Charging our mobile phones is a daily ritual most of us don't think twice about - but it can kill you.
Fake phone chargers can kill
A Sydney woman has died in an apparent electrocution caused by a phoney USB phone charger.
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.