Counterfeit Christmas lights may be posing a hazard in some homes this season. New Jersey officials conducting a sweep of urban discount stores found holiday lights, decorations and other electrical items that bear counterfeit labels of the Underwriters Laboratory (UL) testing organization.

Since the lights and cords haven't really been tested, it's possible they pose a fire hazard.

Millions of products and their components are tested to UL's safety standards and those that have been certified as safe may carry the UL seal. Manufacturers are not only misleading consumers when they fraudulently place the seal on their product, but could be putting consumers at risk.

New Jersey Department of Consumer Affairs investigators purchased 179 items from 43 dollar stores in Paterson, Newark, Trenton and Camden and sent the products to UL to determine if any bear counterfeit labels. UL found seven items with the UL logo on their packaging, but counterfeit UL labels attached to the products.

"Consumers depend on the UL label as proof that a product meets UL's standards," New Jersey Attorney General Paula T. Dow said. "When that label, or the labels of other testing organizations, are falsely applied to untested products, the public is defrauded and, of greater concern, placed at unnecessary risk."

Big business

Counterfeit consumer products make up a huge black market industry. Counterfeit goods generate hundreds of billions of dollars in sales each year, making up about  seven percent of all global trade, according to a recent report by the business news cable channel CNBC. At U.S. ports alone, counterfeit products seized in 2009 had an estimated street value of more than $260 million.

Besides knockoffs of designer shoes and handbags, counterfeiters also produce electrical devices, such as extension cords. Instead of using copper, they use cheaper wire that is prone of overheating and could catch fire.

The stores selling the items with counterfeit UL labels cooperated with New Jersey investigators, removing all such items from store shelves and providing their purchasing records to the state. The Department of Consumer Affairs said it will notify the Customs and Border Patrol within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security since these products are imported.

"We're committed to keeping counterfeit, and potentially unsafe, products away from consumers," said Thomas R. Calcagni, Acting Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs. "A counterfeit label attached to an item is a deliberate attempt to deceive consumers and to commit fraud in violation of our state law."

The stores where products with counterfeit UL labels were found and removed from shelves are as follows:

  • D&D 99 Cent store, 181 Market St., Paterson;  Multicolor 140 Count Musical Christmas lights and Rainbow Light 12 Foot Rope.
  • 99 Cents Shop & Up,123 Main St., Paterson; 10 Light Multi Tree Top and Red Blue Green 100 Light String Lights
  • Dollar Classic, 154 Bloomfield Ave, Newark; 10 Light Multi Tree Top and Multicolor 100 Count Christmas string lights
  • Jersey Dollar, 1960 Olden Ave Ext., Ewing; Sunlite Baseball Night Light




According to statistics released by the Electrical Safety Foundation International (ESFI), while 71 percent of people report that they are likely to use at least one extension cord for their holiday decorations, 33 percent of people are unlikely or very unlikely to check for a certification laboratory approval mark on the extension cords, lights and decorations they own or plan to buy.

An estimated 3,300 residential fires originate from extension cords each year, killing and injuring more than 300 people, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.