Counterfeiting: A Real Cause For Concern

Counterfeit trade across the globe is on the increase and it doesn’t only apply to DVD’s, watches and handbags. Pharmaceuticals, car and aircraft parts and yes, even electrical products like cables are counterfeited.

The people who make them don’t care about safety, they only care about profit. Over 90% of these fake products are made in China and a large proportion of these are “branded” counterfeits illegally using renowned names or designs. Counterfeiting is of particular concern in the electrical sector because fake electrical products can cause fires and pose a risk to lives, as Kevin Harris, Trading Standards Manager for Eaton and Chairman of the BEAMA Anti–Counterfeit Committee, explains.

Counterfeit products are manufactured without any proper form of control over their design, quality or construction. They may, or may not, be functional and, even if they do appear to work, the possibility that a counterfeiter has tested the products to the required standards is highly unlikely. They are also unlikely to be manufactured from compliant materials, in some cases using re-cycled waste plastic or scrap metal.

Counterfeit Miniature Circuit Breakers, for example, have been found that incorporate no real operating mechanism at all – just a wire link between the supply side and load terminals. If this was fitted to an installation and it didn’t trip when it should, the result could be a fire. Another example could be a residual current device that doesn’t respond correctly. The result could potentially be a death from electric shock.

Recently, counterfeit cables have also entered the UK market, probably to exploit the opportunity created by the high price of copper. Such cables may have undersized conductors, or conductors made from poor quality copper, both of which can lead to overheating and ultimately the risk of fire. The insulation may also be substandard, allowing it to crack and break up, giving rise to a very real risk of dangerous short circuits.

It’s easy to see the scale of counterfeiting problems, but who is responsible if counterfeit products are used in an installation? The answer is made clear in the leaflet “Counterfeit Kills”, which can be downloaded from, a website operated by BEAMA. According to this leaflet, if electrical contractors for example knowingly or unknowingly use counterfeit components, and these lead to an accident, injury or worse, those contractors could find themselves in court.

That’s all very well, but how can contractors and others protect themselves against inadvertently using counterfeit components? A useful way of guarding against counterfeits is to call on the resources of the manufacturers of the genuine products. Eaton, for example, takes counterfeiting very seriously and will always be happy to advise whether a suspect product is or is not genuine. A simple phone call to the company can save a lot of trouble and expense at a later date and could even save lives.

Other measures that can be adopted to minimise the risk of ending up with counterfeit items are often summarised as the ‘Three P’s’:

‘Person’ – Always buy products from a known entity: products with recognisable brands, from a reputable source rather than, for example, an unknown website.

‘Place’ - Always buy products from an established outlet, such as a manufacturer-approved stockist or distributor, rather than a little-known source with no reputation to protect.

‘Price’ - Put simply, if the price looks too good to be true, it almost certainly is. There are, of course, many excellent deals available on genuine products, but if the prices are noticeably lower than those found elsewhere from reputable suppliers, it’s a sure indication that caution is needed.

Major electrical manufacturers like Eaton and leading trade associations like BEAMA are all working together around the world to end the deadly menace of counterfeit electrical products. However, the problem cannot be tackled entirely from the supply side – purchasers must also play their part by looking out for suspect products and refusing to buy them.

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