Trying to buy a microSD card proved to me that Amazon is becoming a scammers’ paradise
Forget Mos Eisley; Amazon is now a hive of scum and villainy
Last weekend I attempted to buy a microSD card for my Steam Deck from Amazon. Okay, that’s not the most interesting start to a story you’ve probably read, but what should have been a quick and easy search and purchase instead turned into a rather demoralizing experience – and one which made me realize how bad the situation with scam products on Amazon has become.
I’ve bought plenty of things on Amazon before (and usually hate myself for it), but the situation with microSDs really shocked me. When you search for microSD cards, the results mix cards from well-known brands with unbranded cards that have prices (and capacities) that seem to be too good to be true – and sadly are.
Usually, if you’re buying storage such as microSD or a Solid State Drive (SSD) for your PC, you should invest in a well-known and trustworthy brand. However, as I was looking for a microSD card that would just hold some games, and with the Steam Deck not supporting the fastest microSD speeds, I clicked on a few of the unbranded options first.
The biggest initial red flag with these products is that they’re drastically cheaper than other cards. A 128GB SanDisk microSD card would go for around £25 to £50 (between $30 – $65), but these unbranded cards cost a lot less.
Another big warning was the fact that some of these cards were promising 1TB (terabyte) of storage for the same price as a 64GB card. This obviously doesn’t make much sense, even taking into account that you pay extra for a well-known brand.
Also, 1TB microSD cards are rare – only a few manufacturers make them, mainly because it’s difficult to fit so much capacity into a small card. This means that legitimate 1TB microSD cards are very expensive – usually around £160 / $200, which is around 10 times the amount the suspect 1TB cards were going for.
So, lesson one: If something seems too good to be true, it probably is, so proceed with caution.
(Image credit: Future)
Reviews to the rescue
Usually, this kind of price discrepancy would be enough for me to close my wallet and run, but I was intrigued to know how retailers were able to sell these microSDs so cheaply. Rather naively, I assumed that they were offering the capacities that were advertised. After all, there were lots of them – and some were even showing up as ‘sponsored’ results. Surely Amazon wouldn’t allow such blatant false advertising?
How wrong I was.
How does the scam work?
The reviews didn’t go into detail about the scams, so I did a bit of digging myself. It looks like what’s happening is that real microSD cards are sent out, but with (much) smaller capacities than what are advertised. However, the cards are formatted in a way that makes the device you insert it into think that the card has the capacity the scammer claims.
As some of our readers have pointed out, this is done using custom firmware that makes the microSD card appear to have a larger capacity than it actually has, and this also means that data is deleted on the microSD card if you go over the real capacity. People who have bought the microSD card may not know that anything is amiss until they try to access the files they’ve saved on the card and find that their files are either corrupted or missing completely.
Once victims realize that they’ve been scammed, they invariably find that they can’t contact the seller to ask for a refund.
Amazon needs to fix this
This situation is pretty awful, and not a good look for Amazon. You’re supposed to be able to buy in confidence from the site, but the sheer size of the online store seems to have allowed unscrupulous sellers to con unsuspecting buyers.
“We use sophisticated tools, including machine learning, to combat them, and we are making it increasingly difficult for bad actors to hide. We block bad actors before they reach our site and we work with sellers and law enforcement to hold them accountable by withholding funds and pursuing civil and criminal penalties.