I bought a couple of sets of red LED lights on eBay; two ten-metre 100-LED strings for $US15.96 delivered.
You know the ones. Little lightweight controller box that always starts in cycle-through-all-modes mode, with a button that has to be pressed seven, or is it eight, times to get the darn things to just stay on constantly (or as close to it as the flickery PWM controller can manage).
Generally these cheap lights seem great. I've been very pleased with the others I've bought in the past, most recently the 220V-rated multicoloured ones from this seller, which seem to work very nicely from Australian power.
So I bought some red ones, alleged to work from 110 to 220 volts, from this other seller.
I plugged these new ones in while holding the wound-up lights in my hand, just to see if they worked at all, and they seemed OK.
And then, there was a pain.
In my hand.
A... burning pain, restricted to a few very small spots.
This puzzled me.
I adjusted my grip to avoid the ouchy spots, and observed a few thin trails of smoke rising from the wound-up lights.
I unplugged them.
I tried the other set.
These sorts of LED lights are configured as several long series strings, with a single inline current-limiting resistor (which, being one resistor at the start of a long series string of LEDs, probably doesn't actually limit current very well at all) in series with the first LED in each string.
[UPDATE: Now that I'm peeling one of the lights apart, it's apparent that they've actually got resistors on several of the LEDs early in each string. Here's a great analysis of these things and how to stop them flashing and flickering, forever.]
These resistors were getting very hot, very fast, and raising smoke from the clear PVC insulation over them.
Seizing the opportunity to use my variac and its delightfully mad-scientist-ish giant knob, I tried feeding the lights 110V instead of Australia's nominal-230V mains.
Now, they worked fine. The resistors got a bit warm, but not unduly so.
Fault located, then.
Next, like a damn fool, I told the seller that they were selling devices that were a fire hazard in 200V+ countries, and they should probably stop doing that, and could I have my money back, please?
Anybody who's ever filed an eBay/PayPal dispute over a defective item of low dollar value sold by some dude in China knows what happened next.
I opened a Dispute, I asked for a refund, they told me to get lost. I escalated the Dispute to a Claim, and eBay/PayPal in their wisdom told me to send the items back to the seller via registered mail to get my refund, which would of course be five bucks less than it'd cost to send the goods back.
(And if the seller decided to tell eBay that what I'd sent them was a box of newspaper, I probably wouldn't even get that.)
Perhaps if I'd lied and said the goods never showed up at all, I might have had a chance. Since I tried to warn the seller about maybe setting their customers' houses on fire, though, I got to pay the price.
Which is not in itself a big deal, of course, besides THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING GRRR. It's not a dead loss, either; I can always chop the LED strings off the controller box and run them from some appropriate non-flickery DC power supply. This is not very difficult to do, and involves a lot less soldering than building an LED array used to.
I feel such a tit, though. Every time, I go through this idiotic routine, like Charlie Brown with Lucy's damn football.
Sometimes there's a bit of variety, like when I was trying to get a refund for an item described as new which turned out to be used, and the Hong Kong seller seemed to sincerely believe that "but if I give you a refund, I will lose money!" was an ironclad reason why he need not do so.
(Eventually he tried "OK, we'll give you a few bucks back, provided you lie in your feedback and say there wasn't a problem.")
I love the PayPal replies, too. You've proved that sending the item back will cost more than the refund? Well, now apparently it's a "judgement call" whether you should do so!
And then, "We know situations like this can be difficult and appreciate your patience and cooperation as we work toward resolution."
I really wish eBay/PayPal would be realistic in these exchanges and just say "hey, it's a flea market, almost always it works OK, but you got ripped off this time, it happens". Instead, just to twist the knife, when you give up and Cancel a PayPal claim, "...you agree that this complaint has been resolved to your satisfaction"!
(The only alternative is to wait until the clock runs out, whereupon PayPal tell you that the lack of resolution of your complaint is entirely due to your tardiness.)
So, in summation: EBay/PayPal aren't getting any better about this stuff.
And, if you're in Australia and want cheap twinkly LED lights in many colours, try these.
And don't buy stuff from this dickhead.
UPDATE: Lo, a message has arrived from the dickhead him or her self!
I'm sorry for that that our product make you no happy,
anyway, can you help to revise the feedback to positive and we'll refund
Yeaahhh... no. Product still fire hazard. Bad seller! Bad!