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Identify Imitations To Avoid Counterfeit Parts
Counterfeit parts can look genuine, but often small differences in a package or in labeling will show them not to be authentic.

Counterfeit merchandise is a growing, global problem across almost all industries. The broad range of counterfeit parts and products indicates that counterfeiters are increasingly targeting markets for luxury items and consumer goods. Counterfeiting costs Americans billions of dollars a year and has harmful effects throughout the economy. Fake products can expose consumers to serious health and safety risks. Moreover, terrorist networks often use counterfeit sales to finance their operations.

Avoiding Counterfeits
As with other industries, counterfeiting has become a serious obstacle for manufacturers, distributors, and consumers of electronic components. How can consumers of electronic components protect themselves from the glut of imitation components flooding the market? The simplest answer is to not buy or use counterfeit components, but this requires the capability of identifying counterfeit components. Avoiding counterfeit components requires developing the capability to identify the imitations, and to only buy from authorized distributors and/or the manufacturers they represent.

According to industry standard SAE AS5553, a counterfeit part is a copy or substitute without legal right or authority, or one whose material, performance, or characteristics are knowingly misrepresented by a supplier in the supply chain. Examples of counterfeit parts include electronic devices lacking the proper semiconductor die or wire bonds; parts that have been used, refurbished, or reclaimed and are represented as new; and parts with different packages or finishes than the genuine component. In addition, counterfeit parts are those that have not successfully completed the Original Component Manufacturer’s (OCM) full production and test flow but are represented as completed product; they might be parts sold as upscreened parts that have not successfully completed an upscreening process; or they might be parts sold with modified labels or markings intended to misrepresent the form, fit, function, or grade of the component.

Counterfeit components can originate from a number of different sources, including from the hundreds of thousands of computers that are disposed of daily in this country alone. The electronic waste is typically exported to China by way of Hong Kong, where recycling of chips and other electronic components is a multibillion-dollar-per-year industry. Recycling houses work to make these salvaged components look new again for resale to unknowing customers. A way to avoid counterfeit components is by learning how to spot them. Knowing what constitutes a real component can be helpful in identifying phony parts.

Inspection of documentation and packaging information can help uncover counterfeit parts. For example, lot and/or date codes on packaging may not match the lot and/or date codes on the parts. A manufacturer’s logo may be missing from the parts, or poorly drawn. The documentation may contain poor English or misspelled words. Bar codes on documentation may not match the printed part numbers. The package materials may also be inconsistent with descriptions provided on the product data sheets.

Visual Inspection
Performing a visual inspection can also help reveal counterfeit parts. For example, a counterfeit may suffer from poor-quality ink or laser marking, or the package may have scratches on the surface, or bent leads or inconsistent or incomplete plating on the package leads. The part may show uneven top and/or bottom coating or inconsistent texture or color between the coating on the top and bottom sides. Carefully examining a part can expose the tell-tale signs of a counterfeit component.

Of course, the most important protection against counterfeit parts is to buy only from authorized component sources. As a product moves down the supply chain, away from its manufacturer, traceability of the product’s origin becomes more difficult to establish. Buying from a manufacturer ensures that the product is genuine. But manufacturers often do not sell directly to consumers, selling them instead through distribution channels.

Authorized distributors have been formally authorized to sell products from specific manufacturers with which they have a distribution agreement. When buying from an authorized distributor, such as Allied Electronics, a customer can be confident that the distributor and manufacturer of the part are working closely to provide a genuine part. But the term “authorized” can have different meanings to different people. For those who may be unsure if a distributor is truly authorized for a particular manufacturer and its part, numerous steps can be taken:

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