Consumer Watchdog: Fire danger in illegal tools

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Richard Lamb says there's a fire risk. Photo / Doug Sherring
Richard Lamb says there's a fire risk. Photo / Doug Sherring

Consumers are being warned about a large-scale online selling operation involving dangerously rewired top-brand power tools that have been given fake compliance labels.

The Ministry of Economic Development's Energy Safety team is investigating six Trade Me users allegedly selling cordless power tools carrying the brands Hitachi, Makita and DeWalt destined for the North and South American markets. They had been illegally modified and had compliance labels put on.

Customs seized thousands of labels at Auckland Airport six weeks ago. Almost 2000 people have been alerted that they may have bought one of these products and have been urged to stop using them. Trade Me has banned one seller but five others are still operating.

Energy Safety head investigator Richard Lamb said he believed the tools were imported from South America, and the recharger and plugs were modified to fit New Zealand wall sockets. Many of the products bear identical serial numbers.

New Zealand electrical plugs give off a higher voltage so modified products from overseas could electrocute users. They were also a fire hazard. Electrical goods sold in New Zealand must bear a label to show they comply with local voltage. Lamb said some modifications were particularly low in quality, increasing the risk. "Because it has been disguised to look authentic, there's little chance people will notice."

Lamb was also concerned the fire danger was greatest when the tools were plugged into rechargers. Buyers are urged to contact Energy Safety.

"Clearly there's safety issues, there's Fair Trading Act issues, intellectual property issues and fraud," Lamb said.

The Commerce Commission, manufacturers and police had been informed.

Hitachi's local distributor, Andrew Day, said he was beginning to prepare a civil case against one trader. He said consumers should buy from authorised dealers. "It's one thing to buy parallel imported shoes or perfume but when you're talking about electrical tools, it's different," he said.

Last week, the Herald on Sunday revealed a number of electrical products for sale on Trade Me were not safe for use in New Zealand.

Trade Me trust and safety manager Jon Duffy said the website monitored listings and removed up to 350 illegal electrical products a month.

The unnamed banned trader had hired high-profile law firm Simpson Grierson, which released a statement: "We are an Auckland-based company that specialises in supplying hardwares and related accessories. Until recently we had operated a well-established business via Trade Me with an average of 600 listings a week. We strive to ensure compliance with the law.

"Energy Safety has recently advised us that they consider the documents for electrical chargers that we supply are not correct. As a result, Trade Me has suspended our account.

"We decided to instruct lawyers to help us navigate applicable New Zealand laws and address issues raised."

- Herald on Sunday

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