Fake and counterfeit USB flash drives spreading on Amazon

Over the past few years, eBay has been flooded with what appears to be bargain USB flash drives and memory cards priced as little as 1/10th the price of an equivalent capacity drive sold by a reputable dealer. However, the vast majority are in fact hacked flash drives containing as little as 4GB of real storage. Like counterfeit branded goods, some of these replicate the look, packaging and branding of products such as Kingston, SanDisk, Toshiba and ADATA.

One thing in common with high capacity USB Flash Drives, memory cards and solid state disks is that the raw cost of their NAND flash memory makes up most of the price tag. For example, the price of an entry level 128GB USB flash drive does not vary much from one brand to another and the same goes for a 128GB memory card or a 128GB Solid State Disk (SSD).

The way the fake products work is that when files are stored on them, the hacked firmware will make use of the real capacity. This is usually enough to convince most buyers the drive works fine and to give the seller positive feedback. However, once that real storage is used up, the drive will either start overwriting existing data, create 0-filled files or give an error when any further write requests are made. Unfortunately, the user may not realise something is wrong until they later retrieve files back off only to find that most of their files will not open.

Although Amazon itself appears to sell genuine products, a few of its marketplace sellers clearly appear to be selling fake USB flash drives. The following are first three results we got from a quick search for a 256GB USB stick under £30, including a novelty Iron Man style one:

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Amazon Fake 256GB USB flash drives

For comparison, the cheapest 256GB USB stick I could find on Amazon UK that I’m confident is genuine is an iBoutique 256GB USB 3.0 for £89.99, which has over 2100 reviews with a 4.1 out of 5 average rating. So it’s quite likely those fake drives have 16GB or 32GB at the very most of real capacity based on USB flash drives sold for around £13. Most of these reviews clearly indicate they are fake, such as the following verified purchase example from the left leather style USB stick:

Fake USB flash drive Amazon review

To give an example of fake ADATA USB flash drives sold through Amazon, we added the ‘adata’ keyword. One thing we can confirm is that ADATA does not sell either of the following styles in 128GB or larger at this time. So without doubt, both products are counterfeit ADATA products that will not store the rated capacity:

256GB Fake ADATA USB

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As the vast majority of USB flash drives and memory cards sold through Amazon are genuine products, generally an unusually low price is a clear indicator of “Too good to be true” product. The US Amazon website appears to have a larger number of fake USB flash drive products, include one claiming to be a Sony 128GB USB stick for $19.99. The Amazon UK website appears to have very few 128GB flash drives that we are confident are fake, although we wouldn’t be surprised if there are some sold priced similar to real products of the equivalent capacity.

Before using any new USB flash drive or memory card product, even from what appears to be a reputable seller, we strongly recommend running a utility that tests the full storage capacity of the drive. One popular utility is H2TestW, which fills the drive to capacity and then reads it back to verify everything is exactly as the same as how it was written. A fake flash product will usually complete the write test, but fail during the verification stage at the point where the real capacity ends. Another advantage of running H2TestW is that it may also identify a defective product.

The following is an example of a Lexar 32GB MicroSD card I had that was intermittently corrupting images. This card was sold by Amazon itself so was most likely a genuine card, but clearly defective from the H2testw test:

Failed_microSD_H2testw

For further reading, we suggest reading this in-depth guide which goes into detail on fake flash drives and memory cards and other tricks sellers use.

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