Spotting Counterfeit Flash Drive Dealers

Fake Kingston Flash DriveIn part two of this blog, I detailed a number of tests that an organization or individual can run to verify that flash drives, or flash memory that was purchased over eBay or from an as yet untrusted source, can be performed.  The problem with counterfeit flash memory is that the sellers are very sophisticated making packaging that looks authentic, in effect, creating products that can fool an unsuspecting buyer – until he or she tries to use it.

Flash drives and flash memory chips, bought over eBay sometimes lack a brand name.  Some, but certainly not all of these may be hacked to look like they have more capacity than they do.  What the hacked devices have in common is a male USB connector and a stated capacity that far exceeds actual capacity (typically 16 GB or larger).  For example, an MP3 player reporting 16 GB of storage might actually be an MP3 player with a 2 or 4 GB flash chip that has been hacked to look like it has 16 GB.  A 32 GB multimedia player may similarly be hacked to look like it has more flash memory than it actually has.  It may be tempting to purchase these devices – even if you’re primarily buying the device to use it for data storage – and the

extra function of the device makes it seem even more attractive.

For an organization or individual that buys flash drives or flash chips that are priced too good to be true – or perhaps even buys drives from a not-yet-trusted supplier, the tests I described in my second blog on this subject can be an invaluable way to determine, before you plug them into an Aleratec flash drive duplicator, whether or not the drive is what it claims to be.

Tips for buying Flash on eBay

If you are buying flash drives, flash memory chips, or even devices that have embedded flash memory (like the MP3 player mentioned above) on eBay, a  few simple tips may help your organization to avoid being stung by unscrupulous sellers:

If the price is too good to be true, it often is.

If the drive being sold carries a brand name, check with the actual manufacturer of the product (or search an online store) to see if the model number is correct, and whether or not it’s even available in the advertised capacity.

Look closely at the photo of the product packaging (if a photo is provided).  Does it appear to be altered?

The mere presence of good feedback for a vendor is not a guarantee that the product is legitimate.  Some users will give positive feedback when they receive the product – not after they’ve tried to use it and found out it doesn’t work.   Some vendors may have confederates give positive ratings.

eBay steps up its protection

eBay has gotten more aggressive in dealing with flash counterfeiters and hackers – they have canceled many auctions, and have sent warnings to buyers and bidders about these closed auctions.  They have provided instructions to buyers about how to get a refund for these purchases.  They have canceled the accounts of sellers suspected or guilt of selling these devices.  The sellers continue to get more sophisticated, and the threat has not disappeared.

eBay’s actions are good, but eBay isn’t the only source of hacked or counterfeit flash.  When it comes to flash memory purchased from a source you don’t know, be careful.

Your organization deserves to know that the flash memory it uses – whether it’s used in a computer, or used for making multiple copies with an Aleratec flash drive duplicator – is good.  Your organization must be assured that the advertised storage capacity is the ACTUAL storage capacity.  Using the tips listed above, throwing in a fair amount of skepticism, and testing a few of the drives upon receipt will help your organization avoid the problems that hacked flash devices can cause.

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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