How to Detect Counterfeit Electronics

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As we mentioned in a blog post recently, counterfeit electronics are becoming more and more common. This affects everything, from personal computers and phones to military and medical equipment. Complicating things further is that every piece of electronic equipment is made up of many parts, and most of those parts are made of, even more, smaller parts. Resistors, circuits, silicon boards, batteries, and sensors, not to mention the glass and casing, make up the cell phone that’s sitting right next to me as I write this on a laptop which contains many more different kinds of components. For the average person, this is entirely too much to keep track of, especially since most of us aren’t making our own equipment.

At the smallest level, though, are parts that are needed for people who make the equipment. People like hobbyists all the way on up to engineers need reliable components when they build circuit boards and other electronic parts. Integrated circuits, capacitors, resistors, etc. all need to be manufactured correctly so they can make a functioning whole. Things to look out for include incorrect part numbers, pre-soldered pins, off-looking packaging, bad ink, and wrong logos. Many of these parts enter the supply chain because they’re used parts sold as new, repurposed reject parts, or good old-fashioned copies of brand name parts.

While hobbyists and engineers have their own purchases to watch out for, the rest of us need to be wary of fake electronics, too. Whether we’re buying a new TV, phone, computer, air conditioner, or a fancy cappuccino maker, there is always someone out there looking to offload their lemons. Many of these are also copies and used goods, but sometimes you get extra unlucky and that PlayStation you got from your friend’s cousin’s neighbor is really just a casing filled with rocks. While that last scenario is admittedly rare (but not unheard of!), counterfeit goods are always present.

Many of the tips I outlined earlier apply to consumer electronics – if the packaging looks off, or the logos are misshapen or even a slightly wrong color, then it’s better to play it safe and not buy that product. This should go without saying, but you want to have a good look at the box. If you’re buying used goods, especially from other people, then you’ll almost certainly be out of luck if that robot vacuum turns out to be a “Doomba.” Always make sure that you’re allowed to test a used electronic before paying for it, as well, especially when it comes to used ones.

You also want to be careful of how you buy things. Online retailers like Amazon and eBay are home to many independent sellers, and this is well known. However, what takes many people by surprise is finding out the items they bought online from Walmart or Target came from an independent seller. While there’s nothing inherently wrong in shopping online, you want to make sure that whatever site you’re buying things from has a good track record for helping customers, especially when purchases go awry. Whether it’s a brick and mortar store or an online retailer, always confirm what the return policy is and whether that covers open or used goods.

Finally, prices that seem too good to be true often are. If you’re saving a lot of money on something that is normally very expensive, then you may be getting exactly what you’re paying for. Cheap knock-offs have been a staple of human commerce for millennia. That doesn’t mean you have to suffer from it.

Virtually every industry on Earth relies on computers working properly. While there’s always a chance that we’ll be duped, there are steps to reduce the odds of it happening. It’s going to take a lot of vigilance and some new systems to consistently weed out counterfeit parts, but it’s an endeavor we need to undertake if we can trust our tools in the future.

At IDLogiq, we are endeavoring to make supply chains safe and traceable at every level, ensuring you are getting exactly what you purchased, from a singing teddy bear to a complex new emerging technology.