I-TEAM: You may have a deadly device charger and not even know it

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Monday, Nov. 4, 2019
News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

Photo: Pixabay

AUGUSTA, GA (WRDW/WAGT) -- A couple of years ago, a Martinez woman's cell phone caught her blanket on fire, seriously burning her and destroying her home.

The state fire marshal's office says she was napping with her phone charging next to her.

We've heard the warnings about after-market cell phone chargers, but how do you spot a fake?

It's a problem that keeps Jennifer Mendez and her team at Gadget Clinic very busy.

“It’s daily,” Mendez said. “It’s several times a day.”

Mendez says a fire is very easily caused by cheap, off-brand chargers – nearly every time.

“Last week, we had a customer bring in their iPad and it started smoking,” Mendez said. “My first guess was it had liquid damage, but when we opened it up, there was no liquid damage at all. It was actually an after-market charger. So when we used that charger to charge up one of our gadgets, our gadget started to smoke up too.”

To give you an idea of how serious this is, the Underwriters Laboratory studied how dangerous counterfeit phone adapters are, and despite the pun, their results were shocking.

They tested 400 adapters, the little square base you plug into the wall, and found the overall failure rate exceeded 99 percent.

Out of that, all but three failed basic safety tests, meaning 397 out of the 400 they tested were fire and shock hazards.

12 were so poorly designed and constructed, they posed a risk of lethal electrocution to the user.

That's just the base; the counterfeit USB cords are a big issue too.

“The issue is, they don't send the correct amount of voltage with the Samsung and HTC chargers, and with the iPhone chargers, there's what's called an E-75 chip that goes on this little logic board, along with two other chips,” Mendez said. “A lot of the after-market chargers won't have them.”

Those chips tell the phone when to stop charging, but what if they are missing?

“That’s when you’ll get issues like a swollen battery, or a phone that doesn’t turn on at all,” Mendez said.

Our I-Team put some popular chargers for sale on Amazon to the test. We found a two pack for $8.99 -- the base and the cord. One cord, labelled Anker, a trusted brand sold by “ankerdirect,” seems legit.

We also found a durable nylon braided cord in a three pack for $6.99.

The three pack did not have the E-75 chip. That’s a fire hazard.

What about the two pack?

“This one has two resistors, but it doesn’t have the chips, so that one fails,” Mendez said.

And the 'Anker' charger?

“Wow, this one is being sold as Anker, but it’s definitely not an Anker one,” Mendez said.

She has tested legitimate Anker products before, and she knows they are a great quality product. That's what Mendez sells in her own store.

The bottom line? A good deal is usually too good to be true. Experts say it's best to buy the charger and any replacement chargers sold by the company that made your product, or directly from the website of a company you trust, like https://www.anker.com/ .

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