June 27, 2014 6:27 pm

Could your cheap knock-off phone charger kill you?

Government officials in Australia have issued a warning about cheap USB style chargers after the apparent electrocution of a 28-year-old woman in April.

AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

When your tablet or cellphone charger reaches the end of its life and you want to avoid paying a mint for a replacement, you may be tempted to head to your local discount outlet to buy a generic one for just a few bucks.

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But government officials in Australia have issued a warning about cheap, unapproved USB-style chargers after the apparent electrocution of a 28-year-old woman in April.

Authorities in New South Wales (NSW) are investigating the death of Sheryl Aldeguer, who was found dead in her home “with burns on her ears and chest.” They believe the $4.95 USB-style charger that was connected to the mobile phone she was using is to blame for shocking her with a “high-voltage electrical pulse,” the Sydney Morning Herald reported Friday.

“The voltage [seemed] to travel up through the faulty charger into her phone and she was wearing earplugs and also operating a laptop which was also plugged into a power point,” Lynelle Collins, of the government consumer rights agency Fair Trading NSW told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“The [electricity] travelled back down through the earphones to the laptop and into the power point,” Collins explained. “Two-hundred-and-forty volts [then] travelled up into the phone, which obviously the phone isn’t designed to handle.”

Collins told the Guardian there hadn’t been a reported death related to an electrical appliance in five years.

Alderguer was a mother of two children from the Philippines who had only been living in Australia for a short while when friends found her dead inside her residence in East Gosford, about 80 kilometres north of Sydney.

She was about to start a new job in a few days, after completing training to convert her nursing education from the Philippines to meet Australian standards, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Her husband and two children were still living in the Philippines, but she had hopes they would soon come to live with her, the Guardian reported.

Last week, Fair Trading NSW raided the Sydney-area kiosk from where Aldegeur is thought to have purchased the charger.

The business’s owner could be fined as much as AUS $875,000 (CDN $878,985) or two years in jail for selling USB-style chargers and power adapters that don’t comply with safety standards.

Some of the cheap USB style power adapters, used to charge smartphones and tablets, Australian officials seized following the apparent electrocution of a 28-year-old woman.

Handout/Fair Trading NSW

But critics are wondering why a public warning about cheap chargers didn’t come sooner after Aldegeur’s death and suggested more lives could have been put in danger of a similar fate.

“The faulty products have potentially been sold to hundreds of consumers who have been put at risk,” said Labour Party’s Tania Mihailuk, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Aldegeur’s death happened less than a year after a similar death in China, in which a third-party manufactured iPhone charger was linked to the alleged electrocution of a 23-year-old woman.

Mail Ailun reportedly died when she suffered an electric shock after answering her iPhone 5 while it was plugged in and charging.

Third-party manufactured chargers often look similar to those made by Apple and other companies, but are sold at much lower prices. A USB power adapter for an iPhone costs $21.00 on Apple’s website, but a similar third-party product can cost just a couple of dollars at discount stores and kiosks.

Following last July’s death of Ailun—a China Southern Airlines flight attendant from the Xinjiang region—Apple offered customers a limited-time opportunity to trade in third-party adapters for legitimate Apple adapters at a discounted price.

Health Canada has issued warnings about USB-style adapters in the past. A November 2013 recall for counterfeit USB-style chargers, similar to an Apple power adapter, warned the product had not been tested “to determine whether it is compliant with the Canadian Standards for electrical product safety.”

The federal government agency issued a recall for a genuine Apple USB power adapter in November 2008. The adapter, used to charge its iPhone 3G smartphone, was recalled because the metal prongs could break off in a power outlet.

There were no reports of incidents or injuries in either of those recalls.

© 2014 Shaw Media

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