Is It Dangerous to Answer Your Cell Phone While It's Charging?

Learn if this long-running viral alert is true or false

Smartphone is burning on a table on a blue background
eugenekeebler / Getty Images

A viral e-mail message claims people have been killed by electrocution, fire or explosion when they answered a mobile phone that was plugged in to recharge the battery.

However, this warning (which has been circulating since 2004) and subsequent variants are overblown -- they stemmed from a single news report about an Indian man who was allegedly fatally electrocuted while answering a cell phone that was plugged in for charging.

Assuming the report was accurate, it's fair to conclude that either the phone or the charger was defective, given that 1) no other reports of people being electrocuted while using a charging cell phone have been validated, 2) under normal circumstances the current flowing into a charging cell phone ought not to be strong enough to kill anyone, and 3) neither manufacturers nor consumer agencies warn customers against using mobile phones while they are being charged.

Under the circumstances, therefore, it would seem excessive to label the device "an instrument of death."

Which is not to say no one has ever been injured by a cell phone. Over the past dozen or more years there have been numerous reports of cell phones catching fire or "exploding," causing injury to their owners. Nearly all of these incidents were blamed on the use of unauthorized and/or faulty batteries.

Viral Email Rumor Examples

Example #1:
As shared on Facebook, June 17, 2014:

Please read this & share it.

Important information to every one.

Today again a boy died in Mumbai, of attending a call while his mobile was at charge. That time he had sudden vibration 2 his heart & fingers were burnt. So please don't attend calls while charging u'r cell phone. Please pass this 2 all who u care. When phone's battery is low to last bar, don't answer the phone, becuase the radiation is 1000 times stronger.


Example #2:
Email contributed by Lori M., Sept. 14, 2005:

Subject: Cell phone charging

VERY IMPORTANT..PLEASE READ

Never, ever answer a cell phone while it is being CHARGED!!

A few days ago, a person was recharging his cell phone at home.

Just at that time a call came and he answered it with the instrument still connected to the outlet.

After a few seconds electricity flowed into the cell phone unrestrained and the young man was thrown to the ground with a heavy thud.

His parents rushed to the room only to find him unconscious, with a weak heartbeat and burnt fingers.

He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival.

Cell phones are a very useful modern invention.

However, we must be aware that it can also be an instrument of death.

Never use the cell phone while it is hooked to the electrical outlet!


Example #3:
Email contributed by Raja, Aug. 22, 2005:

Subject: Don't use your cell phone while charging

Dear All,
I send this message to make you aware of the danger potential of the commonly used cellular phone. A few days ago, a close relative of mine was recharging his cellphone at home. Just at that time a call came and he attended to that call with the instrument still connected to the mains.

After a few seconds electricity flowed into the cellphone unrestrained and the young man was thrown to the ground with a heavy thud. His parents rushed to the room only to find him unconscious, with weak heartbeats and burnt fingers. He was rushed to the nearby hospital, but was pronounced dead on arrival. Cellphone is a very useful modern invention. However, we must be aware that it can also be an instrument of death.

Never use the cellphone while it is hooked to the mains!

This is my humble plea.

Sincerely,

Dr. D. Suresh Kumar R&D

Safety Precautions

To prevent any potential mishaps, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recommended taking safety precautions which include the following:

  • Don't use incompatible/unauthorized cell phone batteries and chargers.
  • Don't tamper with the battery or allow it to be punctured, crushed, or come into contact with metal objects outside the phone.
  • Avoid damaging the phone by dropping it, keeping it where it can become overheated, or allowing it to get wet.
  • Follow manufacturers' instructions for battery usage, storage, and recharging.

In July 2013, it was announced that Apple Inc. was investigating the death of a woman allegedly killed by an electric shock when she answered her iPhone while it was charging.

Sources:

Apple iPhone Electrocution: Ma Ailun After Reported Shock from iPhone

Man Electrocuted While Using Cell Phone
New Indian Express, August 10, 2004 (via blog posting)

Risk of Cell Phone Explosions Growing
ConsumerAffairs.com, September 26, 2004

Teen Burned When Cell Phone Catches Fire
ConsumerAffairs.com, July 5, 2004

Feds Warn of Cell Phone Battery Hazards
ConsumerAffairs.com, May 15, 2005