How much would you pay for 30 terabytes of portable flash storage? At current market prices, you could make that happen for about $4000, assuming you were okay with splitting it between multiple drives. But what would you say if I told you I could give you 30 TB of portable SSD capacity, in a single, standard-sized drive, for less than the price of a 1TB drive from SanDisk?
You’d probably say “bullshit.” And you’d be right.
Such was the case when Twitter user @RayRedacted found a “30TB SSD External Flash Drive Type-C” hanging out on AliExpress for under $30. Now Ray’s no fool, and knew this was an extremely common (if uncommonly brazen) fake storage scam. But out of morbid curiosity, he bought one just to test it and tear it apart. This particular drive is notable because it’s aping Samsung’s very popular portable SSD designs… and it appears that it’s also available on more popular and allegedly legitimate marketplaces, like Walmart.com.
Since similar scams have been going around for a while, you probably know what’s coming next. When the drive arrived, Ray plugged it in to find two “15TB” virtual drives, which operated not at USB 3.1 speeds, but the much older and slower USB 2.0. When trying to actually fill the drives with multiple terabytes of data, the files appeared to be in place, but were irretrievable. This is because it’s easy for drives to report fake capacities to Windows, merely writing over themselves when the data exceeds the real storage space.
Ray cracked the drive open with a razor blade and found two MicroSD cards glued into place on an adapter circuit board, not the M.2 drive the package advertised. After a little more investigation, the cards turned out to be 512 megabytes each, for a total combined capacity of… one gigabyte. The kind of storage that would shame a 20-year-old MP3 player. And it’s worth pointing out that if someone’s willing to sell fake drives, they’re probably not above slipping a little ransomware on there, too.
Ray’s story was picked up by major sites like Ars Technica, but despite the increased visibility, the drive (or one extremely similar) remains available for purchase on Walmart.com. This is the sort of thing that tends to happen when companies open their sites up beyond standard retail channels and let any online seller use them as a storefront, as noted by security researcher Robert Graham. But generally a bit of quality control can weed these scams out… which isn’t to say that they’re never spotted on similar omnibus storefronts, like Amazon and Newegg.
Any mildly techy person could spot the scam from a mile away, but with it showing up on a major retailer’s site, it’s definitely affected at least a few innocent buyers. Remember, you don’t need a CompSci degree to follow the ancient proverb: if it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Our guide to the best external storage drives can help you find diamonds, not lemons.
Michael is a former graphic designer who's been building and tweaking desktop computers for longer than he cares to admit. His interests include folk music, football, science fiction, and salsa verde, in no particular order.