Filter it Out
AHAM and its member companies are spearheading a public education campaign to inform and educate consumers about the problem of counterfeit refrigerator water filters. It’s a widespread issue that has the potential to expose consumers to serious risks.
The issue of counterfeit and deceptive filters was brought to our attention recently by several AHAM members, who had discovered a proliferation of unreliable online websites selling replacement filters that appear identical to their brands. While it’s difficult to pinpoint how many counterfeit or deceptive filters have made their way into consumers’ homes, the potential is significant, as an estimated 90% of replacement filters are purchased online.
The counterfeits, unsurprisingly, don’t offer anywhere near the quality of the brands they’re imitating. But it isn’t just an issue of a consumer not getting what they paid for. It can have negative health consequences. NSF conducted a study comparing counterfeit and deceptive filters to their legitimate counterparts. The NSF 53 standard requires filters to remove 93.3% of lead from water through filtering of 400 gallons. The counterfeit and deceptive models that were tested came nowhere near meeting that standard. Most stopped meeting the lead benchmark after 20 gallons were filtered. Only a handful met the standard through 200 gallons. Only the legitimate filter met the standard.
What’s more, the counterfeit and deceptive filters weren’t designed to fit the consumer’s refrigerator and may damage the appliance. They may leak, which could require costly home repairs before the homeowner realizes anything is wrong. Those who do notice the poor performance and attempt to complain could be left out in the cold, as brands will likely be unable to address a problem with a filter they didn’t manufacture.
Appliance manufacturers have worked for decades to build consumer trust in their brands. That trust, unfortunately, can be damaged by one bad experience. In addition to the risks they pose to health and property, a deceptive product that doesn’t meet a consumer’s expectations could erode trust in appliance manufacturers if consumers aren’t aware they’ve purchased a counterfeit.
AHAM and its member companies are in the position to take the lead on informing consumers of the proliferation of counterfeit filters and offering guidance on how they can find reliable products. We intend to make it easier for consumers to find trusted sellers and identify the appropriate replacement filter for their refrigerator.
Our new Filter It Out campaign, which launched this fall, consists of both a website and a significant digital interception campaign targeting consumers who are searching online for replacement filters and aims to inform them of the potential risk of purchasing a counterfeit water filter. We’re casting a wide net to get the message to consumers through a far-reaching media and public advocacy effort.
We’ll also be looking more deeply into the issue of counterfeit filters through extensive research to estimate the scope of the problem and demonstrate the risk of counterfeit filters. Our members and national certifiers such as NSF International will be stepping up to provide testing that shows the inequality of counterfeit filters. The testing will show the damage counterfeit filters may cause, including the ways they fail to remove contaminants, leak and potentially cause damage. It will specify what contaminants a counterfeit filter will fail to remove, including potentially hazardous substances like lead and arsenic.
These steps are just the first phase of the campaign. We’ll be reaching out to regulators and the Department of Homeland Security to educate them about the risks posed by counterfeit and deceptive filters and urge them to alert manufacturers when they notice signs of counterfeit and deceptive imports. We’ll teach them to spot the subtle signs that a filter may not be legitimate, including slight variations in packaging and design, and ask them to flag suspect shipments before they reach the shelves. This will be an ongoing effort, as the counterfeit filters often can only be identified by comparing their weight to the legitimate products.
The campaign is also an opportunity for AHAM to remind consumers of the extensive steps appliance manufacturers take to ensure their products, including replacement water filters, are safe and deliver on their promises.