So I was searching for a 32 GB USB flash drive, and I really like the Kingston DataTraveler 100 series (I have 3 of them). I found one on eBay for a great price. What I didn’t realize was that the Internet is infested with unscrupulous sellers trying to unload fake flash drives onto unsuspecting buyers. I happened to be one of those buyers this go-round.
I had the fake flash drive in my possession; what now? Lesson one, the most important thing: Immediately leave negative feedback for the seller and report the item on eBay as counterfeit. Why? Check out this awesomely informative article at SOSFakeFlash entitled Why Leave Immediate Negative Feedback For an eBay Fake Flash Seller?
Now, I normally give the seller the benefit of the doubt and try to work things out, but in cases of fraud it just makes sense to leave feedback first. Of course, the seller will complain, beg, maybe even bribe. But they deserve the negative, even if they unwittingly sold a counterfeit. And it appears that your odds of receiving a refund are improved by leaving negative feedback.
SOSFakeFlash has no evidence that holding back a negative improves the chances of a refund. The opposite has been seen.
Second, if at all possible, use a credit to make the purchase. See this article on SOSFakeFlash: Buying On eBay – MP Players – Memory Cards – USB Flash drives – Why You should Use A Credit Card To Pay And Not Your Bank Account. Fortunately I did, but I wasn’t forced to do a chargeback, as the seller immediately refunded my money after I posted the negative feedback. (Probably should’ve though just to stick it to him more.)
What’s a fake USB flash drive and why should anyone care?
A fake Gucci® handbag might be fine if you’re Asian and don’t care that everyone else knows you have a fake. A handbag doesn’t have a lot of specs other than to look like a replica and let you put shit into it.
A fake flash drive is a lot more involved. To use a car metaphor: Imagine you were sold a vehicle that supposedly had a 32 gallon gas tank. The salesperson claimed it, the owner’s manual says it, the fuel gauge even indicates that it holds 32 gallons. But when you go to fill it up, it only holds 4 gallons. Try to put more than that in, and gas obviously just spills out.
Ok, that was a shitty metaphor, but hopefully you get the picture. I was sold a 32 GB drive that was actually 4 GB that claimed to be 32 GB.
How to tell if a drive is fake/counterfeit
Before you buy, check the price with someplace reputable like Newegg. If the price of the one you’re buying is too low, it’s probably fake. Check out the video in this article at FlashChipTech: How Can You Spot Fake Flash Memory Chips? What Is the Key Factor That Determines If MP3 MP4 Players, USB Flash Drives Or Memory Cards Are Fake Capacity?
After the fact, you have some options. Check with the manufacturer. For Kingston flash drives, I found an informative page at FakeMemorySentinel with a very long title: Kingston USB Flash Drives. How To Check You Have A Genuine One And Not A Counterfeit – Easy Guide. Kingston Technologies Fighting To Protect Consumers And Itself From Counterfeits. Spoiler alert: Kingstons have serial numbers and other info engraved onto the outer part of the USB plug. There’s a nice diagram in the article. Or you can look at my photos below.
In general, though, you can tell a flash drive is fake by running H2testw (Windows only). Here’s what to do:
- Download h2testw from http://mympx.org/Downloads/p13_sectionid/2/p13_fileid/13.
- Plug in your flash drive. You don’t have to delete existing files; the program will work around them.
- Run h2testw. (General safety rule: make sure you have an antivirus installed and active, as should be the case at all times!)
- Click English, then [Select target] button, then select your flash drive. Click [Write + Verify] to run the test.
- The program will then test your flash drive and output something like the following:
The media is likely to be defective.
3.9 GByte OK (8215305 sectors)
28 GByte DATA LOST (58721527 sectors)
(…and several more lines)
This particular result was from testing my supposedly 32 GB flash drive. The test says 3.9 GB data ok and 28 GB data lost, which means that I actually have a 4 GB drive and 28 GB of nonexistent space.
If your numbers match up, then congratulations, you’re good!
The life of fake flash drives
Short story long, for the technically minded and those who like the show How It’s Made. I believe this is mostly accurate:
- Flash drives are made up of (among other things) the memory itself and the controller that allows your computer to talk to the memory.
- Faulty memory chips get destroyed on a regular basis. Not wanting those defective chips to go to waste, a fake flash manufacturer redeems them from memory chip hell and gives them a new reason to go on living.
- They do so by reprogramming the controller to lie to the computer about its size. In my case, I had a 4 GB memory chip being reported as 32 GB. The computer doesn’t know any better than what the controller tells it, so it writes willy-nilly to the memory, even going beyond the 4 GB capacity.”What?” you say, “Doubly faulty?” Why, yes! The memory isn’t only defective, but now it’s only partly there!
- They sell these fake flash drives at a discounted price from the real ones and hope that no one notices. Or, by the time anyone notices, they’ve made their money and you’re the sucker with a defective drive. (Fortunately I immediately got a refund. Many others have not been so lucky.)
Why does any of this matter?
In the grand scheme of things, preventable inconveniences are the most frustrating. Getting ripped off sucks, but what also sucks is that people are buying an inherently defective product. I’d hate to see anyone lose their data by using a counterfeit flash drive that some fucking douchebag made money on at your expense.
Maybe I’m chivalrous. Maybe I believe that, by looking out for others when I can, I’m improving the quality of my own life.
Details of my personal fake flash experience
I bought my USB flash drive from eBay seller dailydeals99. I checked out this guy’s feedback, 100%. Cool. I saw that he had 2 of the ones I wanted, plus several other various flash drives listed as well. When I received my item, I immediately noticed how suspicious looking it was. Of course, this comparison is a lot more difficult if you don’t have another one to compare it to.
After everything went down, I gave him negative feedback and he refunded my money. At worst, I felt a little guilty because the seller said he was honest (after all, he did immediately refund my money). Turns out, upon scrutinizing his feedback, he has had a lot of defective (fake?) USB flash drives. One buyer even reported that he got a fake but still gave him positive feedback because he got his money back!
I ended up buying a Patriot Xporter. I don’t like the separate cap, but I do like the rubber coating and the fact that Patriot is a kick-ass memory company.
The Patriot Xporter was supposed to replace an 8 GB flash drive I bought from FocalPrice.com (in Hong Kong) to exchange media with my friend via Snail Mail (because she doesn’t have Internet). I tested out the 8-gigger with H2testw, and it said that half a gig was defective! So it seems that FocalPrice is also selling defective flash drives. Which is a total bummer, because their chicken wing flash drive is fucking awesome! (Wonder where can I find a legit one of those?)
- SOSFakeFlash — How I learned about fake flash drives, negative feedback and how to deal with scammers on eBay. Tons of information, but a bit disorganized and their search sucks. That’s why this page has all the links on SOSFakeFlash that have helped me. After deciding to write this post, I spent an hour trying to find them all again. I’m hoping to spare y’all that same problem.
- More info on Kingston fakes: Warning KINGSTON DataTraveler 100 USB Flash Drive 128GB Appearing For Sale On The Internet – A Guide.
- PayPal How Long Do You Have To Claim For A Refund In Disputes? A Guide About PayPal From eBayer’s Experiences.
- Download h2testw from http://mympx.org/Downloads/p13_sectionid/2/p13_fileid/13.
Bonus: Email history with eBay seller dailydeals99
(After I tested the USB flash drive with H2testw…)
You sold me a fake flash drive. This is completely unacceptable. I have tested with H2testw v1.4, and have visually compared the item you sent to the DataTraveler 100 I already have. I have reported you and I will be getting a refund.
(Response to my negative feedback…)
why would you do that,first i dont sell fake usb, if you had a defective one, you could email me and resolve a problem, in my auction i specify my warantee for one year, do you think i would give warantee to something fake, i never had any problem with my usb nor i am selling fake, chinese in ebay do that by making their auction private, i dont do that, i buy from legitimate supplier.
if you dont mind try to retract so in my side i will leave positive feedback.
(So he’s denying that he sold me a fake? From me in response…)
First off, I can’t speculate as to why you would sell me a fake or even offer a warranty on a fake, but the fact remains that YOU DID. Second, lying about not selling fakes (when you clearly sold me one) doesn’t help your credibility with me.
You need to check your “legitimate” supplier and complain to them about your negative feedback. I’m holding you responsible as a seller of flash media to not sell fakes, just as you would hold your supplier responsible if you bought fakes. You sell all sorts of flash media, so I find it hard to believe that you were unaware. Just from looking at the packaging, I immediately suspected it was a fake, and testing and visual comparisons confirmed it.
I’m open to discussion regarding the feedback. Please explain to me why you feel that my feedback was unfair.
(Explanation from dailydeals99…)
look you are right on all waht you said except selling you and me knowing that i sold you a bad usb, i went to show in hannover germany “cebit” last year arround this time every year ( this year it is from 3/2/2010 thru 3/6/2010 you can check) and i met lot of legitimate suppliers, how i should now that one of them was not good, if you see what i sale, my main business is fabrics and i am just getting to this business,i did not have any problem with any of my customers, i work so hard keeping a good service, if you look at my feedback, you can see people who mention good service, friendly email, i prefer to loose the sale but not loosing a customer.this days all is made in china, you can’t now that something is good or not good.
if you think this is not a valid explanation i think you should leave your negative feedback, i tought you should of give me at least a chance to explain myself.
anyway it is your call
(End of email exchange, the meat of it anyway.)
…Hmm, maybe he just had a change of heart and is really trying to be legit now? You can never tell with these people that try to backpedal and lie like a motherfucker. Oh yeah, amidst all this, it took 2 weeks before he even sent out the drive. Beware! Stalling is a common tactic by unscrupulous sellers. It lets them bypass the time restrictions for PayPal and eBay to make it harder to get your money back.
So I’m not removing the negative feedback. At least I got his approval to leave it. Hopefully he goes legit; I believe that people have the right to make an honest buck. Maybe I’m too hopeful.
[edited 4/14/2010 after I noticed some atrocious style issues with the copy and wanted to include some other experiences with FocalPrice.com. If you’ve bought any Kingston shit online—or any flash media for that matter—this article must be useful to you. Shit, I’ve been in or around computers since 1991 and this is my first experience on this matter, hence this long-ass blog post about it.]