Hazardous hoverboards blight holiday gift sales

Counterfeit Samsung hoverboardBuying this year's must-have Christmas present is a perilous exercise, with counterfeit and substandard copies of 'hoverboards' flooding the market.

This week, 445 hazardous hoverboards - variously known as self-balancing boards or scooters, mini-Segways, Swegways etc - were seized by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officer in Norfolk, Virginia.

The units - displaying Samsung trademarks - were found to be counterfeit on inspection and had a market value of around $171,000.

Hoverboards are one of this year's most popular gift items, but there are real concerns that the knock-offs are unsafe, with dozens of reports in the US alone of fires possibly caused by substandard and counterfeit batteries within the units.

Complicating matters, there is no particular 'brand' of hoverboard to avoid, as the substandard and counterfeit items seem to be sourced from hundreds of production units in China.

Responding to the concerns, the US Postal Service has restricted shipping of hoverboards, saying it will only send them via ground transportation services because of the potential safety hazards of lithium batteries. It has also introduced a block on international mail shipments of the items in common with a number of major airlines.

Burnt out hoverboardMeanwhile, in the UK, National Trading Standards said earlier this month they have intercepted more than 38,000 of the products since October, which have been deemed unsafe because of an "increased risk of exploding or bursting into flames."

In October, the London Fire Brigade reported that two men were lucky to escape alive from a fire at a house in Morden that started while a hoverboard was on charge.

"Hoverboards might be the 'must-have' present … but we have serious concerns that some products on sale which are non-compliant, could be unsafe and pose a fire risk," commented Charlie Pugsley, head of fire investigation at the London Fire Brigade.

"If you already own a hoverboard or are going to buy one as a present this Christmas, never leave it charging unattended and do not charge it overnight."

A number of UK retailers - including John Lewis, Amazon, and Argos - have stopped selling some hoverboard products in the wake of the concerns.

The US Consumer Products Safety Commission (CPSC) has pledged to "work non-stop to find the root cause of the fire hazard, how much of a risk it might present, and to provide consumers with answers as soon as possible."

The agency has purchased a number of hoverboards and is testing them at its National Product Testing and Evaluation Center in Maryland, looking closely at "the configuration of the battery packs and compatibility with the chargers."

Retailers should always be asking their suppliers if there is an applicable safety standard in place before agreeing to sell those products, recommends the CPSC. 

The absence of any standard should cause retailers to require extra proof of sound design, manufacturing and quality control processes, it adds. 

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