Fake storage devices are rife these days. We can go search sites like AliExpress, eBay and even Amazon and find many obvious fakes. Some, however, are not so obvious, mimicking well-known brands like SanDisk, Lexar and others.
Fortunately, Amazon will cover fake cards (if they shipped them) and replace them, but how do you know if you’ve got one? Well, a new free software tool called ValiDrive will check it out and tell you.
[Related reading: PSA: Fake SanDisk memory cards are everywhere, including Amazon]
Are fake memory cards a big problem?
I see posts in Facebook groups almost daily where people post about problems with their memory cards. Some users post photos of the card (please do this if you’re looking for help!), while others have to wait to be asked to post photos first.
The photos usually show one of two things. Either it turns out to be some completely unknown brand or an obvious fake, with names like “SunDesk”. Some, however, appear to be using the actual brand names. Full-on counterfeits.
Fakes are getting harder to spot
To the untrained eye, many counterfeit cards can appear completely genuine. The fact that the person bought them for maybe a quarter of their regular retail price doesn’t seem to clue the buyer into the fact that they’re fake, either.
There are signs to watch out for. Typically, it’s a bad-quality print, missing standards logos (like the U3, V30 or A2 rating logos), or text is a completely different font to that shown on images on manufacturer websites.
But the counterfeiters are getting better at what they do. Some cards appear almost identical to the genuine article, right down to perfectly reproduced logos and fonts printed with colour-matched ink.
How do we know if it’s fake?
Counterfeit cards (and SSDs) often misreport their capacity. This is how they can sell them so cheaply. What’s advertised as a 512GB SanDisk Extreme Pro (buy here) may actually be an old, slow 16GB card of questionable origin that’s been relabelled.
The firmware in the card reports the advertised size (512GB in the example above), making you think that it’s a legitimate card. It’ll even let you copy 512GB of data to the card, but the instant you try to retrieve it, you’ll know there’s a problem.
In the past, if we really wanted to know for sure, we’d have to try and contact customer support for the manufacturer the card claimed to be made by. We’d give them the card details (including a serial/batch number), perhaps photos of it, and they’d (maybe) eventually get back to us.
Often, though, people end up just throwing them in the bin, buying another card and hoping for the best. People don’t like to believe that they’ve been duped!
ValiDrive – A new saviour?
Fortunately, a new tool has been developed by Steve Gibson at Gibson Research Corporation which means we don’t have to try and talk to customer support. It’s called ValiDrive, and as the name suggests, it validates your drives to confirm (or refute) that they are what they claim to be.
While the website for ValiDrive mostly refers to USB SSDs and thumb drives, it also works with memory cards, too. I’ve tested it personally with a selection of UHS-I and UHS-II SD cards, as well as CFast 2.0 cards. I expect it will also work with CFexpress, although I don’t have any here to test.
When you run the app, it asks you to attach your USB storage device (SSD, thumb drive or memory card reader). Then you click a button, and off it goes, writing and reading data to different parts of the device to confirm its real capacity.
All of my memory cards here are genuine and are exactly what they claim to be, so I was unable to test with any fake cards, but the video above from ThioJoe shows it in use with a fake thumb drive. Steve also put an example of a fake card result on the website so you can see what it looks like.
The app (currently only available for Windows) also presents a summary of the card information on completion. Here’s a summary for a fake, failed USB stick from the ValiDrive website vs a good card summary on the right from one of my ProGrade Digital UHS-II V90 SD cards (buy here).
[Related reading: Those “30 terabyte” SSDs are all a scam]
Where to get ValiDrive
If you want to download ValiDrive – you should! – to test your memory cards, USB sticks and SSDs, you can download it from the GRC website.