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Buyer Beware – Promotional USB Memory Stick Scams are Rife

Posted by USB2U on 26th June 2014 | Permalink

It’s not quite made it onto Rogue Traders just yet but you do wonder how long it will take before the scams that are rife in this sector are exposed to a broader audience than we can achieve on our blog site.

The problem for anyone buying USB memory sticks is that it’s relatively easy to mislead and to end up buying rubbish. The big problem is that on the outside a fake USB stick can look genuine BUT it’s what under the skin of a USB stick that really matters and not how good they look on the outside. You can’t even trust the brands printed on the outside of the USB sticks because these are easy to fake to!

The Chinese factories will produce any shape of USB you want and print any logo on them – rarely are questions asked about who owns the brand, if there is permission to use the brand and so on. Consequently if you wanted to buy USB flash drives that look exactly like say a Kingston Flash Drive then no problem – how many do you want tends to be the only question asked and then it’s just a question of how much (or little) you want to spend on the internal components!

The fakes might look like the real thing but when used don’t be surprised to discover that the claimed 16GB flash drive only contains 4GB of flash memory. When you plug it in and check the properties of the flash drive it might look like a 16GB but the try and load 16GB of data onto it. If you have bought a 4GB USB drive that has been “masked” to look like a 16GB then when you load more than 4GB of data onto the drive you’ll get a “disk full” error message. Masking is a common problem and because very few people know they have an issue until they’ve been using the sticks the scammers often get away with it.

The other common issue with fakes is their build quality and data transfer speeds. Most fakes use cheap, grade “B” flash memory components many of which will be recycled. As you can image the problem with these components is that they have a high probability of failure and they typically have slow read/write speeds.

Promotional USB flash drives are sold to companies, school and universities in their millions every year and whilst they are ordered from local suppliers pretty much every USB memory sticks will have been manufactured to order and flown in from China.

Pressure to reduce prices and win business has seen some unscrupulous local suppliers of branded USB memory sticks supply “masked” sticks and pass them off as drives of a higher capacity. The only way to be sure that you are getting what you are paying for is to load one of the USB memory sticks to the limit and check that you can load 4GB of data onto a 4GB USB Memory Stick. You’re never going to get access to 100% of a 4GB drive because some of the capacity is used to manage the way the USB stores its data but you should be able to use around 95% of a 4GB drive.

We strongly recommend that you buy from a known and trusted local supply. Ideally choose a company that has been around for a good number of years and who are not going to disappear overnight. You want to buy from a company that is financially stable and is going to be there stand behind any guarantee that’s on offer. A 10 year guarantee is only any good if the company is still around to claim against it!

If you buy from direct from China and pay up-front (as you will have to) then you open up a whole additional set of risks/issue. Only an option for the brave or the foolhardy.

 

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Understand the Basics of Buying Promotional USB Flash Drives

Posted by USB2U on 9th January 2012 | Permalink

Before you place an order for promotional USB flash drives printed with your company, school or university name on there are a few basic things you ideally need to be aware of.

Unfortunately just like lots of other sectors that supply businesses and schools with products there are “scam merchants” about that are only too willing to take your business and turn a profit at whatever cost even if that means supplying you with fake or poor quality goods. Given your name will be printed on the USB flash drives you need to be sure you don’t fall prey to their scams or it will reflect badly on your brand and organisation.

Some of the basic things to watch for when buying promotional USB Flash drives are:

1)      Is your supplier using or planning to use “re-cycled” or Grade B flash memory chips inside the USB flash drives they supply you with. As the name implies a re-cycled flash memory module will have been salvaged from a Grade A product that has perhaps failed a full QA process. They are likely to be to correct memory size but they will have a much higher failure rate and will typically perform poorly, e.g. the read/write speeds will be slow.

2)      Check the drives have not been “masked”. Masking is a growing problem and it’s particularly difficult to spot. It involves making smaller capacity flash drives appear to look as though they have more storage capacity than they actually do. Externally the USB sticks won’t look any different, even when you plug them into a PC everything will look “OK”. If you’ve ordered say 1GB USB sticks they will appear as 1GB sticks on the PC (even when you check the properties of the drive) But, if you load data on the drive up to the supposed limit and then take out the drive and plug it into another PC you’ll find the data isn’t there!!

What’s happened is that the manufacturer/supplier has taken say a 256MB flash drive and “masked” it to make it look like a 1GB – they’ll sell it to you as though it’s a genuine 1GB. This is the reason why some supplier prices look so cheap – it’s because you’re not getting what you ordered. Worse they’ll sell it at a 1GB price and pocket the extra profit.

3)      Cheap controller chips and cheap flash memory modules – at the heart of any memory stick are two core components: the flash memory module and the controller chip that manages the read/write process to the flash memory. Both of these components are available from a number of different sources (Intel, Samsung, Hynix etc.) and some perform better than others – the price of them is a reasonable indicator of the performance.

So, if you get offered “cheap” USB sticks then be prepared for these two components to be at the lower end of what’s available. This in turn will impact the speed and performance of the USB sticks. This is not always an issue but if you are planning to load lots of data on the USB sticks or you’re a photographer that will be hoping to load lots of high resolutions images on the sticks then make sure you go for high spec memory chips and controllers.

4)      It’s not unknown for some suppliers to just put a 1GB sticker on a 256MB flash drive and hope they’ll get away without you noticing.

If you don’t want to fall victim to these scams then buy from a trusted and reputable supplier and ideally a local supplier that will take ownership of problems or issues you might have once they have been delivered.

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Fake Goods (Including Fake USB Sticks) Flood The Market

Posted by USB2U on 7th December 2011 | Permalink

Tell us something we didn’t know. Today the BBC quoted the Home Office Minister Damian Green as saying fakes cost British firms billions of pounds each year and admitted those behind them were very hard to catch.

“If it seems too good to be true – it probably is,” he said.

“It’s a business that costs Britain £1.3bn a year and it’s really serious at this time of the year when people are doing lots of shopping, especially online shopping.”

The general thrust of his message is that “across the board someone somewhere is trying to con you by trying to sell you some counterfeit goods.” In doing so they will attempt to evade duty and VAT and potentially put consumers at risk by importing potentially dangerous and unregulated products.

Unfortunately we’re seeing more and more of this is the promotional USB memory stick market.

Some suppliers (and we know this because we often have to pick up the pieces) offer what they claim to be Grade A, Hynix or Samsung flash drives only to then supply flash drives that are assembled using recycled or Grade B flash memory chips. Sometimes they’ll also have cheap flash controllers inside and increasingly they’re being made using “masked” USB flash memory chips – this is where a rejected flash chip of say 600MB has been “masked” to look like a 1GB!

Externally these fake and substandard flash drives look great and they might even come with a lifetime guarantee but, it’s only when you use the flash drives that you’ll notice how slow they are, how many failures you get and how data seems to magically “disappear” after its been loaded (this is common with masked flash drives). They also have a nasty habit of failing after just a couple of months and if you try and claim against the lifetime guarantee you’ll often find you can’t get hold of the company you bought them from.

Suppliers (and we use this term loosely in this context) get away with sending out these flash drives because they know in lots of cases they’ll be given away at trade shows and people won’t care if a few fail (ironically it can be a very high percentage that fail but because they’re given away free no real data is collected).

Our advice is really just the same as the Minister’s – “Check, double check and check again to make sure what you are buying and where you are buying from is the real deal,” he says

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What Is a Masked USB Flash Drive

Posted by USB2U on 28th July 2011 | Permalink

Promotional USB flash drives are incredibly popular at the moment with lots of companies buying them to promote their brand, to support their sales activities or to hand out at seminars or conferences with presentations pre-loaded onto them.

As the market for promotional USB flash drives continues to grow it is starting to attract an increasing number of suppliers looking to cash in and make a quick buck. The challenge for the buyer of any promotional USB flash drive (and equally the opportunity for the scam merchants) is to be sure they are getting exactly what they are being quoted for.

If for example you place an order for 500 x 1GB USB flash drives printed with your company logo on both sides then its reasonable to expect that this is what will be supplied. The difficulty is that on the surface all flash drives, regardless of memory size look the same, a 1GB version looks just like a 16GB version so how do you check to make sure you’ve been supplied with what you’ve ordered?

Masked USB Flash Drives

Masked USB Flash Drives

A supplier that is selling masked flash drives (knowingly or unknowingly) will typically still describe them as Grade A flash drives (when they’re clearly not) and will put just as much effort into the overall look and feel of the drive. In other words when they arrive your printed USB Flash Drives are likely to look great, they might come with a lanyard and a giftbox and they might even be pre-loaded with data but a large part of what you’re paying for is the internal memory and NOT the appearance of the drive or any accessories.

It’s not as simple as just plugging the USB stick in and checking the “properties” of the flash drive on your PC. A “masked” flash drive will show up as a 1Gb or whatever size you’ve ordered, hence the expression “masked”

To check that you have not been duped and sold “masked” flash drives you should make the following checks when they arrive:

Let’s assume you’ve ordered 1GB USB drives then…..

  1. Connect the USB stick to your PC and wait for it to be allocated a drive letter.
  2. Transfer files (data) exceeding 900 MB (just below 1GB) to the USB drive – it might take a couple of minutes.
  3. When the data has transferred onto the flash drive then “safely remove the USB flash” drive from your PC
  4. Find another PC and connect the same flash drive to it and check to see if all of the files you loaded show up. If they don’t and say only 50% appear then you’ve been sold masked flash drives.

If your masked USB flash drives were purchased from a UK supplier then you should (assuming they are still in business) have recourse to them but if you’ve purchased then directly from the many “factories” now advertising on Alibaba and other such sites then it’s unlikely you’re get them replaced or get your money back.

Masked USB flash drives and suppliers purporting to sell Grade A flash drives when they are not are the scourge of the industry at the moment and unfortunately masked flash drives can only be identified upon delivery. Our advice is to buy locally (so you are protected under the local laws) and buy from a trusted supplier that operates from commercial premises and has been around for some time. Basic Google Earth checks (to see if they are selling from a garage or bedroom) coupled with company checks can normally rule out a good number of rogue suppliers.

As with many things in life it’s a case of buyer beware.

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Beware Cheap Promotional USB Flash Drives

Posted by USB2U on 21st April 2011 | Permalink

If you’re in the market for some promotional USB flash drives then you’re likely to be shopping around and getting a few quotes from the numerous suppliers of flash drives that have sprung up over the last year or so.

Getting a few quotes for comparison purposes is exactly the right thing to do but the big challenge is how do you know when you get the prices back that you are really comparing “apples to apples”. On the face of you’d expect a 1GB USB flash drive from one supplier to be the same as a 1GB flash drive from another supplier but actually nothing could be further from the truth.

Within the promotional flash drive market the memory sticks supplied come in a wide range of grades and standards and unless you know what to ask for you could find that one supplier is quoting for USB flash drives that use top quality Grade A original flash whilst another (likely to be significantly cheaper) is quoting for USB flash drives that use Grade D cheap and cheerful “masked” or fake flash chips.

Of course when the printed and boxed USB flash drives arrive it’s incredibly difficult to tell whether the flash drives have been produced with Grade A or Grade D flash chips – they might look fantastic, the print job could be excellent and the packing might be exactly as you specified but how do you tell if you’ve been duped and supplied with inferior goods.

Ideally the time to deal with these questions is at the start of the procurement process by spelling out to the suppliers you approach exactly what you expect from your USB flash drives. If you need a high performance product that uses named original flash drive memory chips from companies like Samsung, Hynix or Micro then you need to specify this.

If you simply ask for a price for say 100 X 1GB USB flash drives then you leave it up to your supplier to interpret what standard of flash you either need or they can get away with quoting you for!

If you do end up with USB flash drives built around Grade D flash chips and cheap flash controllers then you can expect the following:

  • The flash drives are highly unlikely to have the amount of storage on them that you have purchased. In other words they will be something like a 512MB made to look like they are 1GB (masked) – when you insert them into the PC and check the “properties” of the flash drive they will appear as 1GB disks but if you try and load over 512MB onto the sticks and then take them out and re-insert them, then anything over say 500MB won’t appear.
  • The read/write speeds will be very slow which may be a problem if you are loading large amounts of data onto the drives before you hand them out to your customers.
  • The expected life (the number of read/write cycles) of the flash drives will be poor and the failure rate will be high.
  • The customer experience using them will be disappointing, they may not work, if they do work they will be slow and they won’t have the amount of space of the drive that they were expecting – not the sort of experience you want to associate with your brand.

So, when deciding whom to place your order for promotional USB flash drives with don’t just be lead price unless you do so in the full knowledge of the possible consequences. Ideally choose a company that has an establish pedigree and can point to lots of repeat business and will offer guarantees and warranties on their products that have some meaningful recourse.

Buying on price and price alone is an easy option but to do so is to ignore the complexities and risks of what should, on the face of it, be a simple and safe transaction.

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Branded USB Memory Stick Scams

Posted by USB2U on 11th January 2011 | Permalink

When it comes to selling USB memory sticks and flash drives over the web frauds and scams are rife. The problem seems particularly bad on eBay where lots of people are lured into buying what, on the face of it, seem like genuine high capacity flash drives only to discover when they arrive that they are fake.

The fakes might look like the real thing but when they are used its typical to discover that for example the purported 16GB flash drive only contains 4GB of flash memory and that memory has been “masked” to look like a 16GB drive. If you plug the flash drive into a USB port on your PC and check the properties of the flash drive it will look like a 16GB. Its only when you try and load more than 4GB of data onto the drives that you’ll get a “disk full” error message.

The other common issue is the quality and speed of the fake flash drives. Most fakes use cheap, grade “B” flash memory components some of which will be recycled. The problem with these components is that they have a high probability of failure and they typically have slow read/write speeds.

As a consumer if you are looking to buy a good quality and fast USB flash drive then buy from a known local supplier and ideally a supplier that is an approved reseller of well known brands like Kingston, Transcend, Buffalo and Sony. If you do this and you discover problems with the drive at least local consumer rights cover you and the return of the drive to the retailers is relatively easy.

Unfortunately these frauds are not restricted to the retail market but are beginning to creep into the highly competitive market for promotional USB flash drives. Promotional USB flash drives are sold to companies, school and universities in their millions every year and whilst they are ordered from local suppliers the USB drives are manufactured to order and flown in from China.

Pressure to reduce prices and win business has seen some unscrupulous local suppliers of branded USB flash drives supply “masked” flash drives and pass them off as drives of a higher capacity. So, companies taking delivery of what they thought were 1GB flash drives might only be getting 512MB drives or 4GB drives might only be 2GB drives.  Ironically one of the parties caught up in this was a UK based Police Force who unwittingly purchased what they thought were 1GB flash drives. The USB drives were for distribution to students and they were pre-loaded with information on “awareness about theft and identify theft” but instead of being 1GB drives they were in fact masked 512MB drives.

The only way to be sure that you are getting what you are paying for is to load one of the USB flash drives to the limit and check that you can load 1GB of data onto a 1GB flash drive – you’re never going to get access to 100% of a 1GB drive because some of the capacity is used to manage the file allocation but you should typically be able to us around 95% of a 1GB drive.

The alternative is again to buy from known, trusted and reputable suppliers who have been around for a good number of years and who are not going to disappear overnight and who will stand behind any guarantee that’s on offer.

The old adage of  “If something sounds too good to be true then it most likely is too good to be true” offers sound advice.  If you are sourcing printed USB memory sticks for your school or company and one company’s price sticks out as being very competitive just check on exactly what you are getting and who they are and make absolutely sure you check the amount of memory on a random sample of the drives when they are delivered.

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