Soapbox: Fight against counterfeit electrical products

The counterfeiting of electrical products, which have the potential to affect our health and safety, should be of concern to everyone. Do you know the 6 tips to avoid counterfeit electrical products?


The counterfeiting of well-known brands and products has been a growing problem
worldwide for more than a decade and has increased by 10,000% over the
past 20 years. A counterfeit product is one that uses, without authorization, the trademark, service mark or copyright of another product, with intent to deceive prospective customers into believing that the product is genuine.

Worldwide, counterfeiting is estimated to be 5% to 7% of world trade, or about $600 billion each year. In the U.S., that figure is $200 billion to $250 billion. Revenue “stolen” from legitimate companies via counterfeiting cuts 750,000 U.S. jobs a year, says the International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition (



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Consumers have been desensitized to counterfeiting by bargain-priced knock-off luxury goods, bootleg movies, and music trading. Counterfeit products that can affect our health and safety, such as electrical products, should be of additional concern.

Counterfeit electrical products are being found in all areas of the world. Laws exist in many countries, but difficulty of detection and the lack of enforcement are contributing factors to the proliferation of counterfeits. In 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reported that electrical products represented 13% of all counterfeit products seized — the second-highest total of any category. In 2008, CBP reported that it seized $286 million worth of counterfeit electrical products, a 43% increase over 2007 levels.

More than 80% of these substandard, unsafe products originate in China and have started finding their way to the United States, Canada and Western Europe. Such products also continue to have a strong presence in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East. Free trade zones, and the movement of counterfeit products across borders, disguise true origins of many products.

Telltale signs of imitation electrical products include: missing or poor-quality labels; out-of-date product codes; packaging and stickers that legitimate manufacturers don’t use; and absence of, or imitation, third-party testing certification labels from organizations such as Underwriters Laboratories (UL), the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Canadian Standards Association (CSA), or other bodies that certify the quality and performance of electrical products. Counterfeit electrical products are dangerous because they can overheat or cause short circuits, leading to fires, shocks or explosions that can cost people their lives and produce considerable property damage. Fraudulent products include control relays for industrial equipment, circuit breakers, receptacles, ground fault circuit interrupters, power strips, surge suppressors, and power cords.

These tips help to avoid counterfeit products:

  • Always purchase from the manufacturer’s authorized distributors or resellers;
  • Ensure that there is a traceability of purchases to the original manufacturer;
  • Scrutinize labels and packaging for quality;
  • Ensure all markings of the genuine product are intact including certifications;
  • Avoid products that lack any identifying branding label, evidence of tampering, or “bargains” that seem too good to be true; and\
  • Contact the manufacturer if you suspect a counterfeit. (You can contact Eaton via e-mail at

It is also important to be involved with industry organizations combating counterfeiting, such as National Electrical Manufacturers Association; National Association of Electrical Distributors; International Anti-Counterfeiting Coalition; Underwriters Laboratories; Canadian Standards Association; U.S. Chamber of Commerce Coalition Against Counterfeiting and Piracy; and British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association. We must continue to work together on a global level to prevent unsafe counterfeit products from causing harm to people and property. The attention we devote to slowing proliferation of counterfeit products can help to ensure maximum electrical safety levels for ourselves and for future generations.

More information: Rich Holder, president of Eaton’s Electrical Components Organization, moderated a discussion on the dangers of counterfeit electrical
products at the Electric West 2010 conference in Las Vegas in March 2009. A
recording of the discussion is available at

Tom Grace is manager of Anti-Counterfeiting Initiatives at Eaton Corp., a global maker of power distribution, power quality, control and industrial automation products and services.

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