Everyday tasks such as drying your hair, keeping warm, plugging in a phone or charging an electric car are being made potentially dangerous by seriously unsafe household products being sold online.
A recent survey by Electrical Safety First (ESF) found nearly four in ten (37%) people are using online marketplaces to compare prices – in a bid to get the best deal there are fears the cost of living crisis will expose even more shoppers to dangerous goods as they look to keep cash in their wallets.
Fresh concerns come as a new investigation by the charity reveals people are more at risk of buying dangerous products online than ever before.
ESF has investigated listings of electrical goods across five leading online marketplaces, including Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Facebook Marketplace, AliExpress and Wish.com. It found more than 50 listings of products for use all over the home, from the driveway to the kitchen, were unsafe.
One EV charging cable purchased from eBay presented a risk of electric shock and overheating when it was tested by a specialist lab. Two other EV charging cables purchased from Amazon Marketplace also failed electric shock tests, exposing users to a major hazard.
As households continue to grapple with soaring heating bills, ESF found that potentially lethal heaters are finding their way into people’s homes via online marketplaces.
A portable heater purchased via eBay proved to be one of the most dangerous products uncovered by the charity. With 240 volts running through a heating element easily exposed or accessible through an insecure cover, posing a risk to life.
Bargain beauty buys for under £30 were also found to pose a serious safety hazard, with hair dryers and straighteners fitted with illegal mains plugs lacking a fuse presenting both fire and electric shock risks.
Even making a morning smoothie could end in disaster, with one kitchen blender available through an online marketplace fitted with a defective motor which began to overheat and pour with smoke less than a minute after being switched on.
Cyclists were also found to be at risk from unsafe e-bike chargers available on Amazon Marketplace, despite a previous investigation by ESF highlighting their fire risk.
Lesley Rudd, Chief Executive of Electrical Safety First, commented: “With so many people feeling the squeeze, we’re concerned that more shoppers than ever could be exposing themselves to risk from supposed bargains found on online marketplaces. These products can come at a dangerous cost. People are buying everyday products like hair dryers and phone chargers, s online without knowing the hazards they present.
“Third-party sellers are well aware of consumers’ desire to save money right now, so they are flooding the UK with cheap, poor-quality electricals through online marketplaces. We’re even seeing them invest in advertising to drive sales, despite their products putting consumers at serious risk.
“That’s why the Government must act urgently to protect people by introducing legislation that forces online marketplaces to take reasonable steps to ensure the products they sell on their platforms are safe.”
This latest investigation is part of the ‘Don’t Be Electricked’ campaign, which Electrical Safety First is taking to the streets today by setting up a ‘Shock Stall’ at Berwick Street Market. Members of the public will be able to talk to ESF experts and see the hazards presented by the Top 10 Most Dangerous Products:
- An energy-saving device, with unsafe plug pins and unapproved internal electronic components. This item has already been recalled as unsafe by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). Listed for sale on eBay.
- A portable heater, with easy access to live parts with 240 volts running through the heating element, posing an imminent risk to life. Listed for sale on eBay.
- A ‘water-proof’ extension lead with no water-proof capabilities that presents a significant risk of electric shock. This item has already been recalled as unsafe by the Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS). Listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace.
- An EV charging cable failed lab testing, presenting a risk of electric shock and overheating to potentially cause a fire. Listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace.
- A universal extension lead, found through testing to present an electric shock risk. Listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace.
- A 5-in-1 hair styler, had an unsafe plug without a fuse and presents a significant fire risk. The product also comes apart easily without the need for a tool, exposing live parts and presenting a shock risk. Listed for sale on eBay.
- A plug-in light, with an unsafe plug without a fuse and presenting a significant fire risk. The product also comes apart easily, exposing live parts and presenting a shock risk. Listed for sale on eBay.
- A fast charger 20W, with a non-compliant plug and body design that interferes with the socket switch. Listed for sale on Amazon Marketplace.
- Travel adaptor (universal), with easy access to live parts and presenting an electric shock risk. Listed for sale on eBay.
- A 3200W food blender, was found to present an overheating and fire risk in testing – produced smoke from the motor when turned on for the first time. Listed for sale on eBay.
For people who do not get a chance to visit the ‘Shock Stall’ in London today, ESF has uploaded demonstration videos featuring its technical experts explaining the hazards associated with these products on its social media channels.
To protect themselves, consumers can follow the ESF Five tips for making safer electrical purchases online:
- Don’t buy on price alone – not all bargains are worth it!
Some fakes are for sale just below the recommended retail value, hoodwinking shoppers that are too savvy to fall for the ‘too good to be true’ deals. Make sure you do your homework if you decide to buy products below high street retail prices.
- Don’t just take the seller’s word for it – or the reviewer's!
Beware of a product with solely glowing reviews, especially if the reviewers aren’t verified. Some sites cross-reference user reviews with their buyer database and label those people as "verified purchasers".
- Know where you’re buying from
Make sure you know where the supplier is based, a ‘co.uk’ URL doesn’t guarantee the website is UK based. If there is no address supplied, or there is just a PO Box, be wary; many substandard electrical goods are manufactured overseas, where they will not be safety tested and are produced as quickly and cheaply as possible.
- Beware of words qualifying an item’s authenticity
If the seller claims the product is ‘genuine’, ‘real’ or ‘authentic’ double check the source. Most reputable retailers don’t need to sell their products like this.
- Stick to reputable retailers you know and trust:
This is the most important thing you can do to keep yourself safe.
Notes to Editor:
About the consumer research
- The research was undertaken by Opinium on behalf of Electrical Safety First.
- General Population survey sample was 2,000 UK adults aged 18+. Fieldwork was undertaken 15-18 November 2022. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been nationally weighted.
About the product testing
- 58 other products in addition to this were investigated in January 2023 across Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Wish.com, Ali Express and Facebook Marketplace – all products were deemed unsuitable for sale to the public and did not meet necessary UK safety standards
- 3 x Electric vehicle charging cables were identified in late 2021 by the charity, 2 x Amazon Marketplace and 1 via eBay, and subsequently put through testing via a specialist independent test lab in 2022. All three failed. The findings were escalated to the Office for Product Safety & Standards where the charging cables were formally recalled.
Right of replies:
An Amazon spokesperson said:
“Safety is a top priority at Amazon and we require all products in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations.
“We have removed these products while we investigate.
“If customers have concerns about an item they’ve purchased, we encourage them to contact us directly so we can investigate and take appropriate action.
- We require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations.
- When appropriate, we remove a product from the store, reach out to sellers, manufacturers, and government agencies for additional information, or take other actions to protect customers.
- Amazon has direct contact with Trading Standards and other safety agencies and we actively monitor product recalls and act on the information provided.
A spokesperson for Wish said:
“All of the merchants trading on our platform are required to adhere to local laws and safety standards, wherever their goods are sold.
“All of the listings highlighted within this report have been removed from our UK platform. We have also removed all identical and similar listings. We have also informed the impacted customers and will take any further action as appropriate.”
We have a number of measures in place to help prevent, detect, and remove unsafe items from the platform. Not only are we signatories of the European Commission's Product Safety Pledge, we also recently launched a Wish Standards program that measures our merchants against a defined set of criteria spanning product quality and refund rates. Customers are encouraged to report any listings of concern to our Customer Support team or by emailing email@example.com.
An eBay spokesperson said:
“We take a proactive approach to keeping our users safe, it’s our top priority. We have removed the items that Electrical Safety First flagged to us, and alerted buyers who purchased one of the items within the last 90 days.
“We use block filter algorithms which aim to prevent unsafe products from being listed. These filters blocked 4.8million listings in 2022. If an unsafe product does make it on to site, we swiftly remove it and provide product safety education to the sellers to prevent relisting.
“We also work closely with stakeholders and regulators to keep our platform safe. Our Regulatory Portal enables authorities from around the world to report listings of unsafe products, such as those flagged by ESF, for swift removal.”
A statement from AliExpress:
“AliExpress takes product quality and safety very seriously. The items identified as part of the investigation by Electrical Safety First have been removed. Although AliExpress does not take custody of the goods being sold, we have in place policies that all our third-party sellers must comply with to create a safe shopping environment.”
“We work closely with external partners and respond to valid legal requests including from the Office for Product Safety & Standards, to prevent illegal activity on our platforms.” – a Meta spokesperson.
Information on background:
- On this occasion, neither law enforcement nor the Office for Product Safety & Standards have requested that these listings are removed in line with UK laws.
Further Notes to editor:
Electrical Safety First has escalated the findings and listings to The Office for Product Safety & Standards. Of the online marketplaces we contacted, Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Wish.com and AliExpress all confirmed to ESF that they had removed listings highlighted to them by us.
 37% of UK consumers agree that they are already buying more from online marketplaces as it is easier to find price comparisons.