How fraudsters get away with selling phony storage cards and thumb drives: Internet Scambusters #942
Fake memory storage cards and USB drives are still being sold on reputable websites, despite efforts to clamp down on the fraudsters.
But by following three simple rules, you're unlikely to be scammed by these tricksters, as we explain in this week's issue.
We also have a warning for three million users who've unknowingly installed malware on their PCs by using add-ons to their Internet browsers.
Let's get started...
Three Rules for Dodging Fake Storage Cards and Memory Sticks
The cost of computer and mobile storage devices is falling rapidly -- but not so fast that you can pick up a really big one for a really low price. That part of the market is the domain of scammers.
Storage capacity used to be measured in bits (a single unit of memory), bytes (eight bits), then kilobytes (kb -- just over thousand bytes), and then megabytes (mb -- over a million bytes).
That sounds like a lot, but these days, a megabyte is hardly enough to store a single high-resolution photo. So, today's storage devices run into hundreds of megabytes or, more often these days, terabytes (tb -- more than 1,000 gigabytes).
For now, that's enough for most of us, although petabytes, exabytes, and a whole lot of other byte varieties are looming on the horizon. You don't even want to know how many zeroes there are in these numbers! (Go here if you really do want to know.)
Technology has enabled manufacturers to cram all those crazy numbers into tiny devices. These include secure digital (SD) cards, micro-SDs and USB thumb drives. Higher capacity storage, like terabytes, is usually to be found on pocket or desktop hard drives.
All most of us know is that we always seem to need more bytes than we used to. Or, what we used to think would be enough no longer is.
Which is where the scammers come in. Basically, they're producing cards and USB drives that they fake to appear as though they have much more storage capacity than they really do. Then they offer them for knock-down prices on sites like eBay and Amazon.
And there's no shortage of takers, if the feedback from disappointed customers is anything to go by.
For instance, a supposed 1tb micro-SD card was, at the time of writing, being advertised by a third-party seller on Amazon for $10.99. A more realistic cost for the real thing is around $200.
The knock-off, which seems to come from China, actually only has 32gb of storage space, but it's doctored to look like 1tb when it's first inserted into a computer, phone or tablet.
Only when the user starts trying to store stuff is the fraud revealed. Once the card is being used, it either fails or, in a worst-case scenario, it starts corrupting, deleting or over-writing existing data. That can be heartbreaking for someone without sufficient back-ups of the data.
Worse -- and this probably won't surprise you these days -- this particular fake has more five-star reviews than it has of all the other scores put together. Of course, these are likely phony reviews. Certainly, each review is only a few words long, sometimes in broken English.
Only when you get down to the one-star scores do you read longer comments like this:
(Quote from an Amazon page)
"Do not buy this item! This is a chinese fake! The card is claimed to be 1 TB (formally, it shows such a volume on a smartphone with a computer), but in fact, when you transfer files to it, it loads a little more than 20 GB, and then empty folders are simply copied. In fact, its capacity is no more than 32 GB."
There are hundreds of similar products to be found on the Internet, with equally irate comments from the hoodwinked victims.
Sometimes, especially with USB memory sticks, the sellers claim storage capacities so high they don't even exist yet.
How do they get away with it?
Well, the trouble is that sites like Amazon and eBay don't have the capacity to check third party sellers' claims. So, it's definitely a case of "let the buyer beware."
The best compensation a victim can hope for, even if they lose all their data, is to get a refund or an endless stream of equally phony replacements.
How to Avoid the Tricksters
Here's how to make sure you don't get tricked by these scammers:
- First, apply the golden rule of anti-scamming: If the price looks too good to be true, as in the example we quoted, it's almost certainly a fake.
- Second, buy storage cards and USBs from reputable makers like SanDisk, Samsung, Lexar, and so on. But beware! While most of the fakes are unbranded -- that is, they just have a label that says something like "Micro SD Card" with no other name -- some of them are more cunning, They use tech-sounding names you never heard of. Or, in a couple of nasty examples, they actually fraudulently copy genuine labels.
- So, now it's time to check out the reviews -- not the five-star type but those scoring only one or two stars on Amazon, or a low rate of positive feedback on eBay. Also, on eBay, steer clear of those low-price sellers who have only a handful of feedbacks. If the products are fakes, the seller will have arranged for the first few "positive" scores themselves.
There's another important reason why you need to give these fakes a wide berth: the possibility that they carry malicious code that will be transferred to your computer or mobile as soon as you plug it in.
In this case, your personal data could be stolen or your computer locked up until you pay a ransom. (For the same reason, you should also be cautious about plugging someone else's storage device into your PC or mobile.)
There are some apps that claim to be able to check storage capacity and identify fakes. But if you have to use one of these, then, unfortunately, you've likely already been conned.
Alert of the Week
If you use extensions -- add-ons that are supposed to improve the performance of browsers like Chrome and Edge -- stand by to start deleting some of them.
According to security firm Avast, an estimated three million users have been tricked into using extensions that spy on or steal information from users. Avast says it discovered 28 extensions that performed malicious actions.
Do you have one of these crooked extensions? Check here: Three million users installed 28 malicious Chrome or Edge extensions. And then remove it.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!