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A viral e-mail spreading quickly across the United States is creating consumer confusion and potentially harming American businesses, according to GS1 US, a not-for-profit standards organization.

The e-mail erroneously states “the first 3 digits” of a product’s barcode always indicate the product’s country of origin, and encourages consumers to make their buying decisions based on these numbers.

GS1 US, as the administrator and sole source of Universal Product Code (U.P.C.) barcode prefixes in the United States, warns that consumers heeding this faulty advice are being misled and could unintentionally “boycott” businesses or products they would otherwise choose to support.

“Although the first few digits of a barcode – what we call a company prefix – can indicate the country in which a barcode was issued, it tells you nothing about where the product was made,” said Bob Noe, chief customer officer for GS1 US. “The claim is somewhat grounded in reality, but just enough to be dangerous, even if you’re reading it correctly, which is not a safe assumption.”

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