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Second electrocution report again linked to 'knock-off' USB chargers

updated 11:00 pm EDT, Fri July 19, 2013

30-year-old Chinese man was able to call for help, now in coma

Another report of an accidental electrocution has surfaced in China, this time a 30-year-old man named Wu Jian Tong who was stricken when plugging in an iPhone 4 using an unapproved third-party charger. The man survived the ordeal but has been comatose for the past 10 days. He was not breathing when paramedics arrived and was revived using CPR. Authorities believe his coma is due to severe oxygen deprivation to the brain. Earlier this week, a 23-year-old former air stewardess was killed when she allegedly answered a call on her iPhone using what is believed to be a non-Apple charger.

The man's sister, according to the Beijing Evening News, said that Wu had time to call out that he was getting shocked during the incident, which involved an allegedly counterfeit adapter. Wu's sister attempted to unplug the device and was herself shocked, describing "needle-like pains" in her fingertips. "The current was running from my finger, through to my arm and body, and to the foot."

This is the second time an unapproved third-party "knock-off" USB charger or adapter has been implicated in electrocutions of users in a week, both incidents in China. Ma Ailun, who was set to be married next month, was killed when she answered a call while her iPhone was charging. In her case, the family said the charger was the original that had come with the iPhone 4, but video footage of the equipment from state-owned CCTV showed a distinctly non-Apple charger. Though Apple does license some third-party companies to make approved chargers through the "Made For i" program, many more do so without official approval.

Unapproved China-made chargers have been tested in the US with various results, some being considered quite dangerous due to safety compromises made to reduce the cost. Another option being suggested is that the grounding in the homes or the chargers may be severely defective.

One MacNN reader has suggested that small-value capacitors in the counterfeit chargers could be defective, developing a short that would connect one side of the current line to the ground circuit of the iPhone, allowing large-voltage current to pass directly from the case of the device through a person's body if they are grounded, which wouldn't necessarily damage components of the phone. Ma's iPhone was seen in the CCTV report to be functioning normally, with only some scorch marks on the outside to indicate the fatal incident.

In the first incident, an investigation is still being conducted by Chinese authorities and Apple. Another investigation will likely begin over Wu's accident, and the fact that two electrocutions have happened in such a short span may suggest a bad batch of chargers are being sold. In both cases, the equipment has been turned over to police for the investigations.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    "...some being considered quite dangerous due to safety compromises made to reduce the cost. Another option being suggested is that the grounding in the homes or the chargers may be severely defective."

    Or both--that's certainly an option.

    Having read that published test of a dozen USB chargers, including a couple of cheap counterfeit Apple ones, I wouldn't touch one of the counterfeit ones with a ten-foot pole even if it wasn't a potential safety hazard and legally sketchy--the power coming out of the thing was a total mess, and I certainly wouldn't want to subject any valuable piece of electronics to it.

  1. Eriamjh

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 10-20-01

    "Third Party" not knockoff. It's only knockoff if it tries to look just like an Apple charger, even with the logo. AC to dock or USB chargers are commonplace and not all of them are "knockoffs".

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    I think "unapproved" charger would be the best way to describe them. There's a reason Apple has created a standardized program for hardware and accessory makers ("Made for iPod," etc.) and safety is one of those reasons.

    It's not the fact that it was a "Third Party" charger, nor a "knockoff" charger (though either could apply) -- I think it's because it was an "unapproved" charger. There are plenty of third party chargers that are perfectly safe; more than likely because they've gone through the "Made for i-whatever" Apple-standard approval and testing process.

  1. James Katt

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-02-08

    These CHEAP CHINESE chargers are obviously very dangerous. It seems no one in China is regulating and monitoring them to insure they are safe. As you can recall, when Apple found its first generation small iPhone USB chargers could potentially result in a shock, Apple recalled them all and gave out free replacements. These Chinese Cloners don't even think about doing a recall for safety's sake. It is buyer beware in China.

  1. SunSeeker

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 04-12-01

    These chargers are being shipped internationally through eBay and other channels
    I'm sure pallet loads are finding their way into cheap 'bargain shops'
    I'm also sure unscrupulous manufacturers are taking advantage of weaknesses in certification (afaik CE certification does not require every device to be tested. I believe a manufacturer can just say it meets the criteria if they have had certification in the past)

    Choosing to buy decent quality chargers from responsible manufacturers and retailers is the only way to ensure your safety

    When buying any electrical item (including batteries) you should always ask 'would this retailer or manufacturer consider for a second and care about my safety'

    High profile business image, High quality packaging, high quality branding, correct grammar and spelling, a decent website, contactable customer service, past history of recalls TOGETHER are indicators that you might be able to trust this product

  1. chas_m

    MacNN Staff

    Joined: 08-04-01

    SunSeeker: it is sad that it's come to that, but I have to agree when pricing non-Apple chargers

    Diablo: this is a good suggestion and I'll see to it that's changed. Thanks.

  1. AlohaMacintosh

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 03-23-12

    IF Apple didn't overcharge for their stuff this counterfeit market wouldn't thrive like it does....I'm an iPhone user etc... and a die-hard MacUser etc for years..but I am very slowly..but surely...starting to get a stale taste in my mouth for Apple..and Tim Cook doesn't help. I think that he has basically no spark..no personality...is the lamest possible replacement for Steve Jobs that there could possibly be. I'm sure Steve was under the influence of pain killers when he decided to make this "empty-suit" his replacement...God I wish he'd quit!

  1. Geoduck

    Junior Member

    Joined: 01-14-10

    AlohaMacintosh:
    "Tim Cook doesn't help. I think that he has basically no spark..no personality...is the lamest possible replacement for Steve Jobs that there could possibly be. I'm sure Steve was under the influence of pain killers when he decided to make this "empty-suit" his replacement...God I wish he'd quit!"

    I've tried to give TC benefit of the doubt but I'm edging into the same camp. He's a great businessman, and his presentation at WWDC this year was better than his previous appearances, but overall he's a dud. He knows how to run the company and keep it in the black but he's very flat, he does not inspire. And yes, in that position being Evangelist in Chief IS part of the job.

    The trouble is who would replace him? There's nobody on the board that's any better. Jonny Ive comes to mind but he apparently has no interest in the job. SJ was one of a kind, a great spokesman that was also a brilliant idea man and designer. Looking around the industry I see people that are one of those abilities, maybe two, but none that are all three and with the cajones to make the tough decisions when needed.

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    It's worth nothing that this is why there's that little UL logo on things in the US--somebody looked at the guts and said "This thing is basically okay." Even a non-Apple-approved 3rd party USB charger, if built by a reputable company to reasonable safety standards (let's just say, the charger from a Samsung phone or tablet), is perfectly safe.

    The chargers involved in these incidents may well have been actual counterfeits designed to look like "real" Apple ones but built as cheaply as possible (they're all too easy to find in the US as well), or they could have been really cheap 3rd party chargers that were simply not built with proper protection. No real way to tell until somebody releases info from an investigation, although that more recent report said that the woman who was killed bought it from an "Apple Store", so it may well have been a counterfeit being sold by one of the knock-off "Apple" stores in China.

    Unrelated: What on earth does Tim Cook have to do with these incidents? You're just fishing for things to complain about if you somehow think this is his fault.

  1. bleee

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 03-28-02

    @AlohaMacintosh "IF Apple didn't overcharge for their stuff this counterfeit market wouldn't thrive like it does....I'm an iPhone user etc... and a die-hard MacUser etc for years..but I am very slowly..but surely...starting to get a stale taste in my mouth for Apple"

    This why Apples chargers are SO expensive if you actually take the time to read this article it can be a bit technical but it explains things pretty well.

    http://www.righto.com/2012/05/apple-iphone-charger-teardown-quality.html

  1. bleee

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 03-28-02

    @ AlohaMacintosh @Geoducks

    Tim Cook is no Steve Jobs but really I don't think you'll see another Steve Jobs for a while. Tim also knows he's not Steve which is why he isn't trying to be Steve... also why you're seeing more stage time given to other divisions heads (It's Tim's way of acknowledging the he isn't Steve).

    It takes alot of experience to recognize especially from CEO's that they aren't better than the last guy and he's doing the best to fill in the gaps.

  1. mac_in_tosh

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-14-11

    bleee: You give an explanation of why Apple chargers are so expensive. But I've had a lot of trouble with their laptop ones over the years. There was even a class action law suit at one time. So they aren't so great either, but not being deadly is a big advantage.

  1. mac_in_tosh

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 12-14-11

    "SJ was one of a kind, a great spokesman that was also a brilliant idea man and designer"

    Puleeseeeeee

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