Fake storage media sold online

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Counterfeiters are deceiving unsuspecting buyers with fake flash drives, which are offered on numerous online marketplaces. Research by a trade magazine shows how the fraudsters operate – and criticizes platforms such as Amazon and eBay for doing too little to stop them.

Counterfeit flash memory media apparently continues to be widespread in online commerce. This is shown by a current sample of test purchases done by the German trade magazine c’t. The magazine bought USB thumb drives, SSD drives, and SD memory cards on several well‑known e‑commerce platforms – and unmasked all of the examined products as counterfeits. In the current test, the flash drives were ordered on Amazon, AliExpress, eBay, Wish.com, and Joom.com – and, in some cases, had in fact less than a 1% of the claimed storage capacity.

Next to many products with common memory sizes, counterfeiters often also offer products on the Internet claiming particularly high memory capacities, according to the c’t report. In some cases, these are storage media that are not even available on the market at all, or at least not at these prices. For example, all USB drives currently on offer with two terabytes are evidently fake – because at present, there is no manufacturer that produces memory sticks with more than one terabyte of storage capacity, according to the c’t experts. External USB‑connected SSD drives (solid‑state drives) claiming to offer allegedly 10 terabytes for only around 100 euros are also very likely fake. USB SSDs with up to 18 terabytes are another current scam: While such products exist, prices which are clearly too low often expose such dubious offers as fakes. Particularly brazen fraudsters also offer products that are not technologically possible. For example, microSD cards with a storage capacity of two terabytes are impossible for reasons of space – at least according to the current state of technology.

Looking at products with common memory sizes, a strikingly low price can be a clear sign of counterfeiting. Common prices for USB thumb drives with one terabyte of storage space are currently at around 90 euros – and cannot be produced much cheaper. This is because the prices for chips of the few existing chip manufacturers are relatively well known – a supplier for cheaper chips does not exist, as the production of chips requires manufacturing machines worth billions, the testers say.

Counterfeit storage media are often very slow, some using only a fraction of the data rate that even the 22‑year‑old USB 2.0 technology would allow. In addition, fake storage media poses a high risk of data loss, c’t says. This is because the products often have far less storage space than specified. However, if the actually available storage capacity is exceeded, older files are simply irretrievably deleted in favor of the new data to be stored. Consumers often only notice that something was wrong with their flash drive once they had already lost data.

The c’t report criticizes that online platforms such as Amazon, eBay, and AliExpress would be able to easily identify offers for counterfeits at conspicuously low prices. The marketplaces could therefore actually take action to protect their customers, according to c’t. All the more so because companies such as Amazon and Alibaba, the parent company of AliExpress, are among the leaders in artificial intelligence (AI). Amazon did not want to respond to c’t’s inquiries, but answered in general terms, saying that it was “constantly working on innovations to improve and protect the customer experience in our store” – however, “actors with bad intentions [are becoming] ever more sophisticated and try to bypass our controls,” Amazon told c’t. Their competitor eBay did not respond at all to the trade magazine’s inquiry.

For its current research, the trade magazine c’t made a total of 20 test purchases – of which only 18 products had been delivered. Some of the examined items had significantly less storage capacity than claimed. In addition, none of the tested products actually employed the specified USB 3.0 technology – instead, outdated USB 2.0 chips were used in all products. Back in 2020, the trade magazine c’t had already tested flash storage media, such as USB thumb drives and memory cards, and exposed many of the sample products as fakes. And just last year, test purchases by c’t showed that apparently up to more than 90 percent of the smartphones offered on some online platforms were counterfeit.

Source: trade magazine c‘t

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