Counterfeit Gadgets: A Good Deal on Electronics Could Put You At Risk

For many of us, our lives are filled with the electronic gadgets we need: our cell phones, laptop computers, and digital cameras. But your next buy could put you at risk from electric shock, fire, or even an explosion because that gadget could be a cheap knock-off!

In his spare time, Matt Riopelle loves to snap pictures and shoot quick flicks. After buying a high-speed digital camera, he was in the market for a memory card.

"I needed a specific card," he recalls.

Matt found a great deal on the web from what appeared to be a reputable seller, but when the product came to his door he was suspicious that his memory card was a knockoff and not the real deal.

Therese Randazzo with U.S. Customs and Border Protection says that counterfeit technology is becoming a huge problem in the United States.

"Last year, Customs and Border Protection with respect to counterfeit technology products seized over $9,000,000 worth of goods, 350 seizures," she says.

Everything from memory sticks, computers and cell phone batteries to DVD and MP3 players have been found.

"There's a manufacturer, usually overseas, that is re-labeling no name brands, and what they do is they slap a label that you recognize on it," says PC World Magazine's Anush Yegyazarian.

Perhaps the best way to know if you're getting ripped off is to look at the manufacturers website, or come into a retail store. Take a look at the object you're planning on buying, because you might know, there's something small missing.

"In store, it will have a name and a couple of emblems [customers] recognize the product by. But if you go and buy it somewhere else, it might have the same name, but [the markings] might be a different shape or the other direction," says Scott Steger, general manager of Tyler's Best Buy store.

It's the packaging that tipped off Matt. He compared his memory card to one he knew was legit...and it was quite obvious he'd been had. And he's worried after talking to other victims of the same seller.

"A lot of people did say that within the first few months that their card quit working. So, I'm hoping that's not the case with me."

Steger says all kinds of electronics from car stereos to cell phones can be phonies.

"When you're buying something outside of a regular retailer, you're taking the chance of getting something that's not a name brand or it might not be the same product," he says.

Even low-price brands will have a website and a phone number on the packaging. And when it comes to chargers for laptops and cell phones, Steger says shoddy knock-offs can be dangerous.

"Battery explosions could be big when it comes to batteries, phone chargers, if you have something that catches fire in your car, you not only will lose that charger, you will have some serious damage to your automobile," he says.

U.S. Customs and Border Enforcement's Therese Randazzo says: "If you're unlucky with one of these types of products it can present shock hazards to you, fire hazards in your home."

Within the past two years, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has received more than 130 reports of injuries from cell phone batteries and chargers overheating. So what can you do to protect yourself and your technology?

First, take a look at the price. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

"Know where you're buying from. Know the store. Don't automatically go to a no-name place," says PC World's Yegyazarian.

Reported by Morgan Palmer.