8 Steps to Detect & Avoid Counterfeits

In a previous blog, I discussed some of the factors behind the growing incidences of counterfeiting within the electronics industry. As noted, the industry has been teaming up with experts to fight the scourge with some modest success, but obviously there's more that can be done at the individual enterprise level. In this concluding blog on the subject, I offer eight steps companies can take to avoid buying fake parts and what they can do if they discover counterfeits in their inventory. (See: Steps to Creating a Counterfeit-Free Supply Chain.)

  1. Procurement (supplier selection):
  2. As part of your supplier selection process, you should seriously consider the type of supplier you want on your approved vendor list. No source can claim to be 100 percent secure, but the different component sources also have varying levels of risks. The Cyclops Electronics guide offers a series of questions that we would encourage buyers to ask their prospecting component suppliers, to help in understanding their background and history of counterfeit detection.

  3. Receiving, inspecting, and examining goods:
  4. Step 2 introduces potential buyers to the methods of counterfeiting, which are known to us and the ways in which we may be able to visually identify suspected parts. What we look for are methods used to disguise the counterfeit components as genuine pieces. Counterfeits can be difficult to spot at first glance and may often require more inspection. However, there can be clues on the components or in the accompanying paperwork that might help you. Be on the lookout for impossible date codes, discolorations, and any corrosion or peeling on the parts.

  5. Quality specifications:
  6. The Cyclops Electronics guide gives an overview to some certifications that you should expect a supplier to have, such as ISO 9001:2008 or AS5553 accreditations. These are designed to be strict requirements that distributors must conform to in order to mitigate the chances of receiving counterfeits in the supply chain.

  7. Traceability requirements:
  8. To protect themselves and their customers, component distributors should be 100 percent honest about the origin of the parts that they sell. Records regarding procurement should be maintained and kept accurate according to quality standard procedures. This information should be made available to customers when requested.

  9. Testing for counterfeits:
  10. There are many tests that can be done to detect counterfeit parts, and any serious component distributor should offer these services to customers. This could include electrical testing, such as the ABI electrical Sentry testing machine, or x-ray inspection. Alternatively, other methods include scanning electron microscopy (SEM) and XRF analysis, which is used to determine the chemicals found in a component to identify the RoHS status.

  11. Training and certification:
  12. Companies should be proactive in developing their own quality procedures to help curb the number of counterfeits in the supply chain. There are many organizations that can help you develop staff training programs that will give them an advantage in counterfeit detection. These organizations include the IDEA (Independent Distributors of Electronics Association) and the UKEA (UK Electronics Alliance).

  13. Planning, systems, and procedures:
  14. Develop an obsolescence program to manage product life cycles and assess the availability of genuine parts. Look at all the “trusted suppliers” of the parts and keep an eye on the availability of the parts. This will help you plan for obsolescence issues and avoid having to rely on “unknown suppliers” that make unrealistic claims about the availability of the parts you are looking for.

  15. Reporting counterfeit components:
  16. As mentioned earlier, many incidents of counterfeit parts in the supply chain go unreported as companies are concerned about refunds and reputation. Have the parts impounded or destroyed in order to break the cycle of counterfeiting. There are several associations that you can report suspected counterfeits to, including the ERAI (Electronic Resellers Association International) and the IDEA (Independent Distributors Electronics Association).

    Components buyers have a moral obligation to report counterfeits if they discover them. Similar fake parts may have gone undiscovered in other supply chains and may have been used in electronic manufacturing elsewhere. These tainted products may prove highly unreliable or even dangerous. By reporting the discovery of counterfeits to one of the associations mentioned, they can inform their members to take extra precautions when buying those parts.

For a free copy of the “8-Step Guide to Buying Electronic Components With Confidence and Avoiding Counterfeits,” visit Cyclops Electronics.

36 comments on “8 Steps to Detect & Avoid Counterfeits

  1. Barbara Jorgensen
    September 28, 2012

    Hi Beverly: There's been a lot of discussion recently on the kind of testing parts can/should receive. I guess I have a procedural question: should only suspect parts be tested, or all parts? Does the inspection escalate depending on the findings? Clearly, some testing might be redundant, but at the same time, how else can every handler of components testify to their authenticity unles they test parts themselves?

  2. hash.era
    September 29, 2012

    Good question Barbara. I feel all sectors should be tested equally since if you are to make a system which ahs less bugs, then a good testing process has to be implemented.

  3. hash.era
    September 30, 2012

    I really like the planing the system procedure factor since IMO I feel that is what we need to focus more on. If the planing is rightly done along with good system procedures then things will be much more easy

  4. ahdand
    September 30, 2012

    Great points and well explained. One question for you. Counterfeit reporting , how effective is that ? Does it directly involved or its just for reporting purposes ?

  5. ahdand
    September 30, 2012

    Yes hash if you are to drive a system which has the capability to destroy counterfeits then it shoul be tested very carefully

  6. _hm
    September 30, 2012


    If you are hand-on engineer, two practical steps are number 4 and 8. Other steps are more abstarct.


    September 30, 2012

    I also think item 7 is very important as it much easier to stay on top of things if you plan correctly with a good obsolesence strategy.  If you cannot find the normal parts it is too tempting to get them from wherever you can.

  8. SunitaT
    September 30, 2012

    @Beverley, thanks for the informative article. All  your suggestions are highly useful to detect and avoid counterfeits. I will definitely save  and share this article.

  9. SunitaT
    September 30, 2012

    Counterfeit reporting , how effective is that ? Does it directly involved or its just for reporting purposes ?

    @nimantha.d, i dont think its just for reporting purposes. I am sure assosciations like ERAI (Electronic Resellers Association International) and the IDEA (Independent Distributors Electronics Association) takes these feedback seriously and help identify and reduce counterfeit product.

  10. ITempire
    September 30, 2012

    Active reporting of counterfeits can help alot in the war against couterfeit products. If companies keep silence and bear the loss without any action on their part, the counterfeit industry will continue to thrive.

  11. ITempire
    September 30, 2012

    @ _hm

    As far as point 4 is concerned, 100% honesty is too much to expect from traders as most of them know the source of their buy and despite knowing that it is a counterfeit, they try to sell it at a price of genuine item.

  12. ITempire
    September 30, 2012

    @ Flyingscot

    If you cannot find the normal parts it is too tempting to get them from wherever you can.”

    You are right. For quality concious companies, the only situation when they are forced to buy counterfeit (despite knowing that) is when there is severe gap of demand and supply of components.

  13. Beverley Scott
    October 1, 2012

    Hi Barbara,

    When you can not for certain guarantee the origin or trace it back to the electronic component manufacturer the parts must be tested.  Even if you are dealing with a reliable supplier you may not have control or influence over your suppliers supplier. As mentioned previously no one test can guarantee 100% accuracy that it is authentic but sentry, x-ray etc. testing will give you a better chance of catching the problem.

  14. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 1, 2012

    Thanks Beverley!

  15. owen
    October 2, 2012

    “SIA was joined by representatives of Analog Devices, IBM and Rochester Electronics. We had a constructive discussion and emphasized the industry's commitment to working with DLA and other government agencies to address the problem of counterfeit semiconductors infiltrating the military supply chain. Unfortunately, however, despite strong arguments supporting industry's concerns regarding this new marking mandate, DLA remains committed to implementing this new requirement starting in November”. It's about time, we are at war, our warfighters are at risk, no more delays, just get it done.


  16. ddeisz
    October 2, 2012

    I find the step of electrical test (#5) the most interesting. It is interesting to me because no test house and no IDEA member has the original test program used by the OCM or their authorized sources.

    1. Exactly WHAT is being electrically tested?

    2. Where did this electrical test come from?

    3. Who is paying for what testing to be done?

    4. Does this include long-term reliability testing such as looking for ESD handling issues? These errors won't show up in simple electrical test.

    Buyer beware when purchasing a part from an IDEA member and they have “electrically tested” the parts. It's better than nothing, but it's a total variable in todays market with no approved standards for full electrical test. Electrical test is negotiated, primarily with competitve bids from test houses. The test houses compete, but they all do testing differently and NONE OF THEM HAVE THE ORIGINAL TEST PROGRAMS. They may not even have the original test platform and yes, this can make a difference too. I congratulate the author for having electrical test as an item, but too often it is dumbed down as a feel-good item when in fact it is much more complex of an issue.

  17. DavidF
    October 3, 2012

    I know of a test dystem that verifies components fast and accurately to their Specs. No false positives or negatives. Liobrary of components is over 50K parts!!!

  18. Beverley Scott
    October 3, 2012

    Hi ddeisz

    I agree in order to minimise counterfeits entering the supply chain standard tests should be undertaken on electronic components by the distributor. Our in house electrical testing machine from ABI named the SENTRY counterfeit IC detector can help detect counterfeit components.

    A wide range of packages can be tested including Dual In Line, SOIC, PLCC and BGA's. The machine allows us to measure the unique electrical signature of components allowing us to compare against known genuine components.

    Also if we discover components that we believe need further verification, we will offer further analysis such as X Ray & X Ray Fluorescence testing, Destructive Analysis, Thermal Cycle Testing, Burn In and Fine Gross Leak.

    The electrical testing is standard within the Cyclops quality procedures and as mentioned, once again, no test can guarantee 100% that a component is authentic . However, all measures should be taken to minimise the risk.

    For more information on the SENTRY machine click here

  19. bolaji ojo
    October 3, 2012

    ddeisz, I think No. 4 question on your list is probably one of the most important ones the distribution market and customers are avoiding. Who's going to pay for tests and who will stand by the results of such tests. The component buyer isn't going to pay for tests because they believe they automatically should get authentic parts while the components suppliers will never admit to being used as the conduit for fake parts. Distributors too (unless they are shady ones) will not readily admit to being the source of fake parts entering the system. So, where does the buck stop?

  20. bolaji ojo
    October 3, 2012

    DavidF, People often regard warily any system or anyone that claims to be able to quickly test and confirm the authenticity of anything, not to mention parts. Some experts believe the component may even work as intended but does that mean it is genuinely from the vendor? There are counterfeits that are so well made they even fool the original manufacturer!

  21. DavidF
    October 3, 2012

    Bolaji, I think we all agree that no one test alone is sufficient in all cases. I am just suggesting that one quick way to see if it is going to function is to plug it in and exercise it before spending the money for the other test methods whose capitol equipment costs are > 50k and often over 100K.

  22. bolaji ojo
    October 3, 2012

    DavidF, You are right and thanks for the clarification. I believe most experts on anti-counterfeiting would agree with the position that a quick and inexpensive test should first be carried out on suspected counterfeit parts before a more intense and likely expensive test is carried out. The most basic one is just to see if it works. If it doesn't work, it may be because of a variety of factors but at least it can be put aside for additional testing. This is also another way to isolate an entire batch for review.

  23. ddeisz
    October 3, 2012

    The ABI system is based on a software library of parts for comparison generated by ABI and not the original semiconductor manufacturer. The comparison they are doing to what they think is a good enough set of characteristics. It may or may not be the extent to which the original product was tested. It is better than doing no electrical test and probably reasonable for simple devices, but it does not test for long-term reliability and handling issues and it is not what the original OCM did for testing the product. 

    There is no easy pill to swallow on genuinely doing full electrical testing, specifically for long-term reliability and handling issues.

    This ABI system is a nice baby-step, but it does not cover all the electrical testing issues and certainly does not cover all parts.

    Dan Deisz

    Rochester Electronics

  24. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 3, 2012

    Testing may also have to include test for a specific application. I recently heard a story where a defense contractor was testing a COTS part for a defense appication. The part kept burning out. So, as many of our readers point out here, making sure something works is only part of the solution.

  25. hash.era
    January 30, 2013

    I dont think it will ever get involved nimanthad

  26. ahdand
    February 2, 2013

    Why not Hash ? Do you mean to say it does not have any chance or it does not have the capabilities to be so ?

  27. hash.era
    February 3, 2013

    Capabilities Im not sure though but Im pretty sure that the current situation will not be the ideal. So you can put it as no chance.

  28. ahdand
    February 4, 2013

    Hash: I agree that the time is not that good but I feel taking chances is something which you should do if you are to remain in contention in the market.

  29. hash.era
    February 4, 2013

    nimantha.d: Its an option. I dont see it as a must since there are so many other ways to do things if one goes wrong.

  30. Adeniji Kayode
    February 4, 2013

    @ Bolaji,

    I agree seeing a component work might be a vital part of test but then some component will work at that point but will fail over time.

    I feel the test of time may not be a bad idea.

  31. ahdand
    February 5, 2013

    Hash.era: Yes there are other ways and this is just an entity out of those lot, but still I wont rate this to the top

  32. hash.era
    February 5, 2013

    Can you tell me why please because I do not see any valid reason for why not from my point of view.

  33. ahdand
    February 6, 2013

    When you have so many options you just cannot rate one out of that as the 1st prefference or likining list.

  34. ahdand
    February 6, 2013

    Good point but when you something which has a good demand or a trend which favors it, dont you think it should be at the top of the priority list ?

  35. ahdand
    February 7, 2013

    Also taking into consideration that the movements too are favorable towards your side.

  36. ahdand
    February 10, 2013

    Adeniji: I see your point. I think its happening becasue it has not gone through a proper testing cycle for a long term.

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