Illegal phone charger on sale in Wollongong

• Woman dies from apparent electrocution

• Warning too late on USB chargers: Labor

Despite the tragic death of a woman in Sydney that has been linked to a non-compliant phone charger, an investigation by the Mercury discovered these illegal products were still readily available within the Wollongong CBD.

David Zhou, who owns and operates Pcxite Computer Sales & Services Pty Ltd in Crown Street, Wollongong, said he was unaware that some of the products he was selling did not comply with Australian standards.

When asked to divulge the name of his supplier, Mr Zhou claimed he did not have contact details, nor did he take the products off the shelves while the Mercury was in his store.

Following our investigation, the NSW Department of Fair Trading has advised the Mercury it will be in contact with Mr Zhou, demanding he remove all unapproved and non-compliant products he has in stock.

When shown a USB charger the Mercury purchased from Pcxite on Friday, Fair Trading said the device was "clearly unapproved and potentially dangerous because it has non-insulated pins and no approval mark".

On Thursday Fair Trading issued a warning to consumers about the potential dangers of non-compliant electrical products, such as phone and USB chargers.

This followed the recent death of mother-of-two Sheryl Anne Aldeguer, who died after being electrocuted due to an faulty and unapproved charger.

"These devices pose a serious risk of electrocution or fire", said NSW Department of Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe.

"Consumers need to avoid these products, and retailers should not be selling them."

Ms Aldeguer's body was discovered by friends on April 23.

She had suffered burns to her ears and chest, which were caused from a high-voltage electrical pulse from her phone that was transferred to her headphones, which she was still wearing when her friends found her.

Following her death, the department discovered and confiscated a number of unapproved USB chargers, travel adaptors and powerboards from a mobile phone accessory stall in Campsie, where the woman had purchased the charger.

The Campsie trader could now face up to two years imprisonment, and fines of up to $875,000.

Fair Trading's Mr Stowe warned consumers not to purchase or use any electrical device or product that does not have a recognised safety approval mark.

Fair Trading recommended any consumers that were already in possession of an unapproved or non-compliant charger to bend back the pins and dispose of the charger immediately.

They also urged anyone with information about the sale of any electrical product they believe is non-compliant to contact Fair Trading on 13 32 20.

For further information on electrical products and equipment, consumers can go to the department's website at fairtrading .nsw.gov.au

How to spot a fake charger

Charging our mobile phones is a daily ritual most of us don't think twice about - but it can kill you.

And consumers are advised not to use a device while it is plugged into a power socket. 

The death of a young Sydney woman who appears to have been electrocuted by a non-standard charger prompted a warning from authorities.

“These devices pose a serious risk of electrocution or fire,” Fair Trading Commissioner Rod Stowe said. He advised consumers to discard any unapproved chargers, travel adaptors or power boards - and make sure no one else can use them by bending the pins. 

The cheap substitute products are widely available from discount stores and markets, including eBay.

Voltage inside the charger changes between different parts, and it's that difference which creates the potential for an electric shock. Mains power in Australia is 230V, and the output of a typical charger is around 5-10V.

Inside, the device converts AC (alternating current) to DC (direct current) and uses a "flyback" switch to turn the DC power on and off around 40,000 times a second. This generates the exact amount of power needed, without losing excess as heat.

The big danger is a lack of insulation inside the fake chargers. Insulating tape or tubes should be wrapped around key parts and wires to minimise the risk of a spark. Genuine articles typically contain multiple layers of protection, but a fake one will have the bare minimum.

Parts should also be kept well apart. Experts recommend at least four millimetres of "creepage" - space between low-voltage and high-voltage circuits. This is to prevent, for example, a drop of water condensing across a narrow gap and causing a shock.

Real devices are also more likely to contain noise-filtering parts for a quieter charge. A non-standard charger may also mean your device takes longer to charge, and it could degrade the battery on the device.

So how can you spot a dodgy appliance from the outside?

An easy solution is to buy directly from the manufacturer of your device, for example an Apple iPhone charger. While fake devices will often copy the genuine article's design, they typically lack the same packaging and branding.

NSW Fair Trading has a list of acceptable "approval marks" on its website, which will appear on any authentic device. But they are small and can be confusing. Mr Stowe said an easy way to ensure you purchase a safe charger is to shop from genuine sellers.

"If you're buying goods from reputable retailers, they will be approved," he told ABC Radio.

Consumers are also advised against using any device while it is plugged into the wall, even if the charger is genuine.

"It's not a good idea to actually use it while it's charging," Mr Stowe said. "We're probably all guilty from time to time [but] our experts advise that it's not a thing we should be doing."

A 23-year-old flight attendant was killed in the Chinese region of Xinjiang last year after reportedly answering a call on her iPhone while it was charging. Apple at the time promised to "fully investigate" that incident.

- MICHAEL KOZIOL

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop