Consumer protection in Hong Kong

Popular USB travel adapters failed safety tests, pose risk of short circuits and electric shocks, Hong Kong consumer watchdog warns

Problems were found with all 10 tested by Consumer Council, with officials urging public to stop using one unbranded product altogether

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 2:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 14 June, 2018, 10:44pm

All samples of popular USB travel adapters failed to pass safety tests, exposing users to risks including short circuits and electric shocks, Hong Kong’s consumer watchdog warned on Thursday, with officials urging the public to stop using one unbranded product altogether.

The Consumer Council tested 10 products widely used by travellers who prefer to take only one adapter on trips, especially overseas. Such universal adapters also serve as USB chargers and can be used in different countries.

“While we urge manufactures to apply safer design and not operate in the grey area of the law, consumers should also pay attention to the features we mentioned,” Gilly Wong Fung-han, the council’s chief executive, said on Thursday.

The Electrical and Mechanical Services Department issued a warning on such adapters as well as products with a similar design after it was notified of the test results in May.

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The department urged consumers to stop using one of the unbranded products on safety grounds.

The devices tested by the council came from Skross, Maxtron, Lifetrons, Zendure, Momax, Verbatim, ecDigi, Adam Elements and two unbranded producers. All of them were made in China except the Skross adapter, which was made in Thailand.

All 10 samples were found to lack sufficient insulating distance between the USB transformer and the circuit, increasing the risk of triggering the circuit breaker. Important warnings such as “Does Not Convert Voltage” and “For Use With Unearthed Appliances Only” were also missing from all of the tested products.

All the samples heated up beyond standard limits when in use, although the eight branded products had protective features such as fuses and thermal cut-outs that stopped the charging process when the device got too hot.

Adapters from Adam Elements posed a risk of electric shocks as some metal parts were exposed and likely to be touched by users.

“If you observe something abnormal, stop using it and get a better one,” council member Professor Wong Kam-fai said. “The adapters can be very risky.”

Of the 10 samples, the Skross adapter – the most expensive at HK$399 (US$51) – fared the best, with a score of 4 out of 5 in safety tests. The others scored between 1.5 and 3.5.

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The wholesaler for Maxtron’s adapters, which sell for HK$249, said the product was meant for locations outside Hong Kong, though it assured consumers that the devices complied with local laws and were safe to use. Maxtron scored 3.5 in the safety tests, losing points for temperature control.

Agents for Momax said the adapter tested by the council was no longer in production. The product, which had a score of 3.5, had a plug with an unfitted structure that could come loose when charging.

Sellers of the ecDigi product said they would update the information stamped on the products but added that the test results applied only to a small sample. The ecDigi adapter scored 2.5 because its material was not sufficiently heat-resistant.