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Warning over fake chargers and second-hand electrics

Posted 02/12/16

  • Separate investigations target counterfeit and second-hand electrical goods
  • 99% of counterfeit Apple chargers bought online fail a basic safety test
  • Up to one in three second-hand electrical appliances found to be non-compliant 

People are being urged to think twice when they buy second-hand electrical goods or cheap and often counterfeit chargers after investigators found that many of them are unsafe.

The advice comes at the close of National Consumer Week which this year urges shoppers to be #SwitchedOn to their consumer rights so they are not lumbered with faulty and/or dangerous goods.

During a recent operation investigators bought 400 counterfeit Apple chargers from suppliers around the world, online, and found that 397 of them failed a basic safety test.  

A second operation targeted local charity shops, antique dealers and second-hand shops and found 15% of 3,019 used electrical goods were non-compliant, rising to 27% in London.

Experts from the Consumer Protection Partnership, which runs National Consumer Week, said that while the figures are concerning there are simple steps consumers can take to remain safe.          

Leon Livermore, Chartered Trading Standards Institute chief executive, said: “Only buy second-hand electrical goods that have been tested and only buy online electrical goods from trusted suppliers.

“It might cost a few pounds more but counterfeit and second-hand goods are an unknown entity that could cost you your home or even your life, or the life of a loved-one.”

Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe, minister of state for energy and intellectual property at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said:

“I am delighted to support the National Consumer Week campaign which this year highlights unsafe and counterfeit electrical products.

“The Government is committed to promoting consumer awareness of the dangers of buying counterfeit goods and encouraging consumers to choose legitimate goods and services, which helps honest traders.

“We will continue working closely with our partners to build respect for IP in line with our enforcement strategy published earlier this year.”

Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, said: “Many of us quite rightly assume that everything we buy will be safe, but recent work by our teams show how dangerous electrical goods can easily end up in homes up and down the country.

“Criminals across the globe are using online platforms to lure you in with cheap deals for fake items, many of which are dangerous and have been known to overheat and cause house fires.

“Protecting consumers from harm is our top priority and National Trading Standards teams are working closely with partners – including search engines, social media platforms and producers – to remove dangerous electrical items from our supply chain.

“Our teams help prevent dangerous goods from entering the country, undertake enforcement work to remove criminal social media profiles and seize hordes of dangerous items destined for households across the country.

“Sadly, we suspect our work is just skimming the surface and we urge consumers to be vigilant when buying electrical products online: be wary of deals that look too good to be true and search for reviews of the seller before making your purchase.

“If you believe that any online or face-to-face seller is selling potentially dangerous goods, or something you’ve bought has made you suspicious, report it to Citizen’s Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Counterfeit electrical goods are likely to be poor quality and in the worst cases unsafe.

“Look out for tell-tale signs of counterfeiting such as mistakes in brand names or logos, and check plugs for safety marks - all genuine electrical items made in the EU should have a CE mark on them.

“Anyone who thinks they might have bought a counterfeit item should report it to trading standards via the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06.”

Other measures consumers can take to remain safe – particularly if they have already bought electronic items online – include checking casings are not damaged, cables are not frayed and ensuring pins fit in sockets easily without excess force.

Electrical Safety First also offer Plug Checkers, at a cost, to ensure the plugs on electrical appliances meet the required standards.

In the New Year the National Trading Standards eCrime team will be working with the fire and rescue services to identify and locate dangerous electrical items in UK homes when they conduct routine home fire safety visits.

This is in addition to Operation Jasper, a joint initiative with the National Markets Group specifically designed to remove counterfeit goods from social media sites.

It has already led to more than 100 investigations and has removed more than 9,500 suspicious online selling platforms.

Businesses selling electrical goods can visit the government-funded www.businesscompanion.info website to check what their obligations are and how to comply with the law.

Anyone who wants to inform trading standards of an issue can do so via the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06, or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh speakers.


Notes to editors

During the operation targeting second-hand goods 3,019 items were tested in 173 premises in London, east of England and the Midlands.

In general, businesses that were totally compliant tended to be national charity chains or national second-hand goods dealers who had robust checking systems in place.

Trading standards officers attended with an electrical engineer who conducted a brief visual examination of the goods to select items most likely to be non-compliant for further testing.

Officers were steered towards visiting traders where it was suspected there would be a low level of compliance, including local charity shops, local second hand dealers and house clearance businesses.

Common non-conformities included counterfeit plugs, non-sleeved plugs, exposed live parts, two pin plugs attached and only basic insulation.

In most cases a written warning was issued and the items were voluntarily withdrawn from sale.

During the operation targeting Apple counterfeits chargers UL, a global independent safety science company, bought adapters from multiple sources in eight different countries around the world, including the US, Canada, Colombia, China, Thailand and Australia.

Several tests were conducted including an electrical strength test in which high voltages are applied to the units to see how much voltage will flow between the input and output. If the current is above the threshold the unit is determined to have insufficient isolation with potential for electric shock. Only three of the 400 passed.

The full report is available here: http://library.ul.com/?document=counterfeit-iphone-adapters

The National Markets group includes:

  • Chartered Trading Standards Institute
  • Individual trading standards officers
  • Intellectual Property Office (IPO) Intelligence Hub
  • The Department of Work and Pensions
  • Individual police authorities
  • HM Revenue & Customs
  • LG Regulation
  • National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA)
  • Organisations tackling the issue of illegal tobacco sales
  • Industry groups representing trademark and copyright holders (including the Industry Trust for IP Awareness, Alliance Against IP Theft, FACT, ACG, BPI)

How to spot a dangerous, counterfeit, mobile phone charger.

1. Plug pins

Check that there is at least 9.5 mm between the edge of the pins and the edge of the charger (9.5 mm is about the width of a ballpoint pen). If the distance between the edge of the pins and the edge of the charger is less than 9.5 mm, there is a risk of electric shock when plugging in and unplugging the charger from a socket.

Plug the charger into a socket but don’t switch it on or connect it to your appliance.

Does it plug in easily? If the charger does not easily plug into a socket, the pins may be the wrong size or length, or the distance between the pins may be wrong. If pins do not fit properly into the socket, overheating, arcing and mechanical damage can occur to both the socket and the charger, which can be dangerous.

2. Markings

Look for a manufacturer’s brand name or logo, model and batch number. Check for a CE mark.

Check that the output voltage and current ratings marked on the charger and your electrical device are the same.

Do not rely on a CE mark alone as a guarantee of safety – it’s simply a declaration by the manufacturer that the product meets all the safety requirements of European law, but they can be easily forged.

3. Warnings and instructions

Adequate warnings and instructions must be provided. As a minimum, user instructions should provide information on conditions and limitations of use, how to operate the charger safely, basic electrical safety guidance and details of how to safely dispose of the charger when it is no longer required.

You can also safeguard your family and homes from dangerous chargers by:

  • Only using a genuine charger made and licenced for use with your product.
  • Don’t over charge your product, once it is charged disconnect it and turn the charger off.
  • Never cover your device while its being charged, don’t put it under a pillow at night or in contact with bedding.
  • Never use a damaged charger with a cracked case or frayed cable or one that is not working properly.

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