Combating Electrical Counterfeiting

Jan. 2, 2014
Most buyers think they can tell the difference between a counterfeit and an authentic product—but they can’t

As Global Purchasing has reported, counterfeit electrical and electronic components continue to have real implications on our economy, jobs, and even our own health and safety. They exist for almost every product that is profitable—from components to mission-critical equipment.

By definition, counterfeit electrical products are unsafe lookalikes.

For example, counterfeit circuit breakers can result in product malfunctions or failures and can also cause serious bodily injury including electric shock, electrocution, and even death. Counterfeit circuit breakers are also capable of significant property damage, as they are designed to provide circuit protection for power distribution systems and to safeguard people and equipment. A breaker failure means the loss of production, possible equipment damage necessitating costly system analysis and replacement, and the increased risk of worker injury at the time of failure or during maintenance. The financial liability of such an incident will fall on those who participated in the supply and distribution of the counterfeit products.

Despite recognizing the dangers of counterfeit electrical products and committing to avoid them, most purchasers do not realize the sophistication of modern counterfeiting techniques and think they can tell the difference between a counterfeit and an authentic product.

As part of its efforts to bring this serious issue to light, Eaton has worked over the past few years to present hundreds of professionals with two circuit breakers—one counterfeit and one authentic. After professionals take a few minutes to inspect the breakers, they come to the common realization that they “never would have thought it was counterfeit. They didn’t know.”

This issue is compounded by the production, sales, and importation of counterfeit electrical goods, which is soaring at an alarming rate. According to the Department of Homeland Security, more than 3,400 seizures of “Consumer Safety and Critical Technology” products accounted for a street value of more than $146 million in 2012, which is a 143% increase from 2011.

Stopping the sale of counterfeit products is everyone’s responsibility. This includes manufacturers, distributors, resellers (authorized and unauthorized), governments, and customers alike.

Supply chain managers hold an important role in combating counterfeiting. By educating buyers and managers on how to identify a counterfeit electrical product and avoid purchasing it, they raise awareness of the issue and help ensure the purchase of authentic parts, thereby not allowing counterfeits to enter the supply chain and decreasing the demand for such products.

The top three ways to identify and avoid counterfeit electrical products are:

  1. Buy authentic. The best way to avoid counterfeit electrical products is to purchase products from the manufacture’s authorized distributors or resellers. There is a higher risk of counterfeits if one cannot trace the path of commerce to the original manufacturer.
  2. Scrutinize labels and packaging. When purchasing an electronic product, check for certification marks from organizations that certify the quality and performance of electrical products. Be leery of additional markings or labeling not applied by the original 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 an increasing need for additional scrutiny.

    Additionally, some testing organizations have online product registries that enable you to look up a particular product or control number to verify the certification.

    For example, Eaton’s new Circuit Breaker Authentication tool is designed to allow customers to detect if Eaton circuit breakers are counterfeit. By entering the bar code, part number and date code found on the circuit breaker, the authentication tool is intended to immediately verify authentication.
  3. Avoid “bargains.” When shopping for electrical products, avoid “bargains” that seem too good to be true. Compare the price of that product to a similar product at a different retailer. If it seems too good to be true, the odds are it is.

We must continue to work together to prevent these unsafe counterfeit products from causing harm to people and property. For more information and additional tips for avoiding counterfeit electrical products, visit

Tom Grace is brand protection manager for Eaton’s Electrical Sector Americas. He can be reached at [email protected].

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