back to article Punter bags 500GB SSD, finds 128MB Flash inside

Pity the poor guy who bought a very cheap external hard drive in China, only to find that there was nothing inside but a seemingly cleverly configured 128MB USB Flash key. The sad Russian's story, relayed by Hardmac, is a salutary tale about paying the right price for things. But there's an interesting tech story here too. It …


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  1. Blitterbug

    What did he expect...

    ...for a 'very very low price,' to quote the linked report. Mind you I am surprised in one respect; I haven't seen a USB flash stick this small in years.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I had an SD card like that

    ... off ebay a few years ago. No nuts inside, only a 1G NAND chip (probably from the reject bin) on a little PCB with a controller with firmware hacked to believe the chip it was talking to was flawless and four times bigger than it was. I think the behaviour once all the real blocks are used up depends on the NAND chip. Maybe in this case it is simply ignoring the higher address bits.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Fake flash

      Here is a lovely long post by a chap who bought as many different Micro SD cards as he could find from a market in China and proceeded to dissolve the lids off and photograph what was inside. It would seem many of the fakes ones are made as 'foreigners' on the same production lines as the real ones (who knows, maybe even by the same workers).

      1. Alien8n

        Not just flash

        I used to work in semiconductor manufacturing, making mosfets, igbts and diodes. Part of the job was also buying chips from other vendors and taking them apart. Was quite shocking seeing just how badly designed some of the competitors chips were. Mind, the biggest culprit seemed to be Ford who would take a good design and remove key components to save cost, then complain when it didn't work...

      2. Steve Evans

        Re: Fake flash

        Thanks for the link... Makes me think again at HTC's immediate response to a bug report I filed... I know the bug I filed is a well known one with Android, I just wanted to increase the volume of complaints so it gets fixed, but HTC's first reaction was "Have you got another MicroSD card you can try?"

        "No" I reply

        "Oh, can I take your address and we'll send you a replacement"...

        I'm still waiting for it to arrive, but it does make me think twice about my initial "Wow, what service" reaction... Maybe "Hmmm, been cutting corners eh?" would be more apt.

        Oh well, the MicroSD I have is actually fine, I've checked it, it is 8gig. Can't wait to poke about the replacement though.

    2. RAMChYLD

      I have a similar device...

      Except it was supposedly a Kingston DataTraveller 4G. Looks like the real deal, but feels somewhat cheaper (my aunt got it for me tho, so I can't really complain). It even reported itself as a 4GB device to Windows. Only when I copied files onto it and the files were getting corrupted that I realize something was wrong. FSCK it on my Linux box and every three bytes out of four was erratic.

      Granade. I'd like to kill the person making these fakes with one.

  3. Anonymous Coward

    What planet have you been living on?

    Half the "large capacity" USB flash drives found on eBay are configured similarly. It's easy to reconfigure a flash drive to misreport how large it is. So people (idiots, really) will see a 128GB USB Flash drive on eBay for a fraction of what one would cost from a legitimate outfit. Usually it will be a reconfigured one of lesser capacity from a major manufacturer so that it looks like the real deal. It will report the larger capacity to the system it is plugged into, and all of that. The only way to detect it's been altered to report a false large capacity is to run a program like H2testW, which simply does a brute force attempt to fill up the drive and then read it back.

    1. SuperTim

      My mate got stung.

      He swanned in with his new 128GB kingston thumb drive, for it to fall over when he copied a 6gb file to it. It was a 4gb drive configured to show 128GB size.

      He sent it back and was offered a refund from the seller, who admitted he had several "returns".

      I like this one though. You can't tell it's dodgy until you retrieve the files you copied. Very clever.

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up


    Well, he should've know that "too good to be true" usually means "not true". Fair play to the scammers though, they did a good job by the sound of it!

  5. Jonathan Dieter

    Not just China...

    I'm a teacher in Beirut, and I've seen this over and over with regular flash drives. Students come in with no-name brand USB flash drives, try to copy a file larger than a few hundred megs, and when they try to access it, it's corrupted.

    The drive always reports having the full size available, so there's no way of telling that it's a ripoff until you actually try read the data. I've come to recommend that my students buy name-brand USB flash drives from known retailers.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bought "in China"

    I have seen this story on several websites now and none of them give any specific details. It's safe to say he could have bought this piece of crap in any country. (Though it more than likely would have originated from China either way).

    That's why I steer clear of eBay, markets, et al. If it looks like a bargain (even if it's only £1 off), you ARE being scammed (to what extent depends on how lucky you are). Buy your electronics from an authorized dealer or other reputable company.

    Market traders are all scumbags, and I can say that with all due respect, as no respect is due.

    1. Miek

      a title is rather pointless

      "Market traders are all scumbags, and I can say that with all due respect, as no respect is due"

      You've clearly had a bad time, it pays to check that you are buying from a reputable market trader before making a purchase. Personally I've bought loads things from Ebay and Amazon market places and have had little or no trouble with them

    2. Oliver Mayes

      Read this one

      Drive was pruchased from a market on the Russian-Chinese border, when he went back to complain, the stall was gone. Woooo, spooky. I wonder if there was a puff of smoke just as he turned his back.

      The article also says that the firmware was altered to report that it was 500GB, and as files were added it calculated their sizes and deducted them from the available total so it looked like the whole file was transferred but only held 128MB at a time and then started writing over the start of the drive when it was full.

  7. Ian Ferguson

    Pretty common

    I just bought 2 x '32gb class 6' Kingston SD cards off eBay. They wrote at about 2mb/s and held about 500mb of video before overwriting itself.

    Both MacOS and Windows reported them as 32gb, even after various methods of wiping and formatting.

    I probably wouldn't have immediately realised if it wasn't for the lower writing speed.

    To be fair, the Hong Kong based seller gave me a refund, which I really didn't expect! I think he was probably sold a dodgy batch himself.

    Anyway, it makes me highly suspicious of Kingston-branded goods - everyone knows they're cheap, so they're probably the easiest to get away with forging.

    1. kns2c

      letters and/or digits


      To be fair, the Hong Kong based seller gave me a refund, which I really didn't expect! I think he was probably sold a dodgy batch himself.


      More likely they do it knowingly because they make money even if they have to refund half of their buyers (or however many bother to raise issue). Fortunately it's becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a "business" like that on eBay, but it's rampant on sites like aliexpress.

      BTW, if such an issue needs to be disputed via eBay/PayPal/etc, make very clear that the item is counterfeit. If reported merely "not as described", buyer may be required to return it with tracking at his/her expense, which will cost more than the item itself.

    2. Dibbles

      one more

      Call me stupid but I had the same situation; HK-based seller, sold 32GB card, seemed it was more like 4GB.

      Thing is, I bought it through ebay, so while the seller may have been prepared to refund me, Paypal and eBay weren't due to "insufficient evidence" that I'd returned it.

      Still, my only consolation is that my money is funding the Space X rockets...

  8. lotus49

    Common scam for flash drives on eBay

    This is a common scam on eBay. The more capacious USB flash drives and SDHC cards (almost always from China) are frequently set up exactly this way. They report the correct capacity and when you write data to them, it appears to work fine. It's only when you read the data back that you find almost all of it was sent straight to /dev/null.

    I have been a victim of this twice. Fortunately, I checked the drive on receipt both times. Unfortunately I only got a refund on one of these two occasions due to the vagaries of the eBay refund system. eBay can be a great place for a bargain but I won't buy memory there any longer after my negative experiences.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Thanks for the heads up!

    I hadn't heard of any of this so a big thanks for both the article and comments :)

  10. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

    MP3 players

    Used to be common with chiPod 4Gb MP3 players - they were 2Gb chips fixed to look like 4Gb

    1. Peter Gathercole Silver badge

      ChiPod mp4 player

      Mine was physically labelled as a 16GB unit and reported 16GB in the FAT, but was actually only 8GB minus a bit (presumably the firmware). But I was able to format it to the correct size, and it worked quite well until the NAND memory wore out. This was about 15 months of quite hard use.

      I informed the seller, and was offered a refund, but I thought that even at 8GB, it was worth the ludicrously low price.

  11. John Sturdy

    Off-the-shelf keylogger component?

    "Closer inspection revealed the drive was automatically erasing itself when full, and they continuing with the process of writing the rest of whatever file was being copied to it. Anyone ever heard of this 'feature' in firmware before?"

    Sounds about the right behaviour for a keylogger, could that be the little USB unit just north of the actual drive?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Anyone heard of a drive showing as write protected once it's over the real limit?

    Not off ebay, this one's from a supplier event. Came with 40 meg of brochures on it, turned read-only once I'd filled 420 Meg of the advertised 2 Gig. Be funny if they'd been sold a bunch of bogus drives for promotional usage.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No Key Logger

    Presumably the thing north of the 'drive' is a usb gender changer, as the drive will have a male end and must present a female end to fool the user and allow them to use it.

    1. bluesxman

      RE: No Key Logger

      Agreed. Also rather difficult to retrieve such a key logger after the buyer has walked out of your shop.

      However, it seems a bit weird that it's presenting what looks like a USB-A female connector, rather than a mini/micro-USB female (at a push, a type B female). And it looks wonky. Such things would have rung some alarm bells with me right away.

      1. M man

        not really

        makes the refunds profitable....

      2. John 62

        USB A female connector

        I got a no-brand ATA drive caddy a few years ago from Dabs and it had a USB A female connector and hence a USB A male-male cable.

  14. TeeCee Gold badge

    Read the small print.

    Somewhere on there it'll say: "Warning: Contains nuts."

  15. DrXym

    Phony flash cards have done this for years

    I remember buying an 8GB Memory Stick from ebay. Seller seemed legit when I ordered it but then some negative reviews started to appear. First thing I did when I received it was try filling it up with files to see if it was genuine. When it wasn't I logged a dispute and got my money back.

    The episode made me wonder how much ebay even cares about scams like this. They probably profit from the scam as much as the scammer. First they get listing fees, and when the walls cave in on the scam, they get to keep any funds not refunded to disputes. Meanwhile the scammer has set up a new account and the process repeats.

    Anyway I don't bother buying stuff like that from ebay any more. Memory is so cheap it's easier and safer to buy from a large site like Amazon.

  16. trarch
    Thumb Up

    My Quick Fix

    Personally, when shopping for items that can be faked in whatever way (USB storage, perfumes etc.) on eBay, I find the most effective way of eliminating 95%+ of fakes is:


    [X] UK Only

    [ ] Worldwide

    1. Apocalypse Later

      Only a partial fix

      This will get you a UK supplier, but the item will almost certainly still come from China.

      There are two issues of trust involved: (1) Is the supplier honest? and (2) is the supplier competent? I trust most people to be honest, but doubt the competence of almost everyone.

      An honest but incompetent supplier may still sell you duff stuff. You will be able to get restitution, but my time in chasing up a refund (even as a retired person) is worth more than the item involved here.

  17. Piri Piri Chicken

    500GB usb SSD, really .. a USB SSD

    And he was only ever planning on using it connecting to a USB interface??

    Surely the lack of a disk drive type interface would be a little concerning?

    I know that if I buy an SSD Drive, I look for little things, you know, like a SATA interface perhaps.

  18. J. Cook Silver badge

    Nice scam...

    No surprise here. I've avoided getting scammed by following two simple rules:

    1) I buy my flash memory only from sources I trust; (Newegg and the local warehouse club)

    2) I validate the devices using the h2testw for putting it into use.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    It's gonna kill someone someday !

    I remember the early pentiums with fake motherboard cache chips and this practice has been riff through the sector ever since. if if isn't cache its capacitors, now its flash. If its a discrete component someone will fake it.

  20. 4HiMarks

    even so-called reputable dealers

    I once bought a brand-name external dial-up modem (US Robotics?) from a Brick-and-mortar store (with initials BB). When I got it home and opened the factory shrink-wrapped box, instead of a modem, it contained a length of chain, encased in a plastic tube so it didn't rattle. I brought it back to the store an hour after buying it, and they cheerfully offered a replacement.

    1. ArmanX

      Ah, now, see, that's a common mistake.

      See, that's actually for your lawn mower - it's an adjustable-length spinning mower blade replacement. With the right attachment, you can turn a knob to make the cutting area wider. See? Dial-up. And everyone knows you gotta modem lawns. Dial-up modem.

      What do you mean, you want a refund?

  21. Anonymous Coward

    1GB scam

    I was stung by this a few years back.

    Ordered four 1GB SD's and rapidly discovered that they were all defective after copying a large file to them and Winhexing it to reveal a load of repeated data in place of the expected unique data.

    Took one apart and lo and behold 128MB Flash chip.

    Got a refund eventually but it took a lot of effort and I had to live with really nasty negative feedback for about a month until Ebay removed it because so many others complained.

    This sort of scam is particularly nasty when it results in data loss, some people take all their holiday snaps then find the "new" card won't read anything but the thumbnails back or just fails completely.

    Rumour has it that the scumbags are hacking, remarking and selling 16 and 32GB microSD too, in some cases you can't even tell something is amiss unless the chips are X-ray density tested which shows up the single chip instead of the expected 9 or 18 wafers stacked up.

    They even have them generating valid CRCs for the files when asked...

    AC, because the Chinese Mafia are even worse than the Russian Mafia.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "Rumour has it that the scumbags are hacking, remarking and selling 16 and 32GB microSD too, in some cases you can't even tell something is amiss unless the chips are X-ray density tested which shows up the single chip instead of the expected 9 or 18 wafers stacked up.

      Umm the only die stacking you see is occasionally the controller sits on top of the memory chip. How would you stack identically sized dies? You wouldn't be able to bond wires to the obscured ones.

      1. IT Builders LLC

        Ask Toshiba or Viking...

        Since they have deployed stacked memory for four years now...

  22. Richard 116

    Sending this article to my brother in law

    He really does not understand the 'if it sounds too good to be true then it probably is' thing. Had his fingers burned more than once but still continues to buy cheap shite off eBay. His latest proud purchase is a brand new WD 1TB USB3 My Passport for about 25 quid with free shipping from you know where. Obviously he's still waiting.

    Oh and the same seller has 128GB flash drives for about the same money. If any of you bargain hunters out there are interested I'll ask him for the link

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Some testing...

    One of these hardware testing sites - I believe it was Anandtech - tested and changed the firmware of more than one of these cheap-o flash drives.

    They successfully changed the drive size from 2GB all the way through 4, 8, 16, 32, 200GB, 500GBs, 1TB, 1,5 TB (or something close to 1,32TB) and then the thing fried when tried to fake 2 TB.

    But it was a cheap run too, since they were rewriting just a few addresses inside the firmware. Windows was fooled on the Desktop icon, but on a real DIR command, or a detail window in explorer would tell the actual size.

    Taking the chance, you have to be real nuts to buy this kind of product from dodgy providers.

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