spotting a fake ul label extension cord christmas lightsMaking cheap knockoffs isn't limited to designer fashion, as a New Jersey sweep of urban discount stores this month found. The sweep revealed that holiday lights, Christmas decorations and other electrical items had counterfeit Underwriters Laboratory labels on them.

The real labels, with their familiar "UL," are meant to assure consumers bought products that met certain standards. The phony labels mean those products may not be up to safety standards, according to the state's attorney general.
Counterfeiting a safety tag has a double impact on consumers.

"The UL Mark is a mark of safety," Underwriters Laboratory Consumer Safety Director John Drengenberg said in a phone interview. "It's not just an economic thing. It could hurt somebody."

Drengenberg told Consumer Ally the group usually sees fake UL marks on items that can be made in high volume for a low cost -- things like extension cords, Christmas lights and power strips.

"Counterfeiters are after money and that is where the money is," he said. While rare -- about 20 billion UL Marks go on products each year and fake marks are just a "tiny fraction" of those -- the counterfeit marks will usually show up on products at deep discount stores and flea markets, not the national retailers. "We do want to make sure that consumers look for the safety mark."

Drengenberg gave the following tips on what consumers can look for when shopping:
  • The current UL Mark for items that include power cords, power strips, night lights and Christmas lights is a gold hologram with color-shifting ink. So be suspicious if you see something that doesn't have that hologram.
  • If you see bad grammar or spelling on the product or label, that also could be a clue.
  • Another thing to look for is the manufacturer's name and address. A legitimate manufacturer is going to want repeat business and will list its contact info.
  • Be wary if you buy things in bulk, because that a common way for counterfeiters to sell their goods.
  • When in doubt, buy from retailers you know and trust.
In the New Jersey sweep, state consumer affairs investigators bought 179 items from 43 dollar stores in Paterson, Newark, Trenton and Camden and of those products, seven -- strings of lights, Christmas tree toppers and a baseball night light -- had fake UL Marks. The four stores where the products were found have since removed those products from their shelves.

"Consumers depend on the UL label as proof that a product meets UL's standards," New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said in a statement. "When that label, or the labels of other testing organizations, are falsely applied to untested products, the public is defrauded and, of greater concern, placed at unnecessary risk."

In August, thousands of circuit breakers were recalled because they were counterfeit, putting homes across the nation at risk of fires.

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