Illegal and dangerous electric heaters for sale on online marketplaces during energy crisis, Which? finds

The failure of tech giants to crack down on dangerous products, fake reviews and dodgy ads has left consumers exposed to illegal electric heaters sold online that risk causing fires or electric shocks, Which? research has found. 

The consumer champion found that dangerous plug-in heaters have been sold on Amazon, eBay and Wish, at a time when millions of consumers have been turning to electric heaters for a cheaper and more energy efficient way to heat their homes.

There was also evidence of heaters being boosted by fake reviews on Amazon, while identical looking products have been promoted by suspicious looking sites that appear as Google sponsored ads.

Which? believes its latest investigation is further evidence that urgent government action is needed to make online platforms legally responsible for harmful content and unsafe products that expose people to financial, emotional and even physical harm.

Ten mini plug-in heaters, some as cheap as £12, were sent for testing at Which?’s product safety lab. All of them failed safety tests, and are illegal to sell in the UK, with four products, three sold on eBay and one on Amazon, presenting a fire risk.

All of the models in Which?’s tests posed a risk of electric shock and were illegal to sell in the UK because they did not meet the Electrical Equipment Safety Regulations.

In the testing of a Plug in Wall Heater 500W, sold by a third-party seller on eBay, the plastic surround holding the heating element in place melted. The heating element had slipped down, creating another melted area, and was against the outer grill meaning touching the heater could result in electric shock or burns. Leaving this product running could pose a fire risk.

Which? tested several versions of this heater sold on Amazon, eBay and Wish, all of which failed. Trading Standards also issued a recall notice for another model sold on eBay that appears to be identical.

When Which? searched eBay in early January, it found that this style of mini heater had largely disappeared – what might appear to be swift action from the marketplace. But a follow-up check by Which? on 27 January showed listings selling identical looking models, with one listing alone showing 389 had been bought.

A Lesvtu Electric Portable Plug in Heater, sold on Amazon, had counterfeit fuses that had been used in the plug for the heater. They posed a risk of electric shock, fire or even explosion. Half of the one star reviews left for this product on Amazon (left since 24 November 2022) reported that the plug had melted after using it for a short time. Some even included images of the damage caused, clearly visible to Amazon and its customers. For this particular product, Amazon Warehouse was actually also the seller of the product, yet was retailing an unsafe item.

Another Plug In Wall Heater 900W, sold on eBay, was so poorly made that it poses a risk of fire or electric shock. Internal wires were soldered directly onto a circuit board, while another circuit board was just loose within the product.

Which? is concerned that there are hundreds of products that look similar to the ones it tested still available for sale on online marketplaces.

Worryingly, Which? also found that the dangerous products from its investigation were being advertised on suspicious looking review sites that appeared as sponsored ads at the top of Google when it searched terms such as ‘plug-in mini heater’. And once Which? had searched for a plug-in mini heater, similar adverts quickly began appearing on local news sites, and on social media including Facebook and YouTube.

The adverts would all point people towards the same website to buy the products. The site was independent of the online marketplaces in the research but appeared to be selling identical products.

Which? also found evidence of fake review activity on one of the dangerous heaters it tested, and on others that appeared identical to those on test. Review merging is a tactic which sellers use to boost the number of reviews on a listing – using positive reviews for other products to up their own star rating and manipulate customers into buying items. It is an example of how Amazon’s seller tools can be ‘gamed’ to inflate product listings, and in this case promote products that are actually dangerous.

When Which? bought a mini heater listed as being from the brand Cuqoo, on Amazon, it had 894 ratings. However, among the reviews were images of a completely different product – a traditional looking corded fan heater. These reviews were live for over a month. At the time of writing, the listing had just 15 ratings, suggesting that the majority of reviews had been removed. The product that arrived at Which?’s lab was actually labelled Elpine rather than Cuqoo. Although the product was not a fire risk it still failed Which?’s safety and quality checks.

The government needs to clamp down on the current frightening gap in the product safety regime. The Office for Product Safety and Standards (OPSS) has been looking into this for a considerable amount of time and over this period Which? testing has repeatedly highlighted unsafe products on marketplaces. The OPSS now needs to publish the result of its review and follow up urgently with decisive action so that online marketplaces legally have to take responsibility for preventing unsafe products from being offered by sellers, removing them swiftly if they are found and preventing them from reappearing.

More broadly, the government must now step in with laws giving regulators and other bodies the powers they need to actually make online platforms take responsibility for the serious consumer harms on their sites.

It is essential that the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill is introduced without delay in order to update consumer protection law to ensure major platforms take the steps necessary to tackle fake reviews.

Rocio Concha, Which? Director of Policy and Advocacy, said:

“Our latest research has uncovered plug-in mini heaters that are illegal and could cause serious harm to consumers – showing the clear failures of online platforms to eradicate unsafe products, fake reviews and dodgy adverts, which have all contributed to promoting dangerous products that end up in people’s homes.

“The government must urgently legislate to strengthen product safety, including giving online marketplaces greater legal responsibility for unsafe products sold on their sites so that consumers are far better protected.

“Self-regulation of online platforms is simply not working. These platforms have put in place inadequate measures which leave consumers at risk. The government must give these platforms greater responsibility to protect people online.”


Notes to editors

The names of the four products that were a fire risk:

  • Listed product name on eBay:

Plug In Wall Heater 500W Mini Electric Space Portable Digital Timer Ceramic Heat

  • Listed product name on Amazon:

Lesvtu Electric Portable Plug in Heater-Low Energy Mini Plug in Wall Heater with Adjustable Thermostat and 12H Timer Led Display, Energy Efficient Small Ceramic Fan Heater for Office Home Room Bathroom

  • Listed product name on eBay:

Plug In Wall Heater Portable Mini Electric Fan 900W Space Warmer with Remote UK

  • Listed product name on eBay:

500W Plug In Wall Heater Portable Mini Electric Fan Space Warmer Quick Delivery

Other findings from the research

  • Which? also found listing manipulation on eBay which makes listings appear more popular and legitimate. On one of the heaters the consumer champion bought on eBay, the listing had been altered by the seller. It was no longer for a plug-in heater, but a super bright LED torch. The eBay item number was the same, and the sale history showed that it had been live since 5 December. It says 174 items have been sold but it is not clear what the split is between mini heaters and the torch.

What to do if you have bought a dangerous plug-in mini heater 

  • If you’ve bought a plug-in mini heater from an online marketplace that looks the same as one of the models found by Which?, stop using it immediately.

  • Contact the seller and the platform to request a refund.

  • If you’ve received a recall notice from any seller or platform, stop using the product immediately and follow the instructions in the email.

What to look out for when buying a plug-in heater

It’s hard to tell if a product is electrically unsafe just from looking at it – if problems do exist, they’ll often be hidden away inside. But as with shopping for any type of electronic device on online marketplaces, bear in mind the following advice:

  • Markings – A UKCA or CE marking on the packaging and the product, as well as the WEEE disposal logo, should offer peace of mind. UKCA or CE markings show that the manufacturer has checked that the product meets all relevant health, safety and environmental requirements and complies with the law. However, Which? has found instances where these have been faked, so make sure you check the other tell-tale signs here as well.

  • Packaging – As well as a UKCA or CE mark, packaging should show information about the manufacturer, the importer and how to dispose of the products.

  • Instructions – Instructions should be in English and explain how to use and how to maintain the heaters. They should contain safety instructions and any relevant warnings, as well as the details of the EU or UK importer. Products failing Which?’s tests came with no instructions or with all standard safety warnings and importer details missing.

  • Plugs – The plug should be a UK three pin plug. If the product comes with any other kind of plug and an adaptor, alarm bells should start to ring. It is also worth noting that the markings mentioned above are also required for all plugs.

  • Loose wires – Look for wires that do not seem to be safely secured. If anything looks wrong then stop using your heater.

Right of replies

An Amazon spokesperson said: ‘Safety is a top priority at Amazon and we require all products offered in our store to comply with applicable laws and regulations.

‘Two products were removed in December, including one in relation to safety concerns, and we have proactively removed similar items and introduced measures to prevent new products going on sale.

‘We have removed the remaining two 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.’

It did not comment specifically on Which?’s findings on the dangerous product bought directly through Amazon Warehouse.

An eBay spokesperson said: ‘We take the safety of our users very seriously. We had already removed three of the five listings that Which? flagged to us. One of the two remaining listings is selling a different product and the other one has already ended.

‘We use block filter algorithms aimed at preventing unsafe products from being listed. These filters blocked 4.8 million listings in 2022 and are updated on a regular basis. On the rare occasion that 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 Which?, for swift removal.’


‘Product safety is a top priority for Wish. The listing highlighted by Which? has been removed from our European platform, and we are monitoring for any identical or similar listings. We will take further action as appropriate.’


Google was asked for comment but had not provided one at the time of writing.


Cuqoo told Which? that the product we bought is not a Cuqoo branded plug-in mini heater, but is an Elpine branded product. It told Which? that it used to sell Elpine products through its Amazon store but has since discontinued these.


Elpine was asked for comment but had not provided one at the time of writing.


Which? was unable to find contact details for Lesvtu.

Press Release