Beware of Counterfeit Flash Drives

I wrote about Aleratec’s flash drive duplicators a few weeks ago, and I’ve been interested in testing these with a few new flash drives as targets for duplication.  The Aleratec duplicators can automatically duplicate flash drives, resulting in multiple drives with the same ‘image’ on them.  As I wrote in a previous post, these are great for companies that want to produce a lot of the same flash drives (for example, a company may want to put a press kit on flash drives and distribute the drives to selected journalists; or, for example, an organization may want to distribute marketing materials to prospective customers).

Although  I already have quite a few ‘small’ flash drives, many around 1 GB, a few 2 GB, even fewer 4 GB, one or two 8 GB, and one 16 GB drive, I was interested in getting a few more – even some large ones.  That’s when I began searching.

I found a lot of large – 16, 32, 64, 128 and even 256 GB flash drives on eBay.  Some prices seemed to be too good to be true.  I found a 64 GB Kingston Drive advertised for $39.99.  Later, I found a 128 GB Kingston flash drive for $19.95, including shipping.   There was even a new model Kingston Flash Drive with 256 GB of capacity for around $60.  (The genuine drive sells for around $500).  These prices seemed ridiculous – but people were bidding on them.

Fake USB Flash DriveThis just shows that many consumers are still not aware that counterfeit flash drives are a very common problem and have been for years.  eBay has posted warnings about counterfeit flash drives, and even has instructions on what to look for when shopping for a flash drive, what wording to watch out for (“I tried it myself, and it works great!), and what regions of the world many of these come from.

In fact, the problem is so bad that in some instances, legitimate flash memory dealers on eBay have pulled out of the market due to the counterfeit problem.

A Google search can turn up hundreds of articles about counterfeit flash drives.   Oftentimes, these are low capacity – 1 or 2 GB (or smaller) drives that have been tweaked to look like they’re bigger than they actually are.  Plug it into your computer and it reports the tweaked capacity.  Try to record onto it, and it may or may not even hold the drive’s actual capacity.

I bid on three refurbished 32 GB flash drives – I thought that being refurbished, they may have been genuine – a manufacturer checked out the drives, reformatted them, and returned them for sale as actual, working drives.

I was surprised to see a padded envelope with three 32 GB flash drives that I had bid on, but not paid for, waiting in the mail.  I don’t know how the seller got my name and mailing information, but there they were.   I eagerly decided to check these unmarked drives.

In part two of this series, I discuss how to test a suspected counterfeit flash drive.

Mark Brownstein is a technology journalist and technology consultant who specializes in explaining and interpreting new technologies, and clarifying how to integrate these new products into current systems. He has been Editor-In-Chief at computer technology and networking publications, has held significant editorial positions at major technology magazines, and is a frequent contributor to various technology magazines. He has written seven books. He is Microsoft Certified, and spends much of his time testing hardware and software products, running his own networks, and learning the best ways to get computer systems running and to keep them running.

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