Questions & Answers

Ask UL

How can I avoid buying a counterfeit product?

Counterfeit products may seem harmless but they can pose a serious threat to you and your family. For example, counterfeit extension cords may not have as much copper wire as UL-certified ones. These fake cords can easily overheat and start a fire.

To protect yourself from accidentally ending up with a knockoff, follow these tips:

  1. Shop at stores you know and trust. It’s unlikely you'll end up with a counterfeit product if you shop at well-known, local and big-box stores. If you’re shopping online at a retailer you don’t know, carefully inspect the website for misspellings or bad punctuation and verify the return policy.
  2. Avoid products that are most likely to be counterfeit. These are often high-volume, low-cost items such as smartphone batteries and chargers, extension cords, Christmas light strings, and night lights.
  3. Check the product when you get it. Look for brand names and misspelled words on the label or packaging. Also watch for fake UL symbols. Labels for certain products, including hoverboards, now include a gold hologram with embedded codes and color-shifting ink.
  4. If you buy a counterfeit product, don’t use it. Return it to the store if you can and consider leaving a user review on the website with your experience.
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How can I keep the data on my fitness wearable more secure?

Your smart watch or fitness band knows your secrets. It knows your heart rate history, how many steps you took yesterday, how well and how long you sleep at night, and where you like to run.

This information may seem innocuous at first but when put together, it can create a clear picture of your daily habits and whereabouts. It can also make you an easy target for hackers and other criminals.

So, how do you stop hackers in their tracks? Try following these 5 safety tips:

  1. Opt out of data collection, if possible.
  2. Disable data sharing to stop automatic updates to social media.
  3. Consider turning off Bluetooth when a device or app is not in use to minimize the risk of a hacker breaking in via open access points.
  4. Install app and operating system updates when available.
  5. Do not reuse the same user name and password between different sites.
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How can I reduce toxins in
my home?

As homes have become better weatherized, they also have become better at trapping air pollutants.

Here are some tips on how to help protect you and your family from hazardous chemicals in your home:

  1. Open up windows as often as possible (even for short periods of time in the winter) to let fresh air in. “Air-tight” houses are great for energy conservation, but not good for your health.
  2. Keep windows open when using cleaning products, nail polish or other scented items.
  3. Keep it cool and set the temperature to avoid air getting too hot or muggy. Air conditioning units and dehumidifiers can help.
  4. Vent appliances properly. Make sure the exhaust over your stove or dryer blows air outside and not just around the room. Cooking is a big source of indoor pollution.
  5. Air out new furniture. When you buy new furniture, keep it in your garage for a week if possible to allow it to off-gas outside. If it is not possible, keep windows open as much as possible to allow dangerous chemicals to escape from your house.
  6. Upgrade your furnace filters. If you have central air conditioning, investing in a more expensive filter (about $10) will help clean the air of particulate matter in your home. These filters should be changed monthly.
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What should I look for when choosing a toy?

When selecting toys for their children, parents need to be mindful of today's safety concerns. Here are some tips to help you make the best choice for your young one:

  1. Follow age recommendations. Many toy labels suggest a minimum age, indicating the stage of development that’s appropriate for safe play. If you’re buying a gift for a baby or toddler, don’t buy a toy intended for kids 6 and up. Some toys are too small, and it is easy for babies to choke on small parts.
  2. Look at the labels. Stuffed toys should be machine washable. Art materials should be labeled nontoxic.
  3. Understand the risks. Scooters were wildly popular in recent years, but they're also responsible for a 40 percent increase in toy-related injuries over the past few decades, according to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Pediatrics. If you decide to buy your child a scooter, skateboard or something similar, also buy appropriate safety equipment (helmet and pads).
  4. Check for recalls. The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) has recalled some children’s toys over lead paint or choking hazard concerns. A quick internet search should tell you if a toy has been recalled and why. If you have a toy that's been recalled, return it to the store or throw it away.
  5. Have an adult assemble the toy. Make sure a responsible adult reads assembly instructions thoroughly before putting toys together. Then, check the toys periodically to be sure parts have not loosened.
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How do I know when it’s time to throw out an extension cord?

Extension cords cause roughly 3,300 home fires each year, killing 50 people and injuring about 270 more, according to Electrical Safety Foundation International.

Here are a few ways to tell when your extension cords need tossing:

  1. They have cracked insulation. Check the cords regularly for signs of insulation damage and replace them if you notice any cuts, cracks or nicks in the protective covering.
  2. A loose cord. A plug may become detached if you tend to “yank” your extension cord out of the wall by the cord and not the plug.
  3. A too-short cord. If the cord’s too short, there may be a temptation to daisy-chain it by connecting several cords. This is hazardous and may wear out cords faster — get a cord that’s the right length for your job.
  4. A cord with the wrong electrical rating. Use a cord that has the rating for the appliance you’ve plugged it into. Talk to your hardware store or home center people, if you’re not sure what rating you need.
  5. An indoor cord being used outside. If you need a cord outside, only use one that’s marked for outdoor use. Indoor cords used outside may become a shock or fire hazard.
  6. The cord is nailed or stapled to the wall. Nailing or stapling cords can damage them. Instead of using an extension cord, have a licensed electrician installed outlets where you need them.
  7. The cord is hot to the touch. Thismeans it’s probably overheating and loaded beyond its capacity.
  8. Cords running under carpets and through windows. If it is necessary to run extension cords through windows or under carpets, it’s time to get new outlets installed. The cords should not be buried.
  9. Old extension cords that are missing important safety features, like easy plugging and unplugging and a large plug face that covers the outlet’s slots. The cord’s plugs should have polarized blades — one blade is slightly wider than the other.
  10. Cords that lack safety certification. For maximum peace of mind, buy cords that are UL certified. If you get a bargain-basement cord, it probably doesn’t have the proper amount of wire in it, and it could be dangerous.
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How do I better protect my mobile wallet?

Why use cash when you can pay for products or services with your smartphone? Newer technology makes it easier when you are low on cash.

To help protect yourself when using a mobile wallet, the FTC recommends making sure an app offers consumer privacy guarantees before buying it. In addition, UL recommends you take the following steps:

  1. Stay up-to-date. Make sure you have the latest operating system on your phone, upgrade apps as soon as updates become available, and keep up-to-date antivirus software on your smartphone and other mobile devices.
  2. Protect yourself online. If you're using a system such as PayPal, beware of websites that look unprofessional or that immediately redirect you to a site asking for personal information. Use a protected connection.
  3. Use a strong password on your smartphone, the single best defense to protecting your digital identity.
  4. Look for two-factor authentication when choosing apps. An example, use a password plus a fingerprint scanner to be safe and secure. You see more and more options for two-factor authentication.
  5. Talk to your bank. See whether it provides a mobile wallet app. Banks don’t need to gather consumer shopping information.
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How can I better protect my family in the event of a house fire?

Thirty years ago, if your house caught fire, you’d have about 17 minutes to gather your family members and escape the blaze. Today you have just three minutes to get out before the fire reaches what we call flashover — when a room gets so hot that everything in the room combusts.

Short of trading in your modern furniture for antiques, there isn’t a lot you can do to make your home burn more slowly. Buy yourself and your family more time in the event of a fire by following these simple steps:

  1. Close your bedroom door at night. Fires take longer to spread between rooms with closed doors. If possible, shut all open doors on your way out to slow the fire and make it harder for the flames to jump from room to room. Don’t forget to shut the front door too. Leaving the door open brings more oxygen into the house, making it burn faster.
  2. Install and check smoke alarms. There should be one in each bedroom and one on each floor. Test them once a month and replace the batteries twice a year.
  3. Create a fire escape plan. Practice how everyone will get out of the house and where to meet once you’re outside. Practice your escape plan at least twice a year.
  4. Evacuate immediately. Don’t stop to gather any belongings — not your photo albums, not your wallet, not even your cell phone. Get out, period.
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How do I avoid being
greenwashed?

Many shoppers check to see if a product is good for the environment when making purchases. In fact, most consumers have chosen a product or paid more for one because it said it was sustainable, natural or ecologically friendly, according to a UL consumer survey.

But not every “green” label is created equal. “Greenwashing”, which UL defines as “the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service” is common in today’s market.

To avoid being greenwashed, follow these tips.

  1. Understand what greenwashing means. Check out UL’s Seven Sins of Greenwashing website.
  2. Keep an eye out for deceptive labels. For example a company designs a “GreenLogo for Environmental Excellence” label and slaps it on its products without explanation. A better label would be “We created the GreenLogo label for our products, because they meet XYZ standards for recyclability.”
  3. Ask questions. Reach out to the manufacturer with questions about their green commitment. Environmental initiatives should be a centerpiece of any company’s activities and they should be proud to explain things to you in more detail.
  4. Look for UL GREENGUARD Certification. GREENGUARD Certification ensures that a product has met rigorous and comprehensive standards for low chemical emissions and fine particulate matter into indoor air.
  5. Browse GoodGuide®. UL’s GoodGuide® platform ranks over 210,000 foods, toys, personal care and household products, according to a science-based evaluation of the health, environmental and social impact of each product and its manufacturer. Through our website, online toolbar and smartphone application, the GoodGuide platform gives you the tools and information you need to make purchasing decisions that reflect your personal preferences and values.
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Should I be worried about button batteries?

Button cell batteries are small — and potentially very dangerous. These batteries injure or kill more than 3,500 people each year, according to the National Capital Poison Center (NCPC). When a button battery is swallowed, it often passes safely through the body. Sometimes though a battery can get stuck in the esophagus, react with body fluids to form a corrosive chemical and severely damage the surrounding tissue

Button batteries can be found in cameras, hearing aids, singing greeting cards, flameless candles, toys and watches. Every car now sold also has a button cell in the key fob. Follow these precautions to help keep your loved ones safe around these devices.

  1. Dispose of old batteries right away. Even a battery that's dead can have enough charge to harm human tissue. Put used button batteries in a plastic bag in the outdoor garbage, where a child won't be tempted by it.
  2. Separate medication and batteries. Little kids aren't the only ones susceptible to injury from button cell batteries. Adults whose eyesight may be failing can mistake a loose button battery for a pill. If an elderly person lives with you, make sure the batteries used in the hearing aid, for example, aren't kept anywhere near medications.
  3. Look for the UL Mark. On many products, UL will test to ensure the battery compartment is properly secured. Such compartments should be secured with tiny screws and not a cover that slides off and on.
  4. Take immediate action if you suspect a battery has been swallowed. When a battery is swallowed, it’s impossible to know if it passes through to the stomach or gets hung up in the esophagus. In cases of battery ingestion, the NCPC says to immediately call the 24-hour National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 or your family physician.
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What can I do to prevent televisions in my home from falling?

According to the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System, one child in the United States goes to the emergency room every 30 minutes due to injuries suffered from a falling television. This translates to 17,313 children who were hurt by televisions from 1990–2011.

With this in mind, UL offers up these safety recommendations for securing your televisions:

  1. Make sure the furniture holding the TV is secure. Make sure you use shelving or furniture built specifically for your TV — don’t use a stand built for a different unit.
  2. Attach a wall strap from the back of the TV, especially if you live in an earthquake-prone area.
  3. Use a UL certified wall mount with your flatscreen.
  4. Warn children never to climb on the TV storage unit. UL research found that parents often leave the remote control, toys or candy on top of the TV or entertainment unit, inadvertently tempting small kids to climb.
  5. Hide the cables that are attached to the television, Blu-Ray ™ or other components to avoid the child pulling on them and causing the TV to topple down.
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How do these new embedded chips on credit cards keep my bank information more secure?

The credit card industry is moving towards embedded chips, which have been used successfully abroad for decades. Gone will be the quick swipe of old: You will instead insert the card into a slot in the reader and complete the transaction by signing your name. Then the card is returned.

The new card readers hold your card for a reason: Once inside the machine, the embedded chip generates a one-time, one-use code for that transaction. According to Visa, that code is virtually impossible to replicate, largely ending the risk from skimming.

Some card companies have already sent chip cards now as replacements for current cards, but the rollout is deliberately slow; the companies can't go too fast because there are so few readers in stores. While you’re waiting, the Federal Trade Commission offers this advice on protecting your credit and good name from hackers.

  1. Never share your card number over the phone or by email. Scam artists sometimes will pose as your bank and send you urgent calls or emails that suggest your money is at risk if you don’t take some action — like sharing your card information. Hang up, find the company’s number on a bill or your credit card, then contact the organization the caller claims to be from to verify their identity before giving out your information.
  2. Be wary of where you pay. An increasing problem is the faked card reader, often installed surreptitiously inside a gas pump or ATM. These skimming devices can sit in place for weeks and gather data from magnetic stripes for use later by criminal rings. Avoid any card reader that looks altered or broken.
  3. Watch your credit reports. You can get your personal credit report for free from www.AnnualCreditReport.com once every 12 months.
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What can I do to limit the amount of new pollutants entering my home?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, “source control” or limiting the introduction of new pollutants is the best way to ensure better indoor air quality and reduce chemical exposure from indoor air.

Here are five tips to get you started:

  1. Don't smoke indoors. Any type of combustible product, like cigarettes, emits formaldehyde and other chemicals.
  2. Look for UL GREENGUARD Certification. GREENGUARD Certification ensures that a product has met rigorous and comprehensive standards for low chemical emissions and fine particulate matter into indoor air.
  3. Skip the fragrances. Reduce the amount of products with fragrances you use. Choose fragrance-free or unscented products whenever possible. “'Natural” oils aren't any better than “unnatural” oils, and can actually be less refined and contain more harmful contaminants.
  4. Practice green cleaning. Consider using natural cleaning products like baking soda or vinegar and look for third-party certified cleaning products bearing the UL ECOLOGO or UL GREENGUARD mark.
  5. Store strong-smelling products elsewhere. Store paints, glues, solvents and pesticides in a garage or shed rather than in your basement to reduce your exposure to chemicals that leak out.
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