This is a question we seem to ask ourselves more and more each day, in both our personal and professional lives. It sounds harsh, but how much can you trust anyone these days to knowingly or unknowingly victimize you?
Buying components from non-franchised sources, like carrying your social security card in your wallet these days, is risky business. Counterfeit parts, while not a new problem for the electronics' industry, is one that has gotten worse, due to the major production shift to China, with its loose enforcement of intellectual property laws and convoluted supply chains.
Can you trust the source that has always supplied you with quality components from the original manufacturer will be able to do so?
There's only two sure ways: purchase directly from the manufacturer or from a franchised distributor. The franchised distributor can also purchase from another franchised distributor that has been identified by the original manufacturer.
It's not that brokers or other sources are necessarily dishonest, it's the fact they typically can't provide real traceability, as they themselves don't know the original source of the parts. eBay and other Internet sites should also be avoided for the same reasons. Passive components (especially surface mount products) are easy marks for counterfeiters. Once they come off a reel, there's no marking on the individual part.
There is, of course, a great temptation to source from the so-called “gray market” when the parts you need are in short supply or if your company was quoted a low-ball price. And some buyers in purchasing departments get paid on PPV (purchase price variance), but it only takes one counterfeit component that's not performing to your specifications to take down a whole line. And if that component finds its way onto the market and out to customers, it's likely to cause even costlier problems with service calls and warranty issues, maybe even leading to a recall.
NEDA (National Electronic Distributions Assn.) took a strong position on this matter. It provides a simple letter to be used by distributors to communicate the confidence the customer should have buying from an authorized, franchised distributor. You can find the letter here.
On a personal note, my wife and I have lived the “who can you trust” question the last eight months, as victims of identity theft. Somehow, a thief got my social security number and ordered four new cell phones to ship to an address 30 miles from my home. I discovered this when my cell phone provider called me to apologize for only being able to ship the phones to my billing address. We immediately froze our credit files, but were not told the freeze was only good for six months. The thief apparently knew this and proceeded to order eight computers after the freeze expired, to be sent to the same address as in the first incidence. Police in both jurisdictions have said this address is likely a “drop.” The thief hangs out, waiting for the UPS truck to pull up, and then signs for the delivery.
Makes protecting yourself from counterfeit components sound easy, doesn't it?