Counterfeit, or fake, ink and toner cartridges are available everywhere for all the major printer brands, says Tyrone Malan, Lexmark product specialist at distributor Drive Control Corporation (DCC). 
These products are considered trademark violations and are an illegal practice. It must be noted that counterfeit cartridges are different from re-filled or refurbished cartridges which are legal; however, the product packaging must clearly indicate that they have been refurbished in order to accurately inform consumers.
Unfortunately counterfeit products appear to be an attractive buy for the uninitiated, with a price tag generally half that of branded solutions. But there are hidden costs, none of them palatable to the serious business owner. For those that would rather not be caught unaware, there are a few fail-safe methods to help users distinguish fake from fabulous.
Despite a considerable drop in the cost of printing consumables over the last few years and technology advances that provide better quality prints and greater yield per cartridge, counterfeit products are increasingly finding their way into the market.
According to the Imaging Supplies Coalition, an international non-profit trade association, annual losses to the imaging supplies industry from counterfeit products are estimated at $3-billion.
And it’s not just the manufacturers that lose – the impact of substandard and counterfeit products in the market is felt up and down the value chain: manufacturers lose revenue and brand loyalty and the unsuspecting consumer gets an inferior, possibly defective product that could damage their printers.
Typically, these products make use of low quality inks, which deliver in low quality prints and can clog and damage the print head. In addition, these cartridges may leak or spit ink thereby potentially damaging the printer.
When it comes to toner cartridges used in laser printers, similar challenges arise. Low quality powders deliver low quality prints and low print yields, and many of these cartridges lack structural integrity.
There are some key “common sense” guidelines consumers can apply to avoid being caught  by fake products, as well as some very specific fail-safe checks that vendors are putting in place to protect their customers and resellers from unknowingly purchasing products of a much lower quality and life-span.
Common sense advice includes:
* O
nly buy from an authorised dealer;
* B
eware of products priced way below the market standard;
* Avoid products that look like they have been used or tampered with;
* Beware of “odd” packaging; and
* Look out for sub-standard performance.
And to be completely sure users are using authentic goods that won’t leave them with a damaged printer and a voided warrantee, they can do a serial number check. Among the fail-safes put in place are a quick and easy means to establish the authenticity of products by checking the serial numbers and 2D barcodes the company places on all its printer supplies packaging.
For example, Lexmark enables consumers to confirm the product serial number online via the company Web site or scan the 2D barcode with a mobile phone, using the browser on a smartphone to check product authenticity.
The bottom line is that using counterfeit is risky as well as being a false and illegal economy. With low quality prints and low yields, and the very real risk of damage to the printer or voiding of the warrantee, users really are just getting what they pay for. Be aware; use common sense; and put the business first.