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Google at Your Own Risk: Counterfeit Parts and Vendors In the Shadows

Posted by Jesse Silverman, Esq. on May 18, 2013 10:02:00 AM

GoogleWorking in supply chain, we’ve all been there. You have an AOG requirement and are desperate to find the part. For the purposes of this example let’s say we’re talking about a connector. The connector was obsoleted three years ago and is not available from either the OEM or franchise. Enterprising buyer that you are, you launch your web browser of choice, enter the part number into a search engine and are relieved to see that there are pages upon pages of results showing vendor upon vendor as having stock.

Crisis averted, right? As ESPN College Football Gameday’s Lee Corso would say, “Not so fast my friend”.

The internet is fraught with a countless number of unscrupulous people looking to make a quick buck. Their expertise lies in search engine optimization (“SEO”); not in procuring reliable parts that satisfy your quality requirements. There are people out there who’ve invested untold sums of time and money to make sure that their website appears on Google’s front page when you search for a part number. Any part number.

ConnectorNeed a connector? They’re showing stock. Need an engine for a C-130? Can you believe it? They’re showing stock. Need a Xilinx part obsoleted 12 years ago? Well you’re in luck, because you guessed it, they’re showing stock. But you’re a savvy buyer. You are going to do a bit more due diligence before cutting a purchase order to this vendor.

You decide to do a bit more investigating on their website. You are looking for a name, a picture a reference of some sort that on which you can hang your hat, something you can point to in the event your purchasing manager or quality engineer asks you where you found the part. So, you search their website and see lots of stock photos of people wearing telephone headsets and large immaculate warehouses with boxes perfectly aligned. What you are not seeing though is a contact name, a phone number, an address, or a photo of an actual employee.

In the meantime the production manager is calling you every 30 seconds asking you for the part. Desperate to resolve this AOG, you complete the required fields on the “Request a Quote” page and hope for the best. Moments later you receive a quote. The email signature of the person looks legitimate, there’s even a nice corporate logo. You breathe a sigh of relief, that it won't be counterfeit parts, generate the purchase order and send it on its way.

Your dock date comes and goes without the part being delivered. You scramble to contact the vendor, but your emails go unreturned and you still are unable to reach anyone by phone. In all likelihood, you’ve been burned.

The vendor to whom you cut the order, who claimed to have stock, *shock* didn’t actually have any stock. They simply listed the part online in the hopes of pulling a requirement and either sourcing the part you need or going out on the market, buying up all the stock and cornering the market. As a buyer, you need to be aware of the sort of games unqualified vendors play and what you can do to steer clear of them.

  • Qualify your vendor – Does their website look legitimate? Do they appear to be who they say they are? Are contact numbers, email addresses and photos of actual employees readily available? Can you pick up the telephone and get in touch with them?

  • Request copies of certifications – Anyone can claim to be AS9120 certified. Have them show you their certificate. Confirm the certificate is valid with the certifying body who purportedly issued it.db logo

  • Determine their credit rating - Agencies like Dunn & Bradstreet are a good place to determine the creditworthiness of a vendor. If they have poor credit do you really want to do business with them?

  • Conduct supplier quality audits – Ideally your quality department can visit their facility. Short of that; ask to see their Quality Management System.

  • Use Common Sense – If a vendor seems too good to be true or is not forthcoming with seemingly innocuous information then be cautious.

You wouldn’t buy a life-sustaining oxygen machine for a family member from a vendor without first determining whether the seller is legitimate and reputable. Why would you do anything different for a connector or any other part that will be used in a life-critical application?

Tags: Jesse Silverman

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