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Fake / Counterfeit USB Sticks

Counterfeit / Fake USB memory sticks look very similar to the genuine article, so should you worry? Yes! Because they don't actually work how they should, and can lose your data! Amazing as it may seem, a lot of bogus USB sticks are faked-up to give a false memory capacity, and inside there's a smaller-sized memory stick that's been bodged up to pretend to be however many gigabytes it says on the label.

This isn't one of those preaching propagandist anti-piracy speeches that says thing like "buy a genuine copy because pirate DVDs spoil your enjoyment of the expensive product and help to fund organised crime, terrorism, people-trafficking, and sending little children up chimneys", as these fake sticks are not just cheap and nasty copies of reputable brands, but are faulty items which fail and leave you in shtuck. In fact, they could be termed "memory styx", as they forget what's been put in them, and, what's worse, they don't tell you.

This USB drive pictured is pretending to be a Sandisk Cruzer 8.0Gb, and on plugging it in, it seems to be a USB stick of some sort as small files can be stored and checked ok. However, on putting larger and larger files on as a test, an eighth of a gigabyte stored ok, but a quarter of a gigabyte failed. It appeared to store ok with no error message, a fake USB stick looks very similar to the genuine articlebut then on checking it, it was corrupted. It's a scientific test using the diff command in Linux, and this memory stick which claims to be 8 gigabytes is in a practical sense unusable over one sixty-fourth of that!

So, not a bargain. And, dangerous. OK, not quite as bad as fake drugs , but certainly there is an element to which the damage caused can be enormously out of proportion to the amount of money the scamsters have gained. I'd got the USB stick as a data-lifeboat for emergency backup on my travels, and then to find it sank when put to the test, well, that's why I'm writing this page to warn you so you can avoid being in the same... boat.

How to avoid being scammed by counterfeit USB memory stick racketeers: Either one of the following methods will work:

1. When you are buying a memory stick, test it before you buy it. This may mean having to split open the bubble pack and contribute another annoying piece of unnecessary plastic waste to the environmental problem, but it's got to be done. Plug the memory into a computer and store large files on it up to the capacity of the memory, and then test to make sure it's succeeded, by reading back the files and verifying they are not corrupted. It's no good just storing a small file, as the bogus memory sticks verify that ok, and it's no good just checking the reported size, as that is faked up.

OR, 2. Buy from a place where you can get a receipt and the name of the place so that if the products turns out to be faulty, you can get your money back. Traders may be oblivious to the dodgy nature of these bad USB items, as they may have been con-tricked by their suppliers. Ultimately, though, someone's going to get in trouble for importing these things.

Clues. How can you tell the fake USB stick from the genuine?:

According to Sandisk, all of their Cruzer USB memory sticks have a serial number on, and they can check them against a database of rogue numbers. (The one I tested had no serial number). Also, the documentation is less generic with the proper item, and if there's a driver CD it should say something convincing on it. Notably, everything has to match, so if it's a manufacturer named product, the accessories should fit with that, whereas if it's generic, then the other stuff can be generic. Beware if the stick says "Cruzer" but the documentation is generic Chinese.

Incidentally, there's nothing wrong with buying a generic product provided it's what it says it is and actually works. Plus, brand names are no guarantee of satisfaction, as they can be forged, and there is also the risk that you can be paying for the nameplate rather than the product, as per the sandwichboardmen review! Nevertheless you need to be sure that what you're getting is a quality item and what you expect.

Why do the counterfeiters do it? Why make a fake USB stick?:

Surely it's not worthwhile meddling in the electronics of a memory stick to make it display a false size? Wouldn't it be more logical to just sell dummy sticks? Yes, it would make more sense to sell empty plastic cases that did nothing than to sell inferior small-sized USB sticks with bodged up electronics to make them pretend to be something more up-to-date. However, they'd be easier to spot. Also, the counterfeiters have the advantage over the genuine manufacturer in that they can sell something that looks like an 8Gb, 16Gb, 32Gb, 1Tb, memory stick long before the real product is on the market. On a casual test, the item seems to work, and by the time the customer realises they've been had, it's too late for them to ask for their money back. You have to take into account the fact that these electronic items are made in bulk in countries where mass-production of electronics (whether genuine or fake) is something that's done easily and cheaply.

I've only been fooled once; but by having this review online, hundreds of people will be saved from being caught out.

Where to get USB memory sticks so you KNOW they are genuine:

I had hoped one of the online shops selling memory sticks would have jumped at the chance of donating a USB memory stick to get a special mention here, but not to worry, as there are plenty of them listed on the page of computer stuff and on the places where you can buy computers, and you can shop around. Update: Although that special opportunity is still open, no-one's taken the initiative, so in the meantime competition continues between various MEMORY SHOPS (currently none of these are especially favoured over others, but we know they are all genuine). In contrast, avoid eBay and other online auctions for memory sticks, as I have heard that the market is flooded with fake memory sticks, typically things that look like 1Gb, but in fact are 8Mb. Ie, not even worth the cost of the postage. Instead, go to Reputable Memory Suppliers. Anyway, how much is your data worth? Have you considered that? Your data is worth a lot more than the data stick.