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Discount Diva: Don’t get zapped by fake goods

A friend showed me the cutest night light she found at the dollar store a few weeks ago.

It had a little sparkly shade with a beaded butterfly fluttering across the outside and a bunch of little see-through stars. It came in several different colors and was so cheap I was tempted to buy one for both of my girls and each of my nieces.

But something always freaks me out about buying anything from a dollar store that gets plugged into an outlet. Same goes for anything made in China.

Call me crazy, but a country that gets caught putting melamine in baby formula to save money doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

Believe it or not, there really are things I don’t mind paying more for. Like, you know, anything that will keep my family alive and healthy.

Turns out, when it came to my anything-with-a-plug-shouldn’t-be-cheap phobia, my overbearing mommy fears were well-founded.

I had the opportunity to sit in on a firefighter’s association meeting last week and learned something really scary.

You know that little label you get on extension cords and plug-in appliances that shows it has been tested by the Underwriter’s Laboratory? It’s got the capital letters “UL” in a little circle and is supposed to show that the product has been tested to comply with rigorous safety standards.

Well, investigators have found that overseas manufacturers regularly make counterfeit labels, then knowingly tack them to things such as extension cords sold in the United States.

“It’s just like the knock-off Nikes,” said Robin Schott, chairman of the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York’s legislative committee.

But while counterfeit kicks may only rile the fashion police, a fraudulent label could put your family in serious danger.

The group is pushing for tougher penalties for retailers that knowingly sell mislabeled goods. But stores say if their buyers tell them something is safe, they have little way of knowing what is ending up on their shelves.

What can you do to minimize the risk you’ll bring home something dangerous?

There are a couple of ways to spot fake UL labels. Be suspicious if a product doesn’t have a toll-free consumer hotline number on the box, doesn’t have an instruction manual outlining care and maintenance, has subpar craftsmanship or its packaging has grammatical or spelling errors.

UL-certified products will say “Listed” or “Classified” under the UL logo – NOT “approved” or “pending.”

For maximum peace of mind, spring for products that are made in the U.S.A.

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