Beware of fake USB flash drives & memory cards!


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While eBay is generally a way to get a great bargain such as cheap compatible batteries, it’s also plagued with fake goods with flash pen drives and memory cards being a very serious problem now.  Like imitations of branded clothing and footwear, these imitation flash drives look very realistic, including the shrink-wrapped packaging and appear to work fine at a first glance.  However, they usually end up costing the unsuspecting users far more than the cost of the drive!

Not only do they have false branding, they also have a tiny fraction of their real capacity, use poor quality NAND and cause data loss or corruption once their real capacity is exceeded.  For example, some drives advertised as 32GB to 128GB have just 4GB of real capacity.  To the unsuspecting user, the drive falsely reports the advertised capacity in the drive properties, which is enough to fool most users into thinking the product is genuine and functional.

Once the real capacity is exceeded (e.g. more than 4GB stored to it), the drive begins overwriting existing data and it is not until later on when the user opens files that were overwritten that they realise something is not right.  For example, a user on holidays may take with a flash drive to offload their digital photos to and erase the camera’s card to reuse it.  When they return home and try viewing the photos, just imagine what the user’s reaction will be like to find most of their photos destroyed by the rogue drive.  Worse still, if the user just assumes they did something wrong during the offloading process, they could end up using that dodgy flash drive again on another trip!

With the high cost of NAND memory, the cheapest flash drives available are sold for just a small mark-up over the cost of manufacturing them.  At this time of writing, the contract price of NAND is about $1.80 per GB and the cheapest flash drives from major retailers start at about $2.00 per GB before tax, which gives an idea of little mark-up some drives have.  So, unless someone has major stock from the time NAND flash was cheaper, the cheapest NAND based products are unlikely going to sell for much under $2 per GB, even on eBay!

As we reported earlier, flash prices are likely to remain flat until next year, so for anyone who really wants to buy a flash drive on eBay, if the price in dollars is under double the size of the drive, pay close attention to anything suspicious before placing an order.  If the price in dollars is under the size of the drive, it’s most likely a fake.  Unfortunately, even with eBay & Paypal protection, apparently there is a lot of hassle trying to get a refund for anyone caught out, especially if the user tries returning the product!

Here are a few tips we have before purchasing:

  1. Check the seller’s feedback count.  Most genuine sellers have feedback scores of over >1,000 and usually >10,000. Those selling fake goods typically have a feedback score under 100 often less than 10, due to setting up new accounts each time one gets suspended or starts receiving negative feedback.
  2. Check if the seller accepts returns. The majority of fake good sellers state “No Returns Accepted”.
  3. If the price of the drive in dollars is lower than the size in GB, it’s very likely to be fake.
  4. Try visiting the seller’s shop, usually located below the line “See other items” is the seller info column.  If there is no link to the seller’s shop, this user is an individual.
  5. Once the product arrives, check it straight away with the freeware tool H2testw.  If the test fails with a capacity significantly below the advertised size, immediately leave negative feedback.

So far we have not heard of any fake SSDs, but it’s only a matter of time before fraudsters find a way of faking these also.  To be one the safe side, we advise checking any SSDs bought from off eBay or from a market place with H2testw before using them.

The website SOSFakeFlash gives in-depth information and advice on the issues of fake drives and what to do if an order turns out to be a fake product.