Thursday, February 14, 2008

Shop Smart: Beware Of Harmful Counterfeit Goods

(SPM Wire) Fake goods can do more than just save you money -- they can negatively impact your family's health.

A recent investigation of counterfeit goods conducted by Consumer Reports magazine found that today's fakes are not just the usual knockoffs like bogus handbags or watches. Some unsafe counterfeits in circulation include phony oil filters, fake diabetic strips that give erratic readings and even brake pads made of kitty litter, sawdust, and dried grass.

And investigators have seized electrical power strips, extension cords, and smoke alarms with phony Underwriters Laboratories (UL) marks; toothpaste made with a chemical found in antifreeze; and cell-phone batteries that could explode.

In addition to posing potential health threats, fakes are estimated to cost legitimate businesses up to $250 billion in yearly sales. And while it's not against the law to buy phony goods, it's not a victimless crime.

You may expect counterfeits to be sold by vendors on city streets, but they also are marketed on the Internet, at some deep discount stores, at flea markets, salons, swap meets and college campuses.

"Goods are showing up in different outlets other than the guy on the street corner, so more people could be exposed to products that pose a danger to their health and safety," said Tod Marks, senior editor, Consumer Reports.

The easiest way to avoid counterfeits is to deal with reputable dealers authorized to sell a manufacturer's products. Consumers should be suspicious of third-party Web sites that offer deep discounts for products that are usually pricey.

Here are some tips from the experts at Consumer Reports on avoiding bogus merchandise:
* Think twice before buying at deep-discount and dollar stores, which have been sources of fake extension cords, toothpaste, and batteries.

* Avoid no-name products. A manufacturer's name and address is no guarantee of safety, but at least it lets you contact the company to try to remedy problems.

* Inspect labels and packaging. Missing or expired "use by" dates, broken or missing safety seals, misspellings, or unfamiliar or flimsy packaging for big-name brands should send up a warning flag.

* For electrical goods, look for the UL safety mark. A silver holographic seal is required on decorative lighting made worldwide and on fans, other lighting and the like made in China.

* It's especially hard to tell whether car parts are authentic. Use a mechanic who has been reliable, or a new one that comes with a recommendation.

The full report on counterfeit goods appeared in Consumer Reports magazine and is also available online at www.ConsumerReports.org.

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