Are 95% of USB memory sticks and CF cards really fake?

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Are 95 percent of USB memory sticks and CF cards really fake?

Some time after becoming a top 100 reviewer I was of course curious as to what the top rated articles were all about. The top rated one was about compact flash and San disk memory cards. It stated: "More than 95 percent of all 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB USB Flash Drives listed on eBay are counterfeit items and have fake & overstated capacities. All 32GB USB Flash Drives are mostly FAKE."

However, as soon as I read it, alarm bells started ringing. Some things stood out as being very dubious indeed. Take for example the following statements:

Millions of eBayers have been deceived by fake, low quality, unpopular cheap drives!

Millions. That seems like a pretty big number. Have millions of CF cards even been sold on eBay? Even if millions were sold, were all of them fake or even 95 percent fake, were they low quality, and were they unpopular? I know eBay is the market place for CF cards, but honestly, millions are fake? 95 percent fake? Or even 5 percent fake? That is a pretty broad statement. Where is the supporting evidence behind that?

Below is a stringent list of Certified Genuine & Authentic sellers ….

Another broad statement. Who certifies these sellers? What proof is there? How come there is no link to the company / organisation that certifies them? You would at the very least expect some sort of graphic icon like a certificate. This is another broad statement, with no way of verifying it. Most tellingly, why is it that I can’t find these names mentioned on the official San Disk site? They do have a list of authorised sellers in Australia, and none of the guys listed were on it. Just go to the San Disk web site, select "find a retailer" and then select Australia. They are not listed in either retailers or Resellers VAR Distributors. Nor is there a certified seller program that I could find. A search on the San Disk site for the 3 listed sellers returned no documents. I checked the Kingston web site too. No mention of them, or a certified seller program.

The list is open to all genuine sellers to join. Due to overwhelming requests to be on the list, sellers MUST maintain 99.8 percent and above eBay feedback and/or a minimum of 1000 positive feedbacks. These requirements even surpass the standard eBay PowerSeller program at any level.

Okay, if any genuine seller can join, how do they do it? I opened a second eBay account and emailed them to ask how. No reply. Not even after months.

More than 95 percent of all 1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB, 16GB USB Flash Drives listed on eBay are counterfeit items and have fake & overstated capacities. All 32GB USB Flash Drives are mostly FAKE.

Now that really is an impressive statement, and well, I wondered how they found that out? Did they contact all those people who had brought CF cards and USB flash drives and ask them? Did they check feedback to see if people were indicating the memory was fake? I mean 95 percent is a huge margin. If 95 percent of flash drives sold on eBay were fake, you would think there was a big stink kicked up about it. Quite apart from the contradictory statement that all 32GB USB flash drives are mostly fake, I really just did not think this seller was being entirely truthful. So I set out to check the facts.

Over a period of 12 months, starting in December 2005, till December 2006 I logged into eBay on a regular basis using my second account and regularly checked feedback from a huge variety of CF card and USB memory stick sellers. While there were a few complaints, the huge amount of feedback was positive and indicated that the memory being brought was as described. Now I don’t expect the average person to be able to know first off that their memory stick is fake. Hey, if they can save files to it, then it must be real right? Not necessarily so.

So I contacted 180 people who brought memory sticks close to three months after they had brought the stick and asked them 2 questions: Were they still happy with their purchase? And were they able to store the full capacity of the disk onto it with no problems.

I only got 146 replies but they boiled down to:

Yes, apart from 2 people, all the rest were still happy with their purchase. The two who were not happy indicated that they had broken or lost their memory sticks. One had stood on their and claimed the build quality was poor, but hey, memory sticks are not designed to be stood one. Another who was happy with her purchase had dropped te CF card into water and explained that after they dried it out, it still worked.

Every one indicated that the sticks or cards held the stated amount of data, but in most cases they advised that software that came on the disks took up some room, which is to be expected. A few indicated that the stated capacity had been measured as 1,000,000 bytes to a megabyte instead of 1,048,576 bytes which is the true measurement of a megabyte.

So, my research seemed to indicate that of the large sample of customer feedback, of which was greater than 5000 individual feedbacks, in excess of 99 percent were happy with their purchase. Of my smaller sample group where I checked feedback, over 98 percent of people were happy with their purchase and 100 percent indicated that the items they brought were of the capacity stated.

This research is repeatable. You can do it yourself, you can check these facts for yourself. Unlike the broad sweeping statements made in another article, the facts are easily verifiable.

Now I also thought that if 95 percent of all USB drives being sold on eBay are fake, that perhaps there would be talk of this in the greater world. So I started Googling.

Clearly fake USB memory sticks exist. The Internet was full of accounts of fake USB memory. At the same time however, a very noticeable trend appeared. Almost all instances of reporting of fake USB and Compact Flash memory sticks on eBay contain the same wording, have been posted by sellers of USB and Memory sticks most of whom now have inactive accounts, ones with no activity for some months.

There was also a lot of articles on forums, news groups and web sites about this 95 percent fake statement that all referred back to the eBay article as their authoritative source. I could not pin down any statements or web sites that showed the research for this statement, or the authoritative source for the statement other than the eBay article. Hey, if you have better luck than me, let me know. I am very happy to be corrected if I am wrong.

So, clearly something here is not quite right. It does not take a genius to see that the people making these statements appear to be USB flash disk sellers. One has to wonder about their biases. Some of their statements do not appear to stand up to scrutiny. I welcome all buyers and sellers alike to do their own research. Check the feedback from sellers of these disks and see if 95 percent of them seem to be fake. By all means, contact buyers of CF cards and USM memory sticks and ask if they are able to write the full stated capacity of data to the disk.

Then there is the statement: Our experience advises you to AVOID all eBay listings coming from China, Hong Kong, Korea, UK and USA, especially avoid sellers who disguise themselves as Australian eBay sellers but have their items illegally shipped from overseas. You will know if they are not using Australia Post delivery methods and do not have Australian phone contact number.

I looked on the Australian Competition and Consumer’s Commission web site about that. I will email them to get more details. I recall from basic studies of corporate law that there were all sorts of issues dealing with discouraging the buyer from using other sellers in an open market. At any rate, once again you have to wonder at the motivation of the person making the statement. It seems that in the cases I saw, it was an Australian seller of CF cards and USB sticks making the statement. Clearly it is in their interests to dissuade you from buying products from overseas, and to corner the Australian market.

I do agree that fake memory disks and sticks are out there. That much is obvious. If there is one thing I agree with those articles is that the buyer should be aware. You should do your research. Always check the feedback of any seller you are buying from. You can contact other people who brought an item off of a seller to ask if it is genuine or as stated.

Now for my part, what are my biases and motivation for writing this article? Fair play and a desire to inform people to beware of anything written by anyone who has a financial stake in the subject matter. That’s it. I am not a seller or buyer of memory cards or sticks. I have no association with sellers of memory sticks. My only association with buyers of memory sticks was to ask them the two questions above. I have nothing to gain or loose by submitting this article.

I have no issue with sellers of memory sticks selling them. By all means, it is a free market, they should be able to. I do have problem though with sellers who drum up what appears to be unsubstantiated fear of other sellers. By all means, corner the marker based on price, customer service, fast delivery, but not on putting down the other sellers. It is possible that when the article was first published that the percentage of fake USB sticks was higher than it is today, but I doubt it was ever 95 percent.

Updates:

This guide has obviously hit a raw nerve with a few people. Shortly after being published, I was contacted buy a fellow who inisisted I was all wrong, and that "All Chineese" flash memory sticks were fake. Hmm, okay, he's entitled to his opinion. But well as he was an Australian seller of flash memory, and had money at stake, and could not prove his statements based on his eBay history, I was a bit dubious.

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