Whether it is Amazon Prime Day, Black Friday or the January sales, we all love a good bargain! However, you need to stay safe when buying electrical equipment from websites.
A cheap pair of hair straighteners or a digital radio at a knock-down price may sound tempting, but these products may end up costing more than money.
In the last year, over one million UK shoppers bought a fake electrical product online.
Electrical equipment (PAT) testing can help identify dangerous products, but what do you do if you’re tempted to snap up a bargain online?
Read our guide to electrical equipment safety to find out…
- What are counterfeit products?
- Why is counterfeit electrical equipment dangerous?
- How to stay safe when buying electrical equipment online
- The issue with commingling
- What to do if you're worried about equipment you've purchased
What are counterfeit products?
Counterfeit (or fake) products are goods that are replicas of branded products. They may look like the real deal but they are likely to have been made in countries where safety regulations and testing are much more lax.
These goods contain faulty parts that can break or overheat shortly after use,
Counterfeit goods are frequently found on third-party selling sites like Amazon, eBay and Wish.
Commonly seen fake electrical goods include phone chargers, electronic games, hairdryers, kettles and streaming boxes.
Why is counterfeit electrical equipment dangerous?
You can potentially get a dangerous electric shock from a counterfeit electrical product. It can also overheat or cause a fire.
Dodgy electrical equipment can cause other problems too.
For example, Which? tested smart plugs from a variety of online retailers and found some of them were not only dangerous but could expose your confidential details to hackers.
How to stay safe when buying electrical equipment online
Although online marketplaces are doing what they can to remove counterfeit listings from their websites, there are still suspicious products sold online.
Anyone can set up as an online seller and start their own store.
Although you may want to jump on a bargain as soon as you spot it online, take the time to check and see if it is all it appears to be…
Buy from a reputable retailer
Buy electrical equipment from an official retailer or a high street store where you can.
It may be more expensive, but you can hand your money over knowing that the product you are purchasing is authentic and safe.
Don't be swayed by social media adverts
Many counterfeit companies sell their products through flashy social media adverts.
If you see a product that looks interesting, do your research before you click on it.
Look at the web page
The web page selling the equipment may reveal a lot about whether the equipment is real or fake.
Is the web page full of typos, exclamation marks and unusual word choices? This may imply that the product is not what it seems.
If the page constantly mentions that the equipment is 'real', 'genuine' or 'authentic', it's a good sign that it isn't!
Check the price
If the price were overly low, many people would know they were buying a fake, so many online companies sell their counterfeit electrical products just below retail value.
A retailer knocking a few pounds off the price doesn’t necessarily mean the product is a fake, but do your due diligence and compare the price with other websites before you put it in your trolley.
Look at the online reviews
Check the online reviews before you buy and see what other customers are saying. If there are lots of customers posting one-star reviews and saying that the product is a knock-off, it’s a red flag.
On the other hand, some unscrupulous companies may purchase fake reviews. Look out for glowing five-star reviews with bad spelling, grammar and fake-sounding profile names.
Some companies have come under fire for offering money to customers for providing five-star reviews, or taking negative reviews down.
Know where the product is coming from
A co.uk web address doesn’t guarantee the seller is based in the UK.
Does the company not provide an address or only has a PO box?
It’s a sign your electrical equipment could be coming from overseas where safety-testing rules may be less strict.
Check your electrical equipment before you use it
You’ve checked the product online, and you’re confident it has come from a legitimate seller.
When your electrical equipment arrives, give it a quick visual check before you plug it in and start using it. Things to bear in mind include:
- Is the packaging authentic? If the packaging is flimsy or contains spelling mistakes, and does not come with a manual or instructions, there is a high chance the product is not what it should be
- Is the voltage correct? The UK domestic voltage is 230V/50Hz. If the voltage on the product is different, then it is not safe to use
- Does the plug have the BSi kitemark or CE mark on it? Bear in mind some forgeries do have these marks on them, so if they do have a BSI kitemark or CE mark, it’s not always a sign the product is legitimate
- Is the plug the right one? If you've bought your electrical equipment from a UK retailer it should have a three-pin plug. If it doesn't, it's likely to be fake
- Is the product lighter than you expected? A genuine phone charger contains over 60 individual components while a counterfeit charger contains about 25. This means a fake electrical product may weigh less than its legitimate counterpart
- Does the plug easily fit into a socket? If there is some resistance, it may mean the pins are the wrong size or the distance between them is wrong. Take care when trying this and do not turn the socket on
- Does anything look wrong? Is the casing cracked or is the cable worn? Are there scorch marks on the plug? If it’s arrived in nothing but pristine condition, then alarm bells should be ringing
If you start using the electrical equipment and you can smell burning, see smoke or the casing feels hot to the touch, turn it off and unplug it straight away.
Electrical Safety First has created a useful Chrome extension called Check it out. This reviews online sellers on Amazon and eBay and lets you know if the product could potentially be counterfeit.
The issue with commingling
Although you can take steps to ensure you have bought an authentic product, there is still the risk that you could be sent a fake product.
Online marketplaces like Amazon use 'commingled inventory' to fulfil order requirements.
Each specific item has a single listing and different sellers of the same product use this listing. This may mean that a customer can order from one seller, but they receive a product from another seller.
Even if you're confident that the product you've bought is authentic, take the time to check it when it arrives to be on the safe side.
What to do if you’re worried about electrical equipment you’ve purchased
If in doubt at all about your brand new purchase, do not use it.
Contact the supplier and ask for a refund. If they refuse and you have used your credit card, you can hold the trader liable if you have spent over £100 on the product.
Also, report your product to your local trading standards team. They will be able to take action against the supplier to ensure they do not put people’s lives and homes at risk by continuing to sell faulty electrical products.