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An In-depth Look at Dangerous Counterfeit Products and Effective Security Measures to Lessen Their Proliferation

Counterfeit pills under a magnifying glass

Counterfeit products represent an increasingly troubling global problem. They not only undermine the economy but also pose serious health and safety risks. Fake goods can lead to real dangers, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. In order of the number of seizures of health and safety products in 2022, U.S. Customs noted:

  • 67.2 percent were pharmaceuticals.
  • 14 percent came from consumer electronics
  • 5.5 percent were related to automotive/aerospace parts
  • 4.6 percent were consumer products, like cosmetics

We’ll take a look at the most dangerous counterfeit products, namely medications/pharmaceuticals, automotive parts, electronics, and cosmetics. Our team will also discuss how advanced security measures, such as advanced fluorescent taggants and dyes, can alleviate these concerns.

The Dark Side of Counterfeit Medications

Counterfeit medications represent a top health hazard. Estimates say that 10.5% of the worldwide medicine supply is counterfeit. A full 80% of rogue online pharmacies target English-speaking countries and developed economies, with 13.6% of counterfeit medicines distributed to developing countries. Approximately 1 million people die every year due to counterfeit medications, 200,000 of which live in Africa. In the United States, fentanyl-laced pills have become a nationwide epidemic, with up to 20% of counterfeit pills containing this deadly drug.

These bogus drugs often present as authentic but are made with incorrect dosages, hazardous substances, or a lack of active ingredients. The rising sophistication of counterfeiters makes it increasingly challenging for unsuspecting organizations to discern the difference between authentic and counterfeit medications.  

Counterfeiters can mimic the packaging and appearance of the original drugs so precisely that even discerning vendors further along the supply chain can be duped. This alarming trend underscores the urgent need for advanced technologies to secure the pharmaceutical supply chain, ensuring the safety of consumers. 

Counterfeit drugs become increasingly harder to track the closer they get to being in consumers’ hands. However, a cost-effective strategy for anti-counterfeiting at the wholesale level comes from a layered security approach that can ensure the authenticity of shipments from port to warehouse to retailer. 

The Threat of Counterfeit Automotive Parts

The dangers associated with counterfeit automotive parts cannot be overstated. In 2018, 36,000 deaths and 1.5 million injuries were attributed to counterfeit automotive parts. India alone, soon to be the world’s most populous country, estimated that 20% of all automotive parts in that country are fake.

These inferior-quality replacements for genuine parts are notorious for their unpredictability and high failure rates, often leading to disastrous outcomes. German automaker BMW showed the difference between original and counterfeit brake pads in a video. The fake one lasted just three drives while almost doubling the braking distance. 

Counterfeit versions of everything from brake pads to seat belts are flooding the market, with unassuming consumers being the unsuspecting victims. Since these components play a pivotal role in ensuring a vehicle’s safety, using unreliable, counterfeit alternatives could result in serious or fatal accidents. Not only do these counterfeits put lives at risk, but they also contribute to the erosion of trust in the automotive industry, suppliers, manufacturers, and even dealerships. 

Electronic Devices: An Untold Hotbed for Counterfeits

The proliferation of counterfeit electronic devices is a growing concern in today’s tech-driven world. From faux smartphones and laptops to imitation headphones and batteries, these counterfeit goods are more than just a matter of compromised performance. What happens if a battery explodes when a live-streamer is wearing wireless headphones? These fraudulent items typically utilize subpar components, posing serious safety risks, as they are prone to overheating, catching fire, or, in extreme cases, exploding. 

Counterfeit electronics contribute to more than 70 deaths and 350,000 serious injuries in the United States alone. These can be from TVs, phones, electronic scooters with larger batteries, and toys. 

The Hidden Dangers in Counterfeit Cosmetics

Counterfeit cosmetics, alarmingly prevalent in the beauty industry, are often tantalizingly priced, making them a seemingly irresistible bargain for consumers. The industry loses around $5.4 billion annually due to counterfeiting. Counterfeit cosmetics may contain bacteria, lead, beryllium, and other harmful substances, according to the State of New York. Arsenic, mercury, urine, and even rat droppings might be found in counterfeit cosmetics, leading to severe reactions, infections, chemical burns, and possibly severe long-term health implications. 

Layered Security Approach: Fluorescent Taggants and Dyes

As industries grapple with the dangers of counterfeit products, they’re increasingly adopting a multi-tiered security strategy that incorporates the use of fluorescent taggants and dyes. These markers, invisible to the naked eye, can be detected only under specific light conditions or with specialized equipment, rendering them difficult for counterfeiters to replicate. Taggants and dyes do not alter the product’s appearance, ensuring that the product’s aesthetic appeal remains intact.

Layered security can be deployed at the wholesale and retail level. Consider UV-detectable taggants on shipments entering and exiting ports, going through intermodal facilities, and arriving at warehouses. Let’s say there’s a UV-detectable barcode imprinted on each case. Your chosen UV light will illuminate the barcode, and then a scanner can scan the barcode to verify the shipment’s contents.

On the retail level, a small color-changing mark on the packaging, an overt security feature, can verify the authenticity of products once they get into the hands of individual customers. Having a QR code as part of intelligent packaging can also help individual consumers use their smartphones to verify the authenticity of individual SKUs.

Advanced fluorescence is becoming increasingly harder for counterfeiters using unique, uncopyable nanopatterns no more than 3 millimeters wide. There are even techniques that can imprint small amounts of safe fluorescent materials directly onto pills themselves without affecting their efficacy.

The challenge for counterfeiters to mimic these security measures aids in the reduction of fake products circulating in the market, safeguarding both industry reputation and consumer safety. Layered security continues to evolve as the adoption of advanced fluorescence techniques becomes more cost-effective and harder to defeat. 

Advanced Fluorescence Systems From Angstrom Technologies, Inc. 

How much did your company lose due to counterfeit products last year? Layered security is a cost-effective option to help prevent counterfeiting at the wholesale and retail levels.

Our team of top Ph.D. chemists can help your company or organization develop a layered security approach using advanced fluorescence dyes, inks, or taggants that work for your requirements at the wholesale or retail level.  

Contact us or call 859-282-0020 to talk to our team. 

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