It Could Happen to You: The ABC News Fixer Discovers Dangerous Recalled Appliance

PHOTO: The ABC News Fixer Stephanie Zimmermann discovered a dehumidifier in her basement was under recall, while reporting on the recall system.PlayStephanie Zimmermann
WATCH Craigslist Founder Dodges Qs on Recall Policy

Here I was, working with Brian Ross on an investigation into recalled products lurking in people’s homes, and I find a recalled dehumidifier in my own basement – a model than had been recalled three years earlier for overheating and starting fires.

I’m the ABC News Fixer and a veteran consumer reporter, and I had no idea.

The scary thing was I had checked it online six months earlier, when there was a big recall of dehumidifiers and I wondered about ours. But when my husband and I initially looked online, nothing came up. It was only after I started working on this story that I got a funny feeling and decided to check again.

This time, after much clicking around on various recall notices, I found that our particular model, an old GE 40-pint dehumidifier, had been recalled in an earlier notice from 2011, and not the big recall of 2.5 million units announced in late 2013 and early 2014. That’s why I missed it the first time. (And yes, I confess, like so many other consumers, we probably failed to send in that little registration card when we bought it – probably because the item wasn’t very expensive.)

It turns out a close friend had a recalled one in her basement, as well.

I soon learned that recalled products -- not only dehumidifiers that can cause a house fire, but many other products -– are not only in people’s homes but are easily available for sale online.

For the Brian Ross investigation airing tonight on ABC News “World News With David Muir” and “20/20”, we were able to find plenty of dangerous recalled items in just a few minutes of searching online, especially on Craigslist.org, the online behemoth of buying and selling.

It’s a federal crime to resell a recalled item, but the products we easily found included:

  • Recalled Bumbo baby seats, implicated in dozens of falls and skull fractures, mostly when parents used them on elevated surfaces.
  • Recalled dehumidifiers of various brand names, blamed for causing at least 121 fires and $4.5 million in property damage.
  • Recalled models of Bosch dishwashers, also implicated in overheating and house fires.
  • Recalled Lane cedar chests, blamed for the entrapment deaths of children, including the tragic suffocation of a Massachusetts brother and sister in January.
  • Recalled Maclaren strollers, involved in fingertip amputations and injuries to children.
  • When we started this project last May, I also found plenty of recalled Nap Nanny sleepers, a product against which the CPSC waged a legal battle that ultimately resulted in a voluntary recall. To date, the Nap Nanny has been implicated in six infant deaths and numerous lesser incidents, with the most recent death this past May.

    Consumer advocates like Nancy Cowles and Linda Ginzel of the nonprofit Kids In Danger, say recalls don’t help unless consumers hear about them. They say manufacturers and retailers could do a lot more to get the word out – including launching social media campaigns of the same magnitude used to get us consumers to buy in the first place.

    The sad fact is that with many recalls, compliance is as low as five percent. That leaves millions of products still in circulation.

    One woman from a Chicago suburb, who unwittingly sold me a recalled dehumidifier through Craigslist, was horrified to learn that the item she listed had been implicated in house fires.

    “The thought of passing it on to somebody else, and it could have possibly caused a fire, is devastating,” she said.

    The ABC News Fixer’s advice is this: If you’re thinking of selling something, make sure it’s safe – and legal – to sell.

    And if you’re concerned about products you may have in your own home, here’s where to get more info:

    For problems with consumer products, go to the Consumer Product Safety Commission website at SaferProducts.gov.

    For more info on recalls of baby and children’s products, check out the nonprofit organization Kids In Danger.

    For automotive recalls, go to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website SaferCar.gov.

    - The ABC News Fixer

    Got a consumer problem? The ABC News Fixer may be able to help. Click here to submit your problem online. Letters are edited for length and clarity.