Popular retailers are selling cheap iPhone chargers that 'pose a fire risk' - here's what to look out for

Shoppers might think they are getting a bargain but cheap chargers can be dangerous (Photo: Getty Images)Shoppers might think they are getting a bargain but cheap chargers can be dangerous (Photo: Getty Images)
Shoppers might think they are getting a bargain but cheap chargers can be dangerous (Photo: Getty Images)

by Katie Grant

Amazon Marketplace and eBay are “rife” with unsafe phone chargers and travel adapters that have the potential to cause electric shocks and start fires, the consumer body Which? has warned.

Shoppers may be unwittingly putting themselves and their families at risk of injury, or even death, by purchasing cheap, unbranded chargers that appear to be compatible with their iPhone or laptop from online marketplaces instead of paying more for the genuine articles, according to Which?.

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The consumer body tested dozens of chargers, power banks and travel adapters listed for sale across Amazon Marketplace and eBay, and two other popular sites, AliExpress and Wish. Investigators looked at products that were either unbranded or whose were from unfamiliar brands.

The research uncovered multiple examples of poorly designed, unsafe products that could cause electric shocks or start fires.

Knockoff iPhone chargers

Which? tested 12 USB chargers that appeared to be “very similar” to a genuine Apple charger, and claimed to work with the company’s devices, bought from online marketplaces.

Eight of the products had components so badly designed that they presented an electric shock risk, while seven failed electrical strength tests designed to check the products can handle a set voltage and still work safely, the group said.

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Arcing, whereby an electric current flows through the air between two conductors, could be heard during testing of one USB charger bought from AliExpress. In a person’s home, this could result in an electric shock, the charger catching fire or the product being powered exploding.

Melted power bank

Eleven out of 12 unbranded or unknown brand USB travel adapters bought from the four online marketplaces also failed electrical safety tests.

And four of the nine unknown brand power banks failed, too. Of the branded products purchased from Amazon Marketplace, one was “so poorly put together that it started to smoke and melt during charging”, Which? revealed.

In total, nearly 33 unbranded or unknown brand products that Which? purchased - nearly three quarters of the items examined - failed the electrical safety tests.

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Online marketplaces should 'take responsibility'

All four online marketplaces removed listings of the unsafe items Which? tested. But the group said it has become “increasingly concerned” that the UK’s product safety system isn’t equipped to prevent dangerous products from being sold on online marketplaces, and is calling for the sites to take greater responsibility for the goods available through their platforms.

The websites should bar the “unscrupulous operators currently given free rein to sell inferior or dangerous products”, and the Government’s Office for Product Safety & Standards, and Trading Standards, should better police these marketplaces, Which? said.

What should shoppers do?

Which? urged shoppers to “be wary” of cheap products from brands they don't recognise, especially in the case of electrical appliances available through online marketplaces.

Another consumer charity, Electrical Safety First, echoed these comments.

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“We believe it is time for more proactive measures to be taken by these sites...to identify and remove dangerous products from sale,” a spokesman said.

“Until they do this, we recommend only purchasing electrical items from a reputable high-street retailer...If you suspect an item to be counterfeit or substandard, don’t use it.”

Amazon said, “All sellers must follow our selling guidelines and those who don’t will be subject to action, including potential removal of their account.”

eBay said, “The safety of customers is our number one priority and we do not tolerate non-compliant items.”

This article originally appeared on our sister site, inews