Trading Standards Officers are constantly on the look out for fake products. But, a sector rarely considered is electrical items – whether it’s chargers, extension cords, cables, lighting, circuit breakers, fuses, accessories or switches. None of these items are immune from being counterfeited and could have serious health and safety implications.
We are not talking here about DVDs and handbags. Copying electrical products is an insidious, fast growing global ‘business’. Penalties are low, usually just token fines, and the potential profits are staggering..
Over 10% of world trade is in counterfeit products – and this is true for electrical equipment, amounting to 2.4 billion Euros (OECD estimate). Annually, around £30 million worth of electrical counterfeits enters the UK market and 90% are made in China – mostly brand name counterfeits/design copies.
Counterfeiters aim to dupe the purchaser into believing they are buying safe, high quality products made by well-known, reputable companies. But, fakes cannot comply with British or European safety legislation and the inferior quality of counterfeit products seized presents the danger of electrocution, explosion or fire when installed and used. Additionally, counterfeits do untold damage to reputation – and business success – of reputable companies.
Since 2000, BEAMA’s Electric Dragon Campaign has resulted in over 12 million counterfeit products being seized and destroyed, plus many moulds and packaging items. Plugs, sockets and switches, circuit protection equipment (eg circuit breakers), fuses and safety critical devices like RCDs have been seized and destroyed.
Raids have targeted Chinese counterfeit production sites and markets in the Middle East, Africa, and UK.
Recently, raids of two factories in China resulted in 500,000 fake MCBs and wiring accessories being seized. A distributor in Dubai saw 300,000+ counterfeit electrical products confiscated from his warehouse, while 60,000 consumer units and MCBs were taken from an East African distributor. Such seizures result from passing information regarding suspects to local authorities in the countries concerned.
Monitoring B2B unauthorised trading websites and formal requests for removal of infringing material has seen 1,000 pages of counterfeit product ads being identified and removed from the web.
The consequences of counterfeit electrical products can be fatal – as demonstrated by the tragic death of a British boy killed by a counterfeit Gameboy charger while on holiday in Thailand.
With small, easily concealed low-tech/cost production, electrical component counterfeiters are driven by high unit profitability, poor enforcement of anti-counterfeit measures and inadequate penalties. Sophisticated production means initially it is often difficult distinguishing counterfeit from genuine until something goes wrong and that expected protection is not there.
The responsibility for ensuring only genuine quality electrical products are used lies with all those supplying, specifying, purchasing and installing electrical equipment.
International Law clearly prohibits counterfeiting, which is equivalent to the act of free riding on the names and reputations of others, receiving undue profits, and providing no guarantee on defective goods. So if you buy, sell or install them you are breaking the law.
Local authorities, Trading Standards departments and the Health and Safety Executive too must be vigilant in seeking out fake and non-compliant electrical products, which cheat consumers and can be highly dangerous.
International initiatives combating counterfeiters are gathering pace, particularly between the US and EU.
New moves will ensure counterfeit products cannot comply with European safety legislation, that countries work together in improving enforcement in China where the EU is investing €11 million in training IPR judges and prosecutors, and through expertise/experience exchanges, and joint customs projects.
Our campaign aims to stem the flow of counterfeit products at source – in the marketplace, and in transit, to ensure the UK and European markets do not suffer from a flood of these dangerous products as has happened elsewhere.
Communicating the message
Two ‘Counterfeit Kills’ DVDs available from BEAMA illustrate the scale – and danger – of counterfeits, while presentations to contractors, wholesalers, installers, local authorities, trading standards officers etc highlight the potential threats counterfeit electrical products pose.
Showing their commitment to refuse to trade in counterfeit/non-compliant products 13 UK organisations have signed a cross-industry Charter to: ‘Fight together against the ‘trade’ in counterfeit electrical products and the proliferation of products not complying with standards.’
Continuously raising awareness of counterfeit electrical products is essential. As part of an information pack, 11,000 ‘Counterfeit Kills’ fact sheets have been distributed to electrical contractors nationwide, urging them to look out for non-compliant or counterfeit electrical installation products.
Our Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group version of the fact sheet emphasises the counterfeit problem worldwide, associated product dangers and efforts to beat counterfeiters. Over the coming months, it will be circulated at exhibitions and events in many countries.
Electrical contractors and engineers should be aware of seemingly too good to be true deals, and avoid buying from unauthorised distributors and unauthorised websites. Beware of people/companies about which you are not sure.
If in doubt, check with the original manufacturer – they will know if a distributor is authorised or not – and if a deal is too good to be true.
Download this fact sheet
Distributor awareness campaign
Our email campaign reinforced the message to branch managers of 2,000 electrical distributors and has received a positive response. The ‘COUNTERFEIT KILLS – Be Safe, don’t electrocute your customers’ flyer attachment can be used as a poster reiterating to staff/customers counterfeit and non-compliant electrical product dangers.
It highlights product types – circuit breakers with shoddy components (some with no overloads); RCDs and RCBOs not conforming to rigid protection standards; fuses without fuse elements (overheating they act like electric fires); wiring accessories – poor imitations that can overheat, cause fires; cables and wires – substandard or insufficient copper, short lengths; lighting – substandard designs causing short life span and/or overheating.
Fraudulent certification marks
Fraudulent use of non-authorised certification and conformity marks is also rife. The counterfeit manufacturer and unscrupulous trader will put on any mark to fool the client and consumer into believing they are buying the genuine article, conforming to relevant specifications.
If you doubt such claims, contact the original manufacturer or certification body www.counterfeit-kills.com (see Voltimum portal) provides important advice/information to combat threats from counterfeits. It features a ‘Blow the Whistle’ section so you can confidentially report any suspicions concerning potential counterfeit electrical products.