Counterfeit consumer electronics

Most people believe that if you want to be sure that you got an original product, you must buy it from a reputable retailer – especially if that product is an electronic device or component.

But as Engineering & Technology reports, it is estimated that anywhere between 5 and 20 percent of these items are counterfeit.

The issue is not new to Ian Walker, quality assurance manager at Princeps Electronics, a components distributor. He maintains that it has become increasingly difficult to spot counterfeit components just by performing a physical inspection.

The sentiment is echoed by Phil Innes, director of electronics manufacturer Axis who says that “The only way that you can possibly confirm whether a component is genuine or not is by X-raying it.” Doing so with every component they receive is impossible, so they stop doing business with companies whose wares prove to be counterfeit on three randomly executed checks.

To deter counterfeiting, three types of authentication methods should be applied:

  • On-package authentication (RFID, nanotechnology, 2D bar coding, etc.)
  • Obvious AND concealed (invisible to the naked eye) product authentication
  • Anti-tamper methods to discourage reverse-engineering of the product.

The issue of counterfeit electronic appliances or components can hit the consumers hard: a fake supply unit, transformer or battery can prove lethal – it can start a fire because it hasn’t passed a quality check and doesn’t satisfy safety requirements. Also, devices like memory cards and digital photo frames can also be carrying malware that can compromise the user’s personal and business data.

The Internet has also proven to be the perfect breeding ground for the sellers of counterfeit merchandise. If a dealer’s shop gets shut down through legal channels, there’s nothing to stop him to set up a new one in a matter of days or even hours.

It used to be that the problem of counterfeit goods was limited to more costly devices and components – those used for industrial, medical or defense purposes. Now, the issue has become all-encompassing. “What the consumer electronics industry lacks in price, it more than makes up in volume, and, due to the inherent weaknesses in most supply chains’ ability to check large volumes of components, it becomes very easy for the counterfeiters to target,’ says Ruth Thomson of Cambridge Consultants.

China, India, African and other developing countries around the world are the main source of this fake goods. People and children get paid a pittance for finding, disassembling and cleaning electronic components that are resold as new. The business is often run by criminal gangs, and the local authorities turn a blind eye to the practice either because they don’t care, are paid off or just believe that poorly paid work is still better than no work.

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