UPDATED: Friends don’t let friends buy fake Apple chargers

An astonishing 99% of fake Apple chargers sold are unsafe, standards body warns

Apple, iPhone, iPad, product safety, Samsung, Amazon, chargers, fake electronics
Jed Scattergood/Flickr

Don’t buy or use fake Apple device chargers as an astonishing 99 percent of them are unsafe and their use puts you at risk, a global safety body warns today.

Danger warning

In tests conducted by Illinois-based firm UL and commissioned by the UK Trading Standards organization, all but three of 400 fake chargers sold as being made by Apple failed basic safety tests.

UPDATE: UL have now provided Computerworld with a link to the original report (PDF).

These fakes are dangerous.

“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,” the organization warned.

It found them likely to cause electric shock or burst into flames if exposed to high voltage, typical in a power surge.

Fake as sold

The warning emerges just weeks since Apple filed suit against Mobile Star for manufacturing fake chargers sold through Amazon.

Apple purchased and tested over 100 Lightning cables and chargers marked "Fulfilled by Amazon" across nine months. It found 90 percent of them were fake (even though one was sold through Amazon as “original”).

“Unlike genuine Apple products, they are not subjected to industry-standard consumer safety testing and are poorly constructed with inferior or missing components, flawed design, and inadequate electrical insulation,” Apple told the court. (I still wish Apple would make a wider selection of chargers/cables.)

Way back in 2014, Ken Shirriff tore down a bunch of fake chargers to compare these with the originals. He found that Apple’s chargers used better components, were better built, and had more electrical insulation crammed inside than cheap and unsafe fakes. His post is still an essential read if you want to understand why these things are dangerous.

Explosive situation

There have been multiple claims of incendiary iPhones since Samsung utterly failed customers by inadequate testing of the batteries used in its life-threatening Galaxy Note 7 devices. This is an equivalence that does not exist.

Apple investigates these reports, so it does seem incredibly revealing that the first step it took while investigating them was to launch litigation against makers of fake charging devices. It would be easy to speculate that fake charging devices are the primary cause of those rarely reported iPhone explosions.

Lord Toby Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, said: “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."

Complicated lives

Modern life is complicated, and the devices we use are also complex. A cable is not just “a cable”, it is a complex product that may contain small quantities of RAM, a processor and more.

Charging devices contain similar complexities and should be built to handle quite complex power management tasks. This means that when you buy a cheap non-branded power adaptor you are taking a big risk: that's made even worse when you purchase a fake adaptor that is being sold as being the genuine article.

How to buy legitimate devices

What can you do to ensure you aren’t using a fake charging device?

Purchasing advice

  • Always purchase charging devices from the manufacturer of the device you wish to charge, if possible.
  • When purchasing an Apple charger check for the signs of counterfeiting such as mistakes in brand names or logos.
  • Check that plugs carry appropriate safety warnings and are correctly spelt.
  • It may help to compare charging devices and cables you are thinking about purchasing to those you know to be genuine.
  • If you do purchase a charger from vendors who are not the manufacturer, be wary of deals that are too good to be true and read reviews of the seller before you make a purchase
  • More advice on buying these things.

Usage advice

  • Never use a charger that is damaged
  • Never use a damaged cable
  • Be careful that pins on the plug fit securely without using excessive force.
  • Never cover a device that is being charged
  • Unplug your chargers when not in use

These cheap chargers may cost a little less, but the cost in damage to you or your devices may be immense.

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