Suspect and counterfeit items: Know your product

Be vigilant to avoid purchasing counterfeit items.

We all know about the risks of suspect or counterfeit items (S/CI) in our personal and professional purchases, such as knock-off watches, contaminated pet food, bolts and electronic components, so we avoid questionable suppliers. We’ve heard stories of catastrophic equipment failures and pharmaceutical poisonings resulting from the use of S/CI.

Depending solely on the reputation of your supplier or avoiding lowest-cost sources isn’t always enough. Many suppliers themselves are fooled and may unknowingly be supplying S/CI. Counterfeiters are engaged in fraud and stay in business by finding novel ways of inserting their products into high-quality supply chains. But with S/CI making their way into reputable supply chains, what’s the best way to avoid these dangerous items?

The only effective responses are vigilance and knowledge of the product you’re purchasing. Does the product you’re purchasing carry a third-party certification, such as certification from Underwriters Laboratories? If so, check the certification logo and file number carefully. Do the materials have published test results? Review them for inconsistencies. Does the packaging look the same as previous purchases? Many products such as electronics and fasteners are required to carry specific product markings or ratings. Know what these requirements are and look for indicators before using the product. If in doubt, you can check the company’s website or consult with a subject matter expert to see what to look for. Fermilab’s Office of Quality and Best Practices has links to various sites for information regarding product marking. Your organization’s S/CI coordinator can also be a valuable resource.

Two new Fermilab training courses for S/CI are in development and will be rolled out soon. One provides information on the Fermilab S/CI program, including material control and reporting. The other focuses on the identification of different types of S/CI using common indicators. An announcement will be made when the new training is available.

Kurt Mohr