Thursday, August 03, 2006

Fake USB Drives Sleuthing

I was shopping for a new USB key two days ago, and my local Factory Direct store was advertising a pretty good deal: A 2 gigabyte USB stick for $50 CAD. Great price, great size, you can't go wrong - or can you?

After returning to work with my new toy in hand, I plugged the USB stick into my iMac. It appeared on the desktop as a 2 gigabyte removable drive, and I started amassing an arsenal of portable apps to put on the device. After starting to copy some files over, I noticed the USB key was pretty slow. I had been using my Creative Muvo NX (USB 1.1) as my USB key for a while, and I was hoping that my new drive would be significantly faster. It didn't seem any faster at all. I thought to myself, maybe it's just slow because I'm copy lots of little files, so I tried copying the Ubuntu 6.06 desktop CD image over.

This is when the fun started. After about 100 megabytes, Finder locked up on my Mac. I couldn't kill it nor "relaunch" it. I tried to cancel the file transfer, but Finder was still locked hard. The only way out was a reboot. Once the Mac was back, I took a look at the contents of the USB drive. The Ubuntu image was partly there, but I couldn't read it back. I created a new directory, "untitled folder", on the USB key and started copying the CD image over to this directory once again. The file copy eventually stalled completely, but Finder didn't lock this time. However, I did get the nice treat of my "untitled folder" getting turned into a 0-byte file, which had the added bonus of not freeing the space that the half-copied CD image took up.

At this point, I knew something was terribly wrong. I quickly remembered coming across an eBay guide outlining how to spot fake USB drives that have been flooding eBay. After looking at the list of fake brands, I gulped:
"No Name or Unpopular Brand"

I had most definitely bought an unbranded USB key. I scrolled down to the images of the fake USB drives, and the red fake Sony USB key caught my eye:

It's exactly the same as the one I had bought, albeit in grey and without the Sony name on it:

I immediately emailed Factory Direct, and they told me:

They are not fake USB memory sticks but that particular one may be a defective one.

I was told they would replace it with a "good" one if I returned it to the store. (If I can't get a refund, at least I can try to get a different brand, something that's less likely to be fake.)

After some more sleuthing on the net, I came across this interesting thread over on It looks like the USB drives have some funky partitioning to fool the OS into thinking they're larger than they are. If you crack open your USB key and punch the model number of the memory chip that's inside into Google, you'll find out how small the USB drive actually is. From the thread, people have even reported their drives having turned out to have just 16 MB of space. Thanks China!
(There's even been some reports of these fake USB drives containing trojans out-of-the-box. For the record, when I tried plugging mine into an XP box, I do think I saw something fishy flash up on the screen for a second like a command prompt...)

As you can probably guess, I'm a little bit ticked off about this. Because I got ripped off? Yes, but moreso because I bought it from a local retailer in Canada, not some sketchy eBay seller in China. Itching for some consumer action, I contacted the RCMP, who informed me that I should contact Cosumer Affairs to handle this (because in my case, there was no Sony logo, so no copyright infringement).
I'm going to try to head back to the Factory Direct store today and try to press them to give me a refund. Either way, I'll still probably end up reporting this to Consumer Affairs (it's still false advertising/branding(?), and tons of other people are going to get screwed by this.)

Last words of wisdom: If you're buying stuff from a shady liquidation store, watch what you get. Hell, if you're buying stuff from any shady store, be it online or locally, be careful. (I suppose this isn't news to anyone, but I learnt it the hard way.)

Update: There's absolutely no brand markings on the packaging that came with the USB key (just the words "FLASH DRIVE" and a bunch of flags), but I did find a warranty card that must have fallen out of it. The warranty card reads:

This product is under manufacturer warrarnty.
1. This Flash Drive can be exchanged within 30 days from the day of purchase.
2. If you experience difficulties within the 30 days of purchase, please send the productto:
Customer service
8335 Winnetka Ave. Suite #238
Winnetka, Ca 91306

Please allow three to six week for the exchange.
For more information or to download Driver pelase visit our web site:

3. This warranty card must be marked by sakes.

It's interesting that there's no contact information at all besides the address written on the warranty card. I google mapped the address, and yes, it does exist. (If anyone lives near there and they want to go and see is there's actually someone selling/making USB flash drives there, please do and report back. According to the WHOIS for that site, you're looking for an "Appliance Service Co.")
If you go to their website (who's address I'm not actually linking to so that Google won't up their PageRank), the only contact information you'll find is (Edit: I've just found another one: I've sent them an email asking them about their USB drives, so we'll see what they send back. (Wait a second - They have both AND, under the same no-name label...)
Lastly, the third point in the warranty is pure engrish.

Front of fake USB flash drive packaging

Back of fake USB flash drive packaging

Update #2: Factory Direct took the USB key back and gave me a store credit. They refused to give me a refund, and they didn't appreciate me telling them they might have a shipment of fakes on their hands. The guy said they had sold "hundreds" and only had 3 or 4 returned. I wonder what percentage of people actually tried using more than 256 MB of space (and what percentage tried reading the data back)? 3 or 4 percent? Hmmm....
I received an email back from "FlashDriveMemory" support, and they told me to send the USB key back to them for a replacement.
Did I really just have bad luck and end up with a faulty drive?
I highly doubt it due to the similarity between my experience and others with verified fake USB sticks.
(But that being said, I wonder what would have happened if I had sent it back to the FlashDriveMemory people... )
Oh yeah, and if you WHOIS their domain, you get some more interesting info, but I think I'll stop there. If anyone has anything they'd like to contribute, please leave a comment!


Cellfisher said...

Well, I guess that shows that some times it is worthwhile to spend a little extra money on a quality brand.

I'm curious why you didn't just get a replacement USB drive? At least that way you would know if it was a fake or if the guy in the store was right. I don't know the Canadian consumer laws, but in Denmark you have the right to get either a working replacement. And if they continually fail to give you a working one you have the right to get your money back. Anyway, that's a good reason to stick to the bigger shops / chains. They're more inclined to you the money back, if not for their official policy, then because it's better for their business.

GameGod said...

I didn't want to get a replacement drive pretty much because a round-trip to the store and back takes me 2 hours, and I didn't feel like wasting *another* 2 hours if they screwed me over again.
I really hope someone else with one of these drives finds this article and writes about their experience with them (either good or bad).

The RCMP officer told me on the phone that they don't have to give me a refund, but I could probably return it and get a new one (or a store credit, which is what ended up happening.) I'm having trouble tracking down info on the Canadian regulations that cover this though...

However, I did just come across "The Consumer Packaging and Labelling Act", which I believe covers my big complaint:

7. (1) No dealer shall apply to any prepackaged product or sell, import into Canada or advertise any prepackaged product that has applied to it a label containing any false or misleading representation that relates to or may reasonably be regarded as relating to that product.

(2) For the purposes of this section, “false or misleading representation” includes

(a) any representation in which expressions, words, figures, depictions or symbols are used, arranged or shown in a manner that may reasonably be regarded as qualifying the declared net quantity of a prepackaged product or as likely to deceive a consumer with respect to the net quantity of a prepackaged product;

(b) any expression, word, figure, depiction or symbol that implies or may reasonably be regarded as implying that a prepackaged product contains any matter not contained in it or does not contain any matter in fact contained in it; and

(c) any description or illustration of the type, quality, performance, function, origin or method of manufacture or production of a prepackaged product that may reasonably be regarded as likely to deceive a consumer with respect to the matter so described or illustrated.

So like the RCMP officer said, it's not copyright infringement, but if the drives are labelled incorrect, it's violating this act.

The punishment?
(a) on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding $5,000; or

(b) on conviction on indictment, to a fine not exceeding $10,000.

... and the business is liable for all this.

We'll just have to wait and see, I guess.

yuribrozd said...

hi, i have got same problem. 1gig falsh was bought in factory direct store in mississauga, ontario. foe sure they are not holding any responsibility claiming all sale are final. i lost my receit but will try to sent this drive back to california guys. hope that there are some honest people around to get me working one.

GameGod said...

yuribrozd: Damn, I'm sorry to hear that you got scammed as well. Those guys that rebrand the USB drives in California told me they'd give me a new one if I sent it back though... (I should point out that they now spam me about once every two weeks as well... so be careful. I've even asked them to remove me from their list, and they just ignored it. They list a phone number ("Call Henry at 818-270-5044") in their emails, so I think I might just "call Henry" and ask him to remove me from their list...)

Anonymous said...

My friend just purchased a 4 gig flash drive from Factory Direct in London, Ontario.

It was another fake.

Good article on ebay.

Jack said...

oh God ! my brother bought a 4G drive from Factory Direct in brampton.

He called me yesterday (i live in waterloo) and was telling me that the usb drive isn't working and he is going to contact factory direct !!

Damn ! thats probably another fake one.

GameGod said...

Wow, this really sucks... I think we should definitely try to do something.

The (Canadian) Consumer Affairs complaint site has a walk-through:

Since I actually brought up the issue with a sales clerk or manager (not sure), the site says the next step is to write the business, and wait for a reply.
What would we write though? Stop selling falsely advertised goods?

If anyone wants to get in contact with me so we can possibly do something about this, email me at: linux*NOSPAM*

Anonymous said...

i keep getting e-mails for this product in my inbox wth no unsubscribe, i dont get hardly any other spam so this is odd but what they are trying to sell is case loads! these scamers are nuts, i took a look at the packaging and decided that even if i had the cash to pick up a case of these "good deals" i just dont trust it. i wish i could stop the spam tho.

GameGod said...

Yeah, I'm still getting spammed by these guys all the time... it's annoying the hell out of me.

I guess the least I can do is post their emails online so some spam bot picks them up:


Anonymous said...

same thing here with a 4 GB from XS cargo - got one, returned it as it wasn't working, other one, same problem. Then went to the e-bay site you posted and presto... there was my drive. (same packaging and all as yours). lol.

Man, these people suck. Did you ever call the Cali guy?

GameGod said...

Damn, that sucks... Yeah, stay away from any form of discount/liquidation USB sticks.

Seeing your post made me think, "Yeah, they're still spamming me, I _should_ call the guy", and I just did. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Hi, I've been getting unsolicited emails telling me to call you if I'm interested in buying something.

"Henry": When was the last time you received one?

Me: March 2nd

Henry: You won't be receiving those any more.

Me: How do I know that?

Henry: My account (accountant?) has been closed.

Me: Ok, thanks.


I've noticed recently that the emails have been telling me to call "Farid" at a Toronto-region areacode... Maybe I'll give him a ring instead next time I get an email. (Odd that Henry was in California, but Farid is in Toronto...)

GotLucky said...

GameGod et al, really sorry to hear your stories. Has it ever occurred to you that you might be the victims of really bad quality control rather than deliberate fraud?

Like Anonymous I bought a 4 Gig drive from XS Cargo (in Ottawa, yesterday afternoon)and when I found this thread while trying to connect to I figured I was screwed.

My drive had exactly the same packaging, front and back, that GameGod posted, right down to the Manufacturer Warranty card that had to be marked by "sakes" I was definitely screwed. BUT WAIT!

When I plugged it in Windows XP immediately found it, and installed MS drivers disk.sys and PartMgr.sys (both in the windows\system32\drivers directory). Hardware Manager identified it as ChipsBnk Flash Disk USB Drive and the Volumes tab assigned it a drive letter and reported a capacity of 4032 MB. The Details tab identified it as USBSTOR\DISK&VEN_CHIPSBNK&PROD_ FLASH_DISK&REV_2.00\6&98835B9&0.

When I went to the drive in Explorer its Properties sheet identified it as a Removable Disk with a FAT32 filing system and a capacity of 4,227,923,968 bytes or 3.93 GB. Defraging it reported a Volume Size of 3.94 GB, with a 4 KB cluster size and 0% fragmentation. I was beginning to hope.

First I tried transferring a small card game, which copied over perfectly and ran normally from the flash drive. WOW!

For the acid test I copied over 3.7 GB of random files. It was a slow process because the drive was running in a USB 1.1 port, but there were no problems. All the transferred files were visible in Explorer, and the drive Properties reported it was almost full.

What can I say? Perhaps you guys were very unlucky and all got bum samples, or maybe I was incredibly lucky and got one of the few samples that worked fine.

If any of you can still do an exchange I suggest you try it - there are at least a few working units out there.

Anonymous said...

Hi just bought the same one at XS Cargo. Had no problems AT FIRST. Transfer was fine even quite fast for some larger files. However, after I had loaded about 1 mb of data, files disappeared after copying them, or they if they were AVI files they would not play. Creating folders led to some strange things - files one letter names or square boxes appeared inside. I think the flash drive is either fake or a piece of C***P. Sometimes the drive works and sometime it is not recognized by the computer. Is there a good testing program out there that could verify fakes?

GameGod said...

GotLucky: Did you successfully manage to copy back all 3.9 gigs of files?

Anonymous: I don't know of any software to test if it's fake or not. I think the acid test would be to crack the thing open, and punch the model numbers printed on the flash chips into Google...

Anonymous said...

well I bought the same thing from XS Cargo, mine worked. and I stored 3 movies on it taking up about 2 gigs. and th videos work on it. However if I store, PDF, word, text, documents on it they all be come unreadable.

I tried to rar and zip them seen if compressing them might help, but nope it says when I try to open them that the file is damaged or corrupt. I bought this USB drive to tranfer large document and power-point project becuase I am in college and project get over 1 gig some times.

picutre either once saved won't open or 90% of the picture would be blacked out.

I am almost certain I got all the data storage but what is the use of it if I can only put music and video on it, when I bought it for transfering, word, power point,, txt programs, compressed files, C++ programs, PDF's. I am telling you do not do business with these people no mor efor technology us less you want to get ripped off, go to best byte they usually have cheaper prices than most stores and they have never screwed me yet, and always offered me tech support.

Anonymous said...

Have "fill and read back" utils that are the ONLY accurate way to test a suspect USB drive..

These are win32 apps..
You can also pop apart the drive, google the biggest chop's number and
divide the reported NAND size by 8
So 8GB NAND= 1GB drive.
XSCARGO and Liquidation world eh?
And I thot only ebay was bad..


That'll clean up their act.. [snicker]

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storm said...

I just got 2 16GB drives from ebay (from seperate sellers with excellent feedback ratings) based in Hong Kong.
You guessed it... both fake. 2GB drives.

Having checked some Ebay advice files which were VERY helpful, I either get what I paid for, or a full refund. I can complain to Ebay and Paypal to let ppl know of the fakes, and also to Customs, as it's illegal to post counterfeit items. I also don't have to post the fake ones back, as they are counterfeit (and bot I and the sellers could get fined if customs see them).

So, am putting the hard word on the buyers now... will let you know how I get on.

also, on pc there is Check Flash and USB Stick tester and Flash Tester 1.7 to help you verify a stick.

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TechReporters said...

If you need help with a fake flash purchase on eBay etc you should go to the site

They have advice and also a list on the fake flash sellers investigated on eBay.

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Harriet said...

This is shocking behaviour from the company, consumers should be protected from this sort of activity and the company in question should face some sort of punishment, but like it is too often they get away with it. All we can do is take care to see who we purchase things from online, it's just not the same as buying a promotional usb stick from a normal shop.

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