A while back, I wrote about collecting free promotional USB flash drives at various investment conferences that I've attended. I have been searching the Internet to see if I could also find websites that offer USB flash drives freebies. For reference, a USB (Universal Serial Bus) flash drive is a portable computer memory that plugs into a computer USB port and can be used like a miniature hard disk. Also known as thumb drives, they were once considered a novelty among computer enthusiasts. But nowadays, USB flash drives can often be purchased in many commonplace stores, including drug and discount stores.
Anyway, I did find a few websites that claim to offer USB flash drive freebies. In many cases, the website is outdated, and that particular offer has expired. Among the unexpired offers, I ended up submitting my mailing address and contact information to a few sites. But, I am disappointed to report that I haven't received a free USB flash drive from any of them. Can anybody report on any successes (or failures) that they've had?
In my searches on the web, I did uncover a disturbing trend: fake USB flash memory. To be clear, the flash memory itself is not fake; rather the capacity that the USB device reports to the operating system is fake. For example some people have reported purchasing a 32GB flash drive on eBay that they later found out could only store 4GB of data. To make matter worse when the real capacity of the drive is exceeded it starts to overwrite their existing data. Not surprisingly, when the end user finally realizes that they've been duped, they also learn that the eBay seller has closed shop and doesn't respond to Email messages.
As a technical matter, these unscrupulous sellers are reprogramming the USB controller chip to falsely report the capacity of the flash memory. To help detect this fake flash memory, there is a tool called h2testw that tests your USB flash drive by filling the memory with real data and trying to read back every bit of it. The tool can be be downloaded here: h2testw. This site is written in German. If you can't read it, you can click here for a translation that somewhat resembles English. The tool itself has instructions in both German (liesmich.txt) and English (readme.txt).
There is a website called SOSFakeFlash that contains a lot of helpful information about the problem of fake flash memory. It seems that much of fake flash memory sold on eBay originates from foreign sellers in Asia and Europe. However, there also appear to be domestic (U.S.) sellers who are also getting into the act. Their tactics are similar.
In my experience, I have purchased items on eBay before, such as a used DVD recorder. Regardless of the item, one suggestion that I can offer about buying items on eBay is to avoid sellers that have little feedback history, and are listing a large number of items for sale at once. These sellers are trying to make as many sales as possible before they get caught selling fraudulent goods. If it is a legitimate deal from a legitimate seller, it will still be there in the future. Also, bear in mind that the price of flash memory goes down in time (Moore's Law).
If you are a victim of this scam, I would first suggest contacting the seller. Inform them that you know that they are selling bogus flash memory, and demand a refund. If they don't respond, open a dispute on eBay that the item is not as described (e.g., I paid for a 64GB USB flash drive, but received a 4GB flash drive). I don't recommend that you claim the item is counterfeit because many of the fake flash drives out there are generic and don't represent a particular brand name (e.g., Sandisk, Sony, HP, etc.) If you make a counterfeit claim, eBay may ask for third party verification of the claim which you would have to pay for.
From my standpoint, I am glad that I haven't bought any bogus USB flash drives. All of the flash memory that I do have seems to check out fine when I run the h2testw program. But, I am curious if any of my readers have any experience with this bogus flash memory.
Note: While I was writing this post, I saw a 128GB Kingston DataTraveler 200 USB flash drive offered on eBay at the "Buy It Now" price of only $27. However, Kingston's list price for this item is $547. A few hours later, the seller had racked up hundreds of sales. And shortly after that, the listing and the seller disappeared from eBay... Doesn't that sound suspicious to you?