business challenges to innovate, gain efficiencies and do more with less. To stay one step ahead, you just have to keep stepping.
Everyone knows that fake documents can accompany fake products, but sometimes counterfeiters will even send out fake people—counterfeit representatives posing as “authorized” agents. The British Valve and Actuator Association (BVAA) reported in its Valve User publication, Spring 2007, that one of its members recently appointed a new sales agent in an Asian nation and attempted to register this change with the country’s national oil and gas company, which is itself a leading multinational firm. BVAA’s member was stunned to find that another agent, claiming to be its official representative, had already formally registered with the oil company!
“Further investigation revealed that the bogus agent had furnished the oil company with forged agency documentation, including forged signatures,” stated Valve User. “The oil company reportedly hadn’t verified the fake agent’s status directly with the manufacturer. Thankfully, the national oil company immediately ended its association with the bogus agent when the fraud was discovered.”
The publication adds that it’s not just the counterfeiting of products that presents problems these days. “The Internet makes downloading and copying of company literature and logos extremely easy. BVAA recommends that users should study such documentation carefully for the telltale signs of poor quality logos and illegible signatures. In any case, it’s always advisable to verify that agents truly are the local representatives of manufacturers. A simple email to a manufacturer’s global headquarters could avoid a great deal of trouble later on.”
The alliance between U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and American Council of Independent Labs (ACIL) has drafted recommendations to help users identify counterfeit devices. These tips include:
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