I absolutely love a bargain, and if you want one, eBay is usually the place to go to. However, as I learnt recently, sometimes those bargains really are too good to be true.
After recently buying an IP security camera, I needed a microSD card to go with it. These tiny storage cards aren't cheap, and the one I needed (up to 64 GB in size) would have cost me at least £22-£30 from any major retailer.
After a quick browse on eBay, I found these storage cards for as little as £12-£15, and I'm not talking about unbranded cheap and nasty products, but reputable storage brands such as Kingston and SanDisk.
Despite being fairly experienced with eBay, I didn't use much caution, and I purchased a class 10 64 GB Kingston microSD card for £13.99 from a seller who had a handful of storage products, such as USB sticks and microSD cards.
The seller had 100% positive feedback at the time of purchase, however, most of this was from buying products not selling.
It wasn't until about a day or two later that I started doubting the purchase I had made, and after some quick research, it soon became apparent that eBay has a major issue with sellers selling fake storage cards and USB sticks.
Anyway, my Kingston microSD card arrived around 3 days after ordering, and first impressions were good. Those doubts I had had subsided, especially since the microSD card and its packaging looked genuine.
Before taking the product out of its packaging, I thought I'd doublecheck and watch some of those fake storage card YouTube videos and compare the product and the packaging to the one in the eBay listing.
As soon as I compared the product I received to the one in the actual eBay listing, there was a small (or big) discrepancy. The picture in the eBay listing clearly showed on the packaging that the card was capable of 45 MB per second read speed, however, this was missing from the product packaging, I received.
There were also some other small discrepancies such as a different font style when describing it as 64 GB SD card, the print on the actual SD card was also slightly different and of a poor quality, and there was no genuine looking barcode with a manufacturing batch number on the back.
Time to Contact the eBay Seller
Since I'm a fair person, I thought the give the seller the opportunity to clarify whether he knew it was a counterfeit microSD card, or if he had sold it in good faith.
I sent him the following message:
His reply was:
As you can see, he offers no adequate response and doesn't tell me whether he knows the product is fake or where he sourced it from. He simply wants me to send it back to him for a full refund.
However, knowing how scammers operate, I wasn't going to do that, only for him to pretend he never received it back.
So I sent him another email which went as:
So, in a nutshell, he couldn't confirm whether it was genuine or fake, and he "allegedly" bought it from a "closing down" shop. As mentioned earlier, the seller also had other storage cards and USB sticks for sale, as many as 30, which presumably all came from the same source.
Next Step, Contact the Manufacturer
I actually contacted the manufacturer before I contacted the eBay seller, but didn't receive a reply back until around 24 hours later. I sent Kingston a photo and other information of the product I received and asked them whether they could offer any insight to whether it was genuine or fake.
Kingston were very helpful, and replied back and told me that they believed the product I had bought was a counterfeit.
Kingston made it quite clear that they don't tolerate rogue traders counterfeiting their products, and asked me to forward the details of the eBay seller onto them, which I agree to.
The Final Nail in the Coffin
Now I had confirmation from the manufacturer themselves that they believed it was a counterfeit microSD card, and a seller who was evasive and bought merchandise from a mysterious "closing down" shop, the chances that it was a genuine product were slim to none.
However, there was one final test I could do by using a free program called H2testw.
This free software program will start writing data to the SD card and check if any errors are present and whether it actually has the capacity size that's listed.
Unsurprisingly, the microSD card I bought from eBay failed the test and was full of errors, which would have resulted in corrupted files, if I had used it.
Getting a Refund
The good thing about buying from eBay, even if the product "looks too good to be true" is that you are protected and should receive a full refund if you are a victim of a fraudulent seller.
The refund process was surprisingly simple. I selected the return option and specified that it was a suspected counterfeit item, and then received a full and instant refund, even without returning the product. In fact, I was told the product didn't need to be returned.
I'm unaware whether this was eBay, or the seller who had set up this instant refund process. If it was the seller, it just proves he was a rogue trader who knew he was selling counterfeit SD cards and USB sticks, and wanted to avoid negative feedback and a ban at all costs.
So, How Do You Avoid Buying Fake SD Cards on eBay?
Well, that's a difficult one, considering there are hundreds or even thousands of storage cards on sale at any given time on eBay. However, using caution and common sense could save you from buying a counterfeit product.
I would recommend the following:
- Avoid SD cards that are considerably cheaper than those from major high street and online retailers. Even if it's only £5 cheaper, this may be a strong sign that its a counterfeit product.
- Avoid sellers that have no verified business details, yet have obtained multiple quantities and multiple brands of SD cards and other storage devices. It's highly unlikely that reputable storage companies or suppliers would supply anonymous individuals with their products.
- Avoid sellers that have a relatively low feedback rating, even if it's 100% positive. In my case, the seller's positive feedback rating was from buying products, rather than selling them. He later had neutral or negative feedback, after some customers realised they were sold a counterfeit SD card.
- Pay close attention to positive or neutral feedback. Rogue traders will often offer quick refunds, thus keeping the customer happy. If the customer left positive feedback and said something like they received a faulty SD card or USB stick, yet received a quick and full refund, this could be a sign that the seller is knowingly selling counterfeit goods.
- Contact the seller and ask them a few questions. For example, you can ask them where they sourced the product from and if they know if it's 100% genuine or not. Also ask them to send you a picture of the product you'll be buying, and compare it to the photo in the product description, or better still, from the manufacturers website. If the seller becomes evasive, or there are any discrepancies then you're probably dealing with a rogue trader.
- Product reviews. Sometimes at the top or bottom of the page, there maybe product reviews. These aren't reviews of the seller, but of the actual product that multiple sellers may be selling. Even if the product has a 4 out of 5 stars rating, play close attention to the negative reviews. If multiple users leave a review, stating that the SD device became corrupt and lost all their files, et cetera, its not because the "genuine" product is bad, it's because the model they received is a popular counterfeit model, freely available on eBay.
Counterfeit SD cards and USB sticks are a big, big problem on eBay. Because these devices are so popular, criminal gangs most likely in parts of Asia are mass producing thousands of these every day.
The fake Kingston microSD card I received looked unbelievably genuine, with no real tell-tale sign that it might be a counterfeit product. It even appeared to work correctly, and had the correct storage size (64 GB) when first inserted into my computer.
However, after further investigation the packaging had small discrepancies compared to the manufacturers, and after doing a simple test using H2testw, the microSD card registered countless errors, meaning it wouldn't be capable of storing data securely, resulting in loss files.
In my opinion, there's always going to be a very high level of risk involved when buying these devices from eBay, however, if you use caution and follow my advice, you'll minimise your chances of buying a counterfeit product.
If you have bought an SD card or USB stick from eBay and it turned out to be a counterfeit, make sure you always communicate with the seller through eBay, not private email. Never return the item, until you've selected the appropriate returns page through your eBay account, and filled out the required information.
You might, like I did, receive an instant refund, or at the very least be able to print off a prepaid returns postage label.
And don't forget to leave negative feedback, as this will help others avoid the same rogue trader.