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Illinois Country Living

Michael Ashenfelter
Michael Ashenfelter, Sangamon County Electrical/Mechanical Inspector

Safety & Health:

Don’t Get Burned by a Counterfeit
Buying an untested counterfeit electrical product puts your family at risk

Recently my wife and daughter returned from a shopping trip to New York City, excited about the sales and deals they’d found. They told me how they were able to find great buys on knockoff purses that looked a lot like the designer brands sold for hundreds more. Typically these purses are bought overseas and smuggled through customs then sold on the streets in back alleys and subways. What a deal, eh? So what’s wrong with knockoffs?

Robert Jacksta, Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Office of Field Operations for the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) speaking before the House Committee for Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Proliferation and Trade in May of 2008, stated that the CBP seizes an average of $652,603 worth of fraudulent commercial merchandise each day. The CBP estimates they seize more than $200 million dollars worth of counterfeit products, averaging more than 37 seizures a day, an estimate that appears to be rising each year.

So what does that mean to us as manufacturers, producers and consumers of electrical products in the United States? By using counterfeit electrical products that have not been tested by a National Regulatory Testing Lab, we put our family, friends, possessions and jobs at risk.

Counterfeit electrical products have been found to be the cause of fire, property damage and electrocutions. Counterfeit products have been found in fake over current protection devices such as breakers and fuses. These products are marketed under legitimate brand names, but have not met the rigorous standards and testing required here in the United States. Many times well-known distributors market these fakes unknowingly. Then well-intended contractors install them in our homes and businesses unwittingly putting our families and friends at risk.

The CBP estimates that businesses and industries lose about $200 billion a year in revenue and 750,000 jobs due to the counterfeiting of merchandise. Even more is lost by the manufacturers in costly litigation. This increases the cost of legitimate products. In a time when U.S. competition is already stiff, and the economy is struggling, we do not need cheaters and fakes. We certainly do not need the safety hazard these fake products create.

In some countries piracy of intellectual property and counterfeiting is big business. Some of these countries then use this income to fund activities such as terrorism and organized crime.

So what can we do?

1. Educate yourselves, your family and friends of the dangers of fake electrical products. Go to Web sites like Electrical Safety Foundation International, National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the National Association of Electrical Distributors and the International Association of Electrical Inspectors.

2. Remember what our parents told us. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

3. Consumers, contractors and retailers should become familiar with the labels of testing labs, like the ones listed below. Labels prove that the products have been listed to meet the standards required for safety.

List of OSHA approved National Regulatory Testing Labs

• Canadian Standards Association (CSA) (also known as CSA International)

• Communication Certification Laboratory, Inc. (CCL)

• Curtis-Straus LLC (CSL)

• FM Approvals LLC (FM)(formerly Factory Mutual Research Corporation)

• Intertek Testing Services NA, Inc. (ITSNA) (formerly ETL)

• MET Laboratories, Inc. (MET)

• NSF International (NSF)

• National Technical Systems, Inc. (NTS)

• SGS U.S. Testing Company, Inc. (SGSUS) (formerly UST-CA)

• Southwest Research Institute (SWRI)

• TUV America, Inc. (TUVAM)

• TUV Product Services GmbH (TUVPSG)

• TUV Rheinland of North America, Inc. (TUV)

• Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL)

• Wyle Laboratories, Inc. (WL)



For More Information:

Michael Ashenfelter is the Sangamon County Electrical/Mechanical Inspector and a member of the Safe Electricity Advisory Team (, 217-747-5111.


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