MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - A mystery about fake water filters stretches from Michigan to New York with strange clues that shed light on a growing problem--counterfeit refrigerator filters.
Investigate TV’s Lee Zurik of our national investigative team has the latest on fake filters.
A 50 minute subway ride from Midtown Manhattan. Six stops, the sign for Brooklyn, stairs, then a short walk to 63rd street in Brooklyn. That street, 750 miles away from Grand Rapids, Michigan. And the home of Ken Gauld.
When Gauld needed a replacement for his refrigerator water filter...
“I went looking online for options,” he said.
His mouse took him to a company called Supdrop and a water filter that looked like a reliable replacement.
“The packaging looked pretty legitimate to me,” said Gauld.
But it wasn’t. When the filter arrived instead of Supdrop it came with an Everydrop label. That’s the brand name of filters Whirpool manufactures. This filter looked a lot like a Whirlpool filter you can buy direct from the company. When they’re next to each other, it’s hard to tell the difference.
“Annoyed at myself, angry that someone would do that, surprised as well I didn’t know that counterfeit water filters were such a big thing,” said Gauld.
But the counterfeit water filter industry is huge.
“There are billions of dollars of goods coming into our country,” said Jill Notini, of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
Millions of counterfeit filters.
“You can find them anywhere online major retailer websites, places you go everyday for other products as well,” said Notini.
Notini works for the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers or AHAM. She showed us two more filters.
“It is absolutely almost impossible to tell the difference between the counterfeit and the genuine filter,” she said. “Same logos same stickers on the top of product. Same markings and indentations on the bottom, the same writing along the side and you see even in the certification symbol that’s included and the same manufacturer logos and graphics.”
And AHAM says some counterfeit filters can be dangerous.
When asked if people could be drinking unsafe water because of these counterfeit filters Notini replied, “Absolutely.”
Last year AHAM paid for a study on counterfeit filters. Buying 100 known counterfeits and shipping them to a lab for testing. The result, the counterfeit filters didn’t work as well as the brand name.
“We found in our study counterfeit putting cancer causing chemicals into clean water. That is very scary and a real threat to the American public,” said Notini.
Whirlpool confirmed the filter Ken Gauld bought in Michigan is a counterfeit. Tracking down that company Supdrop proved to be tougher.
On the company’s website when you click to view the location it takes you to Manhattan, steps away from the Park Central Hotel, but there’s no sign the company operates at that location. We tried ordering our own package of Supdrop filters, when we did our receipt ended up showing three different company names. It’s been weeks. We have no filters. And the company won’t answer us.
A call to the listed phone number repeatedly gets rejected and New York State records show no business licenses for a company named Supdrop.
“It definitely didn’t check out,” said Gauld.
When the filter arrived at Gauld’s house it came with a Brooklyn return address. So we went to the location or at least tried.
“It doesn’t look like a business at all it locates me back to a residential area,” said Gauld.
We walked the residential area looking for 1030 63rd street, but when we arrived…1028? A counterfeit address. That’s 1032, for a company Whirlpool says is sending customers counterfeit water filters.
Experts say your best protection is to buy directly from manufacturers when shopping online. Many manufacturers websites also have links to local stores that sell their genuine products.