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Counterfeit batteries: can you tell the real from the fake?

We’ve all heard stories about laptops suddenly bursting into flames, and a risk of cell phones exploding if you answer a call while at the gas pump. Well, the use of counterfeit batteries could be the cause of some of those problems, a problem that’s common in the camera and camera accessory industries. To educate consumers, Canon is taking measures to provide information about the dangers of using counterfeit products.

Canon posted several pages on its website that describe what could happen when you buy a cheap non-Canon battery on eBay or even Amazon. Instead of powering your camera, it could fry it instead or – possibly worse – cause a fire. You could argue that this is just Canon’s sly way of scaring consumers into buying only Canon-authorized accessories, but we aren’t talking about counterfeit printer ink cartridges or luxury handbags – these are things that could potentially be harmful. (Counterfeit products that look like Canon’s also damages the company’s brand as consumers unknowingly believe they are using actual Canon-branded good, another reason why Canon is taking this seriously from a marketing standpoint.)

This is not a new problem, and Canon is not the first camera manufacturer to warn consumers against buying off-brand parts that don’t stand up to the safety standards of the goods provided by the manufacturer. Nikon posted an information section on its website way back in 2007, and updated the page in the fall of 2011.

Canon’s tone is more cautionary where Nikon’s is slightly more accusatory. Nikon posted in its Q&A section that it recuses itself from any liability from the use of non-Nikon products. “Nikon bears no liability for accidents or damage that occurs as a result of the use of counterfeit accessories, including those shown in this article, or other non-Nikon accessories,” it says on the page. Still, the warning is the same.

Canon takes a more concerned public relations approach. “Canon takes safety seriously and, as good corporate citizens, we want to inform and educate so that consumers are aware of the risks counterfeit products pose,” said Canon’s executive vice president Yuichi Ishizuka in a statement. “We will be rolling out an initiative over the next few months, encouraging consumers to help play it safe with genuine Canon power when making an investment in a camera or camcorder and its accessories, so that they may continue to enjoy the quality experience they expect from us.”

In the image here and above, the batteries on the left are genuine. Despite some noticeable differences when placed side-by-side, it’s difficult to tell if a product is actually fake, yet the consequences could be dire.

The campaign, “Play it safe. Power your Canon with Canon Power,” will continue to be updated over the next few months. The campaign began with a listing of frequently counterfeited batteries and chargers, and also includes a list of “10 Ways to Help Avoid Counterfeit Accessories.” The list includes purchasing from authorized dealers, or directly from the manufacturer; being careful when buying from foreign sites; and the cautionary “Beware of ‘too good to be true’ prices.“

The guide offers practical information. While it is catered toward Canon products and accessories, it applies to any consumer electronics that rely on batteries. This cottage industry of selling inexpensive batteries and accessories is a lucrative one, and it appeals to consumers who are looking to save money, but the dangers posed by faulty products outweighs any cost benefits they provide.