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]