NAPIT’s Bill Allan uses this month’s column to raise awareness of the problems associated with counterfeit products.
The spectre of counterfeit electrical products has gate crashed into the consciousness of electrical contractors today like an unwelcome guest. It is a disturbing fact that any electrical product can be copied. Even BS 7671, the On-Site Guide and Guidance Note 3, have been counterfeited.
Counterfeit electrical products include switches, socket-outlets, circuit-breakers (cbs), residual current devices and cables. Some of these counterfeit products are highly dangerous. The items might be fake but the risk is genuine.
Counterfeiting is a criminal offence which involves the manufacturing and distributing of a fraudulent imitation of something else, usually for monetary gain. Counterfeiting may involve a copy of a genuine, but more expensive product or it may entail a false claim that the product was made by a reputable manufacturer. Counterfeit products comply with few, if any, relevant standards. Counterfeiting is a growing problem throughout Europe.
Fake electrical products
Manufacturers, importers, distributors and retailers of electrical equipment all have a legal responsibility to ensure that electrical equipment is safe to use. Although the penalty for failing to comply with these laws can be severe, such is the growing volume and sophistication of this criminal activity, that legislation has failed to stem the flow of phoney merchandise.
Compounding the problem is the fact that even reputable manufacturers who purchase component parts of their products from another source have been known to fall prey to clever fraudsters.
When buying an electrical product, especially one with which you are not familiar, it is advisable to look for some assurance that the product complies with UK safety standards. This will mean that the mark of an approval body, such as the BSI Kitemark or the CE mark, will be displayed, not only on the packaging, but on the product itself.
The BSI Kitemark
The BSI Kitemark is exclusive to the British Standards Institution (BSI) and is an internationally recognised mark of quality.
The initials, ‘B’ and ‘S’ are contained in the genuine Kitemark logo (Fig. 1a). However, even the BSI Kitemark has been known to be imitated (Fig. 1b).
Manufacturers are required to display the letters ‘CE’ on many products that are traded on the single market in the European Economic Area (EEA). CE marking is a declaration by the manufacturer that the product complies with all the applicable requirements of the European Union (EU) and can legally be sold throughout the EEA.
CE marking is not required for all products sold in the EU, only those products which are subject to one or more directives that provide for CE marking. CE marking is required for electrical products, construction products and personal protective equipment if they are sold within the EU or member states of the EEA.
Buyers should be aware that some Chinese companies are using a close replica of the CE mark of the European Union (Fig. 2a). Notice the wider spacing on the authentic EU mark in Fig. 2(ab).
Some believe that this close similarity is no co-incidence but an aggressive attempt to export to the EU without the proper standards.
The growing popularity of online buying has resulted in the digital marketplace being flooded with fake goods and rogue traders. A Which? survey has revealed that 23% of counterfeit goods were purchased from Amazon and eBay. Websites that sell counterfeit goods are often professional- looking sites with high quality graphics that look like the real deal.
Owners and operators of websites are not above the law and are subject to the same business practice as high street retailers. Many rogue traders are based oversees, so when buying online, it is advisable to find out where the trader is based. A web address having ‘uk’ in it does not necessarily mean that the trader is based in the UK.
The Electrical Safety First (ESF) website contains a guide giving helpful advice when buying electrical goods online, ‘Buying electrical goods online? The safe shopper’s guide’.
Getting real about fake goods
Some tell-tale signs of counterfeit goods are the poor, general appearance of the packaging, spelling mistakes and bad grammar. Also, if the price is lower than you would expect to pay, be cautious.
If you suspect that a product may be counterfeit, it is advisable to inform the manufacturer of that product or your local Trading Standards Department. They may be able to investigate whether or not the product is counterfeit and, if it is, to take appropriate action.
It is heartening to know that the fightback against the fraudsters is well underway. The Anti-Counterfeiting Working Group (ACWG), which is managed by BEAMA, has active projects in China, the Middle East and Africa.
NAPIT is a partner in a website called ‘Does it Comply’? On that website you will find a form for reporting counterfeit electrical installation products. Alternatively, you can report it to the Trading Standards Department or call the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 04 05 06.
If you have proof that an item you have purchased is counterfeit, contact the supplier immediately. You are entitled to an explanation and your money back. If you have difficulty getting your money back, get in touch with the Citizens Advice consumer helpline for advice.
Anyone who knowingly sells or installs ‘dodgy’ goods is risking their reputation, placing themselves in danger of prosecution and potentially putting lives at risk.
Wherever electrical products are purchased, the diligent designer/installer of electrical installations needs to be alert to the possibility of being fobbed off with a phoney electrical product.
For more information about NAPIT membership visit: www.napit.org.uk