Please, Don't Buy Cheap Phone Chargers And Cables

In the news this morning, a woman in Sydney has died in an apparent electrocution and a knock-off USB charger has been linked to her death. A stall in Campsie faces fines of up to $87,500 and two years' imprisonment for selling the chargers.

The young woman was found dead wearing headphones and holding her laptop, with burns on her ears and chest that suggest an apparent electrocution. According to NSW Fair Trading commissioner Rod Stowe, the death has been linked to an unbranded phone USB charger sold by a mobile phone accessories kiosk in Campsie in the south-west of the city.

The trader running that stall faces fines of up to $87,500 and two years' jail, while a larger corporation would be up for 10 times the fine. The chargers, power boards and travel adaptors didn't carry any Australian Safety Standards markings and weren't certified for sale in the country.

Generic USB charging adapters available on eBay.

Although this is the only incident of its kind reported to Fair Trading, it highlights the dangers of using uncertified phone cables and AC wall chargers. The adapters pictured in the SMH's article are readily available from eBay and DealExtreme for only a few dollars; they're incredibly, suspiciously cheap.

When you can buy a USB phone charger from China or Hong Kong for as little as $2.37 or a USB cable for one dollar including shipping, you should be wary of the quality of their internal components. While it's likely the young woman's death was a freak accident, non-genuine chargers and cables are not built to the same standards as their official and branded counterparts.

Ken Shiriff's teardown of a dozen different USB chargers found a counterfeit, Apple-branded charger claimed to offer a 2-amp charging current and 10-Watt output compatible with an iPad, but was only able to supply half that. His explanation of the risks makes the danger clear:

Counterfeit chargers pose a safety hazard as well as a hazard to your phone. You can buy a charger that looks just like an Apple charger for about $2, but the charger is nothing like an Apple charger internally. The power is extremely bad quality.
But more importantly, these chargers ignore safety standards. Since chargers have hundreds of volts internally, there's a big risk if a charger doesn't have proper insulation. You're putting your phone, and more importantly yourself, at risk if you use one of these chargers.

When you are connecting it to a smartphone worth several hundred dollars and containing a highly volatile lithium battery pack, paying a few more dollars for an Australian safety standards certified charger just makes sense in the long run. It might even save your life. [SMH]



    I'm guessing Apple will raise the prices of their chargers again due to recent publicity.

      what a stupid and insensitive thing to say.

        im sure apples heart is bleeding for this woman
        oh no wait a sec, my apple stocks just went up with the recent surge in Official apple charger purchases

      Last year when someone died using a non Apple charger, Apple launched a program to offer a trade in exchange for discounted authentic chargers. While I'm sure the sceptical people will call that cashing in on the incident, you could argue they weren't obliged to offer anything to people who had been buying third party components. Certainly they didn't go out and hike their prices.,2817,2422748,00.asp

      Last edited 27/06/14 1:02 pm

        they werent going to make money off those people who buy aftermarket anyway

        this way they could at least sell a few units to hawkers to resell on ebay at a 70000% markup instead of a 1500000% one

    So, are cheap micro-USB cables dangerous too? I don't use any knock-off wallwarts, just the two that came with my S3 and Nexus 7, but I do have a handful of cheap as chips cables plugged in everywhere.

      Provided your USB port is supplying only 5V, the USB cable quality won't matter too much in terms of safety, but it might not charge your devices as well as a better cable due to Voltage drop over undersized wiring.

        Obviously the "undersized wiring" was thick enough to carry a lethal dose of power to this poor womans body.

          It doens't take much current to kill someone - as far as wire capacity goes, the headphones/earbuds being worn by the victim would themselves have a significantly lower current capacity than most, if not all, of the cheap and flimsy USB cables one could obtain from any one of the various online and local vendors.

        Yeah I was gonna say, did she try to stick the cable in a powerpoint or something? Pretty sure you could stick your tongue into a usb port without much damage haha.

        Well well, even 5 volts can cause fire,, faulty cable=short on wall charger and produce heat leading to disaster.... but then again... I do not believe half or the politics looping around.

    I would really like to see the internal design of that charger, just to see what kind of design could lead to something like this...

    Edit: I should point out that even without horrible death-causing faults, USB chargers vary wildly. The one built into my Arlec powerboard oscillates between 4.5 and 5.5V at about 100Hz...

    Last edited 27/06/14 10:58 am

      Giz just covered this very recently

      Arlec are just another cheap $2 store brand these days, they stopped making quality gear a while back.

      I have sold for ARLEC in the past, Please! Please! never purchase Arlec products they have so many recalls yet the never get kicked. Arlec is poison to the electrical industry.

    The story doesn't really go into any detail....
    Was it a cheap charger, or a cheap cable or the laptop she was holding or whatever the headphones were connected to, or the powerboard everything was plugged into or a power surge in her house???

    I avoid cheap chargers because they tend to be low power and charge stuff very slowly (i also have tons of branded ones lying around from every phone I've ever bought)..... however I do buy cheap USB cables all the time.

      Yeah, there are a lot of unknowns.
      However, properly built equipment shouldn't lead to this outcome no matter what the powerboard does (and there isn't a lot it can do; disconnect earth, disconnect neutral, both, or short) or even with a moderate surge.

      x2, the article doesn't really make sense to me. How did a USB charger cause her laptop to burn her chest? Laptops don't charge via USB, and if something was charging via the laptop, that's a USB cable, not a USB charger...

        Other articles I've read point the blame squarely at the usb charger and she was just using her laptop at the time.

        From another article:

        "The voltage seems to travel up through the faulty charger into her phone and she was wearing earplugs and also operating a laptop which was also plugged into a power point,” Ms Collins said.

        “So the (electricity) travelled back down through the earphones to the laptop and into the power point,” she said.

        “Two-hundred-and-forty volts (then) travelled up into the phone which obviously the phone isn’t designed to handle.

        “Bodies are very good conductors of electricity so it’s travelled through her body.” "

      Hold on fair trading department says only approved electrical items are allowed in the country right?,, then don't houses have safety trip switches?,, well did not work that well on this instance.
      So who to blame???

    It would be a nice idea if you could expand this article (or post another one) explaining some basic steps in how to identify fakes or cheapies. For example, what Australian standards marking should these things carry? How do you determine whether these markings are genuine? How do you distinguish between the fake and genuine Apple chargers (in the article you mentioned that one carried Apple branding)?

    I know the best solution is to buy genuine OEM parts from legitimate suppliers, but plenty of people love a bargain. It would be nice to get some guidance on how to do this safely.

      Might be of some help.

    Hangon, something is missing from the story. She had headphones on, and was holding a laptop.

    How was the USB charger involved? I've never seen a laptop that charges from its USB port.

      When the uncertified USB charger failed, she became part of the circuit when the mains power did what electricy does best and followed the path of least resistance to an earth point.

      The uncertified USB Charger connects to the iPhone via USB, which connects to the victim via earbuds/headphones, who is in turn connected to the laptop via fingers and hands, which is then grounded via the laptop power brick.

      When the charger failed it could have then passed through the phone to her headphones. Through her head back through the phones and back out the charger. Or grounded through her body depending her circumstances.

    Quality control is important. Generally speaking, high cost electronics (are expected to) have excellent quality control applied to them. It can save your equpment and more importantly it can save your life.

    Last night, I was stretching and knocked over a glass of water, just happened to spill all over my GPO (general purpose outlet). This has around 10k worth of equpment plugged into it. The whole house tripped. Luckily for me the 8 plug block is a very high quality Crest device. Nothing surged past it. All my equpment is safe and working :D

    I'd hate to think where I'd be right now if I was using a 20 year old 6 plug from target (you know the kind that's so old it rattles inside). I'd probably be replacing every powersupply from the monitor, tower, multiple consoles, NAS...

      So in other words your cb in your mains box saved you.

    I bought one of those cheap no name usb chargers from ebay a few months ago
    But I had a strange feeling I should test it first without anything plugged into it

    I isolated everything on the powerboard board, plugged it in, then turned the power on
    It popped immediately, tripping the fuses in the whole house, but didnt take anything else with it to electronics doom
    It had black char marks around the usb port, I later opened it and the board inside was totally burnt up
    I bent the pins, threw it into the garbage, told the ebay store these were dangerous, to stop selling them immediately and got my $2 back
    Then I check the feedback for that item and it turned out someone else also bought the very same charger in AU and had the same thing happen a day or so earlier, he left very angry feedback because his son almost got electrocuted

    Is this the only case of this happening? if so then no need to worry, this sounds like an extremely isolated incident

      Someone died and others could die but don't worry about it?

      Develop some empathy - just because you don't know the person directly doesn't mean that overall the loss of life is more or less important - I guarantee it is very important to someone.

      If it was someone you knew would you be ok to see the cheap, knockoff cables continue to be sold?

      Edit - Added the "cheap, knockoff" because apparently I was not clear enough :)

      Last edited 28/06/14 6:43 pm

        ? calm down, I'm not saying lets ignore the fact that the person died, but are you seriously suggesting we stop using USB charger cables because of 1 incident? thats like saying, someone's had a crash in a car, lets stop using cars, that would be idiotic. If i knew the person i'd be sad and horrified of course but I wouldn't stop charging my phone, i'd simply be more cautious and create an awareness of the issue

        Last edited 27/06/14 6:30 pm

          Hilarious - not what I or the article was saying at all...

          The article and my comment reference the cheap, untested, no AU standards. poorly insulated cables and chargers that led to the accident. Not all USB cables at all (???)

          Let me attempt to be clearer - Your comment referenced "why worry" when someone using a cheap, untested cable had an accident that resulted in her death. My point is that we should indeed worry as these cables are still being sold and the same could happen again - whether isolated or not, a human life is valuable and if preventable we should indeed "worry" and attempt to prevent a similar accident happening.

          My additional point was that if you knew the victim, would you not want the cheap cables to stop being sold so at the very least a similar fate didn't befall someone else?

            You get THIS angry over obvious semantics? This person is speaking in general terms, asking whether ONE incident is enough to launch a fear campaign over ONE incident. It's a relevant sentiment because what makes this ONE isolated incident more important or AS important as any other freak, isolated incident. Every reason you give could be leveled at any isolated accident resulting in the loss of a life. Should we "worry" about every single thing in a supermarket that could kill you via choking, poison, failure etc.? Should every THING that may or may not meet standards according to a wide array of various people be investigated? And stop trying to insult the guy by pretending he's referencing the article. Also, stop misrepresenting the issue. As tragic as it was, it was "cable", not "cableS". The incident was singular, hence his motivation to ponder how widespread this problem really is.

            Would a less reactionary, fear-mongering stance be to look into why there's such a huge incentive to buy cheap electronics in Australia over those that are tried and tested?

              Settle...not angry at all :)
              It's ok - not fear-mongering just pointing out that it should be investigated. I hope as a society we continue to, at the very least, try to prevent additional accidents through whatever means. People certainly don't have to burden themselves with every single one of society's ills but some basic empathy, compassion and humanity can only help right?
              To say "don't worry" about it as it is an isolated case implies that there must be more examples before it really is an issue worth investigating... Shouldn't one human life be example enough?

              I was curious though how my initial comment could be interpreted as promoting a ban on all USB cables???

              Last edited 28/06/14 6:41 pm

    If the info about the laptop and headphones is accurate it is a good argument for plastic casing on your equipment, ie no earth path.

      Umm how? Double insulation renders rcd etc useless. If it was unearthed the fault could have gone to earth and not used her as an earth point.
      You can never have to much correctly done unearthing.
      It's a stupid argument.

        Double insulation does not render RCD's useless.
        RCD type devices are a balanced core arrangement. If the circuit has the same current running through the active as the neutral the circuit is balanced. If there is a leakage to earth in any part of the circuit or if it leaks to another circuit there is an unbalance and depending on what the threshold current is set at the device will trip.

        I cant follow your comment, but the voltage will go to the easiest path to earth, if you are holding a metal device in your other hand that has a path to earth when you touch the live lead with the free hand guess what organ gets stopped, RCD,s are not 100% effective or necessarily fitted.
        Alternatively if the metal device is the unit that receives the live connection and is not earthed your body becomes the earth path, if the device is insulated you dont get a shock.

        Last edited 27/06/14 6:25 pm

          RCD's may not be always be 100% correct and that is why they should be tested on a regular basis.
          Electricians have equipment for testing this in their tool kit and in lots of installed equipment there is a built in button (circuit).
          In many older installations RCD's may not be fitted (new homes must be). So be very wary.

          Ohms law of resistance (your body) and voltage (230v single phase here in Aus) determines the current that flows through your body. Lots of things can vary that resistance

          Keep in mind that your body may not be at earth potential if you are insulated from earth.
          Electrical installations (mostly) conform to the MEN (Main Earth Neutral) system here in Australia and there are lots of spin offs just in this area.

          Discussion from this very unfortunate accident highlights a number of points:
          Approved equipment (Australian use).
          Safety switches in homes (RCD's).
          Feel a tingle with any equipment plugged in. unplug it and get it checked out.
          Last, not sure about what maybe a problem. Talk to somebody who may know or who can point you in the right direction.

    Surely there's a way for Australia to build its own safe powerboards and chargers for cheap, matching these poor quality chinese ones in price, but exceeding in quality
    It's not rocketscience and these aren't expensive to make
    Surely the design/manufacturing audits, safety testing can be done without bumping the price of every charger into the $10 range

    The only AC -> USB chargers I've found are by JACKSON, they're pretty pricey and you don't have too many options in how many usb ports you get or configurations, and they have a blinding blue LED that I've had to cover so I can bloody sleep at night!
    Electronics companies need to stop this shit, I'm looking at you samsung!

      You can get samsung ones for 20-25 bucks, and since they use the same port as everyone else, you can get other brands cheaper...

      Apple is the one using a proprietary connector. 25 bucks for for the wall-adapter on its own..

        Apple have a proprietary plug on one end of the cable. The actual wall charger has a standard USB socket on it. Nothing stopping you using a different brand charger with your iphone cable or apple charger with micro USB cable

      I hate that led!! It annoys me so much!

    Why didn't her house have safety switches in her power box. That is the big question.

      They are a reasonably recent requirement I would think that the majority of older houses would not have them, and from experience they are not 100% effective.

      A safety switch is useless if a person contacts the active and neutral on a circuit, and is not grounded. A safety switch only trips when a person is grounded and contacts the circuit. If you're wearing rubber soled shoes and touch an appliance that has become live, you become part of the circuit and the voltage passes through you.

    Given how many broken thunderbolt cables my daughter has been through in the past 12 months compared to her original 30-pin cable that's last 4 years under similar conditions, I don't think Apple is using high quality cables in its current models.

      Considering most normal people don't treat their cables like slingshots, I don't think you should be questioning the quality of the cable, instead question how its being used. My daughter said exactly the same thing, then when how I saw how she treated it, it was no wonder she as gone through 2 in 12 months. First was the original, supplied with her phone, second was a not so cheap Belkin cable. So just take a look at how they're treated first. Kid don't care how they treat their stuff. How many screens have been broken? That will give you a clue.

    I want to know - how cheap is too cheap? I have a couple of Surface Pro clone chargers because the Microsoft one is $100.

    Seems to me like it's time that all manufacturers agreed to sell chargers at cost rather than getting a ridiculous 500% markup on them.

    Last edited 27/06/14 5:00 pm

    I tested a general purpose power point socket and three pin plug stamped with the Australian standard approval on a purely resistive load at a constant current flow of 10 amperes, with a power factor of 1 or unity. After 4 hours and seventeen minutes the flimsy pins on the plug developed a high resistance spot and the resultant arc heated up the plug, over a matter of minutes started burning the plastic surrounding the socket and the plug. A small flame materialised and I disconnected the supply, The flame self extinguished. That power point if located on a skirting board under a window with curtains in the proximity would have no doubt caused a fire. I phoned the Australian Standards Association and spoke to a person who was referred to me. His reply when I berated him was, "Don't blame me, I did not set the standard, it was already set when I took over. I also criticized the fact that the earth pin on top could result in the plugs partial withdrawal with the active pin still live, just a small gap but a child could get a finger or some metal object such as a spoon in to make contact. After my tirade the plugs began to appear with an insulated coating on part of the active and neutral pins. Then the Australian and New Zealand Standards were amended to the the China Standard. If you installed the approved Australian power point in the UK you would go to jail. So there is no point in assuring people that a charger manufactured to Australian standards is any safer than the ones in China. The 240 volt supply that apparently flowed from earphones is not in any way coupled up with a charger supply. The supply must have come from a circuit connection in the computer, and definitely at a low frequency [50] cycles or hertz.
    A simple series of tests will provide the conclusive answer. It is a very rare incident but that makes it relatively easy to trace the source of the fault and reproduce the supply at the head phones even if the flow damaged certain components. Amen

      Earth pins on plugs are longer than the active or neutral and that is a standard requirement here in Australia.
      The reason being is that the appliance is still earthed if the plug is pulled out until after the active or neutral are disconnected
      The small insulated area on the active and neutral pins have only been required for about the last 10 years and the reason is that the pins offer insulation from the active until the pin disconnects from the socket or GPO.
      New extension leads also have a shroud around the socket end.

    Surely the main point here is the idea that things should be labelled for 'Australian Safety Standards'.

    Well to be fair, I got a charger from my brother as my genuine one had broken, and this one was one of the cheap ones from Ebay and something is off about.

    I've noticed when I have this plugged into my phone charging and I take a call, I can feel a small static shock on my face. I've tried it whilst not taking a call and just having the phone touch my face, and I can definitely feel something coming from the phone. I've become very wary of it and I don't touch it while it's charging in case something like in this article might happen.

    This never happened with any other phone chargers, so it might just be the one I got, though it doesn't get recognized on my computer either so something is wrong with it.

      I would actually love to get my hands on a couple of chargers like that so I can look at the signal output and work out what's going on.

    If this incident involved a non-apple transformer (Not just the cable), then the pictures in this article are very misleading.

    Why have you idiots illustrated an important article with photos of USB cables and eBay listings for the same cables? It's about the mains chargers, a faulty USB cable won't kill you. How about updating the photos in the name of public safety?????

    I've bought 7 $1 chargers this year already. Finally spent the big bucks aka $5 on a charger that has been working for 2 months.

    Totally agree with Harry Whine who obviously has some electrical background. Although I'm not so sure the fault originated from the laptop... I suspect the USB charger failed and the iPhone went live, then the neutral return path was picked up via the headphones and then through the laptop power supply.
    My main concern here is that the laptop and it's power supply allowed the neutral return path in the first place. Maybe the headphones is the clue here... A very unusual circumstance.
    Since the house was rented it would have to have a RCD, but they won't cut supply if all of the fault current returns via the neutral which appears to be the case here.
    I wonder what brand the laptop and it's power supply was?
    Those people sticking up for the $2 cheap chargers have a good look at yourself. If you knowingly plug anything non approved into the power socket, or phone socket for telecommunications equipment, you are liable for any consequential losses, both property or injury. You could be going to jail for the death of your own child for example or getting sued for burning down your rental house.
    My understanding is Australia recognises the approval standards from the US and Europe as we'll so I just look for the European CE approval myself. The main concern here though is fake approval markings...
    If you want to save money buy a cheaper brand unit to start with.... Don't cheap out on anything that plugs into mains or phone sockets or you could be very sorry.
    M heart goes out to this woman's husband and children. She was about to start a new life in Oz and being a nurse she is in a much needed and appreciated profession. Such a waste...
    It's ironic as she comes from the Philippines where the electrical standards are very shoddy and hundreds die every year from preventable electrical accidents. I can't believe she has died in Australia where standards are so high.
    The authorities can't stop the eBay purchases but those selling these non approved chargers in Australia should feel the full force of the law.

    Hi to every one, my sympathy goes for the family children left behind.
    There is nothing that any one can do to bring this person back.
    But there is one thing that we must come to realize, no one pushes any one to buy a cheap or low quality electrical device for the matter.
    We are the ones in search for something cheap, more economical, some of us trying to save a few $$, the rest may be too greedy...
    The fundamental of all is, your device in this case mobile phone came with certified charger, that meets Australian standards correct?.
    So for whatever reason this person had acquired a cheaper lower quality version of the wall charger from a local market. (None certified to Australian standards).
    So let it be a good lesson for all of us and learn not to (bargain), and buy the correct electrical equipment.
    The moral here is that we are the ones at fault for buying none legit equipment, we do spend $1000 on Phone's but not $25.00 in a Certified Charger....

    The main culprit was the phone.!!!

    every one seems to be missing this point.
    All chargers can blow up - even good ones- and put 240V into the phone
    The phone should be insulated so that any exposed metal is insulated from the circuit.
    and so cant become live and connect 240V to the user.

    There seems to be a problem with australian standards that assumes only 5V will ever go to the phone. This clearly is not the case.
    Solution -
    1) all metal on phones should be insulated,
    2) All phones with uninsulated metal should be recalled.

    And as for the earphones - a complete mystery why they should be conductive.???

    Come on Dept of Fair Trading come clean on what really happened here.

    there will be another death.

    Check out all the ambulance reports of electric shock from phones. Lots
    An electric shock however slight is 99.9% death.

      If you're gonna buy a cheap Chinese knockoff, might as well buy a cheap Chinese coffin- cause you're gonna need it when the cheap charger explodes in your face, or worse.

    What!? A 5v DC from a USB with 1 or 2 Amp. can kill a person!!! This story is ways too believable. If the plug from the outlet blows up, maybe! But in Aus and US, there is tripper and it is only 120V, not 220V. And this is a news from gizmodo!?

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