When electricians inadvertently install fake circuit breakers, the consequences can be severe. Not only can counterfeit breakers cause fires, but they can also lead to life-threatening injuries or death. Still, brands can protect consumers with new tech.


The challenge is implementing an ecosystem of solutions to leverage technology and outwit counterfeiters. At this time, widely adopted anti-counterfeit measures lack the necessary efficiency to stop fraud before fake circuit breakers reach the market. The good news is that brands can deploy new anti-counterfeit tech to strengthen their security posture. Otherwise, counterfeiters will ply their criminal trade with impunity, and ultimately, consumers pay the price when breakers malfunction.


What are the risks if circuit breakers are counterfeit?

Circuit breakers are used everywhere in homes and businesses, including industrial facilities and construction sites where worker safety is paramount. Indeed, the main risks of using fraudulent circuit breakers revolve around health and safety. A malfunctioning circuit breaker won’t prevent a circuit from overloading, overheating, and causing an electrical fire, which is a particularly dangerous hazard. An electrical fire is treacherous for many reasons, and they’re a real risk when using forged circuit breakers.


Aside from the risk of starting fires, counterfeit circuit breakers can lead to electrical shock. If the human body comes into contact with any current above 5 milliamps, the shock is painful at the very least. In a worst-case scenario, a greater load can cause severe burns, heart failure, and death. Nevertheless, it is possible to protect end users by identifying mock goods in the supply chain. The downside is that these goods remain in circulation, as evidenced by the following real examples.


Real examples of fake circuit breakers

The majority of fraudulent electronics are sold through legitimate channels, and online retail only makes it more difficult to tell whether or not the products are authentic. According to a report by CSC, as many as 64 percent of fraudulent electronics pass-through genuine retailers to reach consumers. The counterfeiters count on people not questioning the product if it looks the part, and fakes are reasonable facsimiles at a glance. But when you open them, you’ll find a few of the required electrical components to make a safe circuit breaker.


Types of counterfeit circuit breakers

One way criminals will attempt to fabricate fraudulent breakers is to mimic the entire item. The plastic casing may be completely phony, but it still pulls people into a false sense of security. Counterfeiters depend on people trusting the branding and not opening up the device. One high-profile case in the U.S. involved a major reseller knowingly peddling fraudulent circuit breakers, so the con can happen at any point in the product’s lifecycle, even among authorized channels.


Furthermore, any interior component can be phony, whether it’s a phony tripping mechanism or a counterfeit arc plate. You can find a prime example of a mock circuit breaker in this brief video. Some mock breakers seem real, but when you pick them up, you can tell that they’re not as heavy as they ought to be. That’s because the inner components are sparse and barely perform as intended, if at all. In this video, you can see that the inner components form a simple switch, not a real device. Still, the product feels authentic since the switch mimics the action of a functional breaker.


What solutions are currently used?

The issue at hand is that oversight and regulations vary widely from nation to nation. Whereas tracking and tracing capabilities are required by law in the U.S. and Europe, other countries have no such laws in place to safeguard the electronics supply chain. Ideally, a manufacturer would want to hold distributors and logistics providers accountable when fakes reach the market, yet criminals still find ways to exploit lackluster tracking and tracing. Clearly, a new approach is warranted.


The current anti-counterfeit measures to secure the supply chain are insufficient when trying to thwart sophisticated counterfeiters who constantly search for ways to circumvent safeguards. Indeed, the threat is persistent, so businesses would do well to improve their security measures throughout the supply chain. The problem is that the most widely deployed anti-counterfeit techniques are easier to replicate than before, leading to a dangerously false sense of security.


For instance, criminals can readily fabricate holograms that look authentic. Without a way to tell if the marking is real, consumers won’t be able to authenticate it. Humans don’t perform well when comparing macro details like small printing. A product may have misspellings and other inconsistencies that the untrained eye won’t see right away. As such, it’s incumbent upon manufacturers to implement new tech to spot unsafe circuit breakers before they reach legitimate distribution channels.


The better solution is to deploy covert anti-counterfeit systems, and brands can begin addressing the problem sooner with an ecosystem of software from AlpVision: AlpVision Fingerprint and our Brand Monitoring System.


AlpVision Fingerprint Physical Products Protection

AlpVision Fingerprint – our sophisticated anti-counterfeit solution that identifies fake goods at the product level – is vital software to add to your brand’s anti-counterfeit repertoire. The system relies on pinpointing the intrinsic microscopic defects in the molds for plastics. Specifically, the software detects the structure of the mold, so only a few reference images can protect the entire product.


As an example, the solution can determine whether or not the plastic outer casing and toggles are real. The software references the images of the mold’s structure to determine if identical microscopic imperfections exist. If so, the item is authentic, but if not, it’s an issue to address. This capability works well when identifying which suppliers are dishonest and which are genuine. If the plastic casing is genuine, but the internal components are altered, you’ll be able to spot the offender.


Moreover, AlpVision Fingerprint is extraordinarily difficult for criminals to mimic the one-of-a-kind defects in plastic molds not visible to the naked eye. The random manufacturing processes that create the plastics, such as electro-erosion, are very challenging to copy. But with AlpVision Fingerprint, you can authenticate items extremely fast using a smartphone app.

This kind of tech is not widely available to con artists, so companies can gain a clear advantage, especially when implemented alongside additional AlpVision solutions like our Brand Monitoring System.


AlpVision Brand Monitoring System – BMS

Global enterprises require global solutions that will integrate well with their current anti-counterfeit measures. AlpVision BMS is a server-based web application that allows brands to monitor activity online, collecting statistics and authenticating products when the system flags potential fakes. Essentially, that’s how the solution works at a high level, but AlpVision BMS can provide additional protections as well when it comes to brand protection.


AlpVision BMS helps you identify fraudulent products, but it will also integrate well with additional solutions, such as AlpVision Fingerprint. If you have a custom IT architecture, our brand monitoring software can also accommodate other tools, including secure QR codes, 2-D dot matrices, or a covert countermeasure.


Nonetheless, the best solutions should be able to authenticate data and collect them while providing real-time notifications. AlpVision BMS also provides secure encryption, allowing you access to real-time information and alerts from any part of the world. With AlpVision’s online brand protection system, you can find opportunities for continuous improvement with a holistic view of the supply chain.


If you’d like to learn more details about our anti-counterfeit solutions, contact us to see how AlpVision’s tech can strengthen countermeasures.

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