For decades, the Imaging Supplies Coalition has targeted the growing sale and manufacture of counterfeit printer accessories—particularly ink. It’s an issue the White House is starting to focus on.
If you’ve tried to refill your inkjet printer using materials acquired from Amazon and other sources, you might not be aware of the minefield that’s facing you.
Long story short, it’s very easy to accidentally buy counterfeit ink online without even realizing it. A recent article from OneZero highlighted the nature of this issue. As veteran tech journalist Lance Ulanoff put it:
Search results for ink or toner cartridges in Amazon, Google, and eBay are a mix of legitimate and counterfeit supplies, though there’s virtually no way for you to tell the difference until you get the cartridge in your hands or put it in your printer.
Fortunately for the printer industry, it has a dedicated group that’s remained laser-focused on the issues of counterfeiting and fraud affecting printers: the Imaging Supplies Coalition. Since 1998, ISC has operated a program called “When in Doubt … Check it Out,” in which the coalition accepts printing supplies for verification purposes. This approach has helped the industry uncover counterfeit materials that it was then able to get removed from the market.
And there are a lot of counterfeit ink cartridges in play: ISC says that 8 percent of the devices it’s tested in the program have proven to be counterfeit, and it’s uncovered millions of dollars in counterfeit goods. Even that, according to ISC’s estimates, is a drop in the bucket: It says that more than $3 billion is lost annually due to counterfeit printer supplies.
So why is the problem so pervasive? Because ink cartridges are often very expensive, while printers tend to be inexpensive. The reason for this comes down to the fact that the full cost of the printer is hidden from consumers upon initial purchase and added to the cost of those ink and toner cartridges. That printer may cost $150, but the margins aren’t very high—the printer industry makes those back from all the ink it sells—and some variants of printers, particularly inkjets, require more ink than others. This leads consumers to try to look for a deal, and the sellers with the best deal tend to be counterfeiters.
“The internet and e-commerce made it easier,” ISC President Allen D. Westerfield told the outlet.
As Ulanoff’s report notes, printer companies that are members of ISC—including HP, Xerox, and Lexmark—often have to put in a lot of on-the-ground work to shut down these counterfeit sellers, which often seem legitimate from the outside. This requires coordination, including in the form of working with local police, and sometimes involves raids.
On the plus side, counterfeiting is increasingly being taken seriously, with President Donald Trump recently signing a memorandum targeting illegal trafficking of goods via online marketplaces such as “Alibaba, Amazon, and eBay.”
“This is a warning shot across the bow that it is your job to police these matters, and if you won’t clean it up the government will,” White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro said in comments reported by CNN.