The Investigators - Buyer Beware

By Andy Wise - bio | email | Twitter | Facebook and Aaron Gilchrist of Raycom Media sister station WWBT

MEMPHIS (WMC TV) - It's not a bargain if it blows up in your face.

Cutting corners with counterfeit extension cords, cell phone batteries and USB cords from Hong Kong or who-knows-where-else can end up costing you a bundle, either in home repairs or hospital bills.

Battery expert Tony Honeycutt of Batteries Plus in Richmond, VA, says if you seek out batteries at bargain stores or online -- and they're unlabeled or repackaged or just obviously not new --you're asking for trouble.

"Batteries from us might be $150 and a battery from the Internet might be $50," said Honeycutt.  "So somebody says, 'I'll save $100 and get this one'. They come in and they've got a battery that's junk."

The Action News 5 Investigators obtained video of laptops and cell phones smoldering and exploding due to counterfeit batteries and components.  Most any battery for a cell phone, camera or other device poses a big risk if it's not exactly the right fit.

"You're going to get what you pay for," said Honeycutt.  "Lithium batteries are explosive when they react with air. So any type of a puncture or overcharge on it to a certain degree will cause it to spontaneously combust."

"(Counterfeit electrical products) are almost always substandard," said Clark Silcox of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association.  "They do not live up to the same quality that the genuine brand manufacturer produced to."

Silcox said 90 percent of the counterfeit electrical products in the U.S. came from China.  For an example, he displayed two extension cords.  The one made to American industry standards included 12 to 16-gauge copper wire.  But the one thrown together in China had cheap, 22-gauge copper.

"A 22-wire gauge conductor is not capable of carrying the current," he said.  "It will start overheating immediately and catch fire."

Silcox said when shopping these products, look for labeling that identifies manufacturers and doesn't have spelling mistakes or bad grammar. Look for the UL (Underwriters Laboratories, label that confirms the product has been safety-certified.  Buy from a reputable retailer that you can easily track down.

"Our best advice is to buy that extra ounce of safety," he said.

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