Caveat Emptor - buyer beware- is an expression that's been around for centuries. It's still good advice to follow, especially in a time when online commerce means almost anyone can sell virtually anything- virtually.
The latest example of products that aren't what they seem comes from California where the owner of an online gun equipment business is on the run from federal agents after being indicted on two counts of manufacturing and selling a counterfeit mark, among other things.
Field Sport, Inc. owner Yongmin "Steven" Sui, 53, is accused of selling counterfeit EOTech optics via the internet. In March, Customs officers found 700 counterfeit rifle sights and 200 counterfeit magnifier system in a shipment from China headed to Field Sport's headquarters in Anaheim.
A continued investigation led to a raid on Field Sport headquarters. There, officers discovered an additional 778 counterfeit EOTech holographic sights. All told, the counterfeit equipment had a street value of just under $900,000.
At this point, EOTech's not talking about the counterfeiting, but they have offered some suggestions on how to determine what's real versus a counterfeit.
With the counterfeits looking exactly identical from the outside- down to the printing on the barrels of the optics, it's difficult to tell them apart-until it's too-late.
Some hints that you may have gotten stung on a counterfeit include uncommon batteries (some counterfeits often require several small hearing aid style batteries), interchangeable red and green reticle colors (the switch on a "real" optic changes between normal and night vision mode, not reticle colors), highly reflective optics, a visible LED light position inside the sight cavity, a NV push button that switches the LED to a different color instead of night vision mode, and the absence of a EOTech manufacturing and serial number sticker.
Here's one way to tell the difference between the real and counterfeit optics: "real" EOTechs have a "fuzzy" holographic reticle and counterfeits have solid lines.
That holographic reticle is what makes their product special. It is the delivery system that allows you to see the reticle at the target plane, increasing shooting speed and accuracy. Counterfeits just offer a bright red image that never leaves the window.
If you have what you think is an EOTech optic and can't seem to get the reticle on the target plane when shooting, check for the sharp reticle-it may be a bogus optic.
EOTech says the counterfeit optics are most often marketed toward recreational air-soft use. Simply stated, they're not acceptable on real firearms because they can't take recoil or shock from actual firing of rounds. They also can't consistently hold - or maintain- a zero, withstand drop tests, excessive shocks or handle moisture.
Those differences are all in addition to the holographic reticle difference. If it sounds like the difference between a real product and a cheap imitation, you're getting the accurate picture.
"Anytime you purchase a knock off or pirated product, it's a virtual certainty the quality and reliability will be inferior to the genuine article. When you're talking about counterfeit gun sights, the implications are frightening," says Claude Arnold, special agent in charge for ICE HSI in Los Angeles.
"This case serves as a powerful reminder about the public safety risks associated with product counterfeiting and demonstrates yet again why intellectual property enforcement is and will continue to be a top priority for ICE."
Counterfeiting in the outdoor industry isn't new.
SHOT Show 2010 saw federal agents close down some foreign exhibitors for counterfeiting, and there's been a concerted effort to stop this sort of piracy across the industry. But it's difficult to prevent. Companies have component parts manufactured overseas, and it's nearly impossible to keep small parts from being copied.
It's the reason many companies keep their parts and pieces behind glass at trade shows-and another reason there are strict regulations regarding photography, although today's smart phones make it virtually impossible to prevent unauthorized photography.
In many product categories, counterfeits are simply lower quality versions of basic equipment - think fishing lures. When it comes to optics designed for a military or law enforcement purpose, that "bargain" knockoff could cost someone lives.
This latest raid might bring another phrase into industry language: "caveat venditor"- let the seller beware. This expression says the seller must take responsibility for the product -and should discourage sale substandard products.
While it might discourage the honest sellers, but it's not going to stop the dishonest ones.
--Jim Shepherd, Publisher of the Outdoor Wire Digital Network