Last weekend, I went to buy a microSD card for my Steam Deck from Amazon. OK, 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 where I realized how bad things had become with Amazon and the product scam.
I’ve bought a lot of stuff from Amazon before (and I usually hate myself for it), but the microSD situation has really set me back. When searching for a microSD on Amazon, the results mix well-known brands with unbranded microSD cards with prices (and capacities) that seem too good to be true – and unfortunately are.
Usually, if you’re buying storage such as a microSD or a Solid State Drive (SSD) for your PC, you should invest in a well-known and trusted brand. However, since I was looking for a microSD card that would only hold a few games, and with the Steam Deck not supporting the fastest microSD speeds, I clicked through a few of the unbranded cards first.
The biggest initial red flag with these products is that they are considerably cheaper than other cards. A 128GB SanDisk microSD card would cost around £25-£50 ($30-$65), while those suspect microSDs cost a lot less.
Another big caveat was the fact that some of these cards promised 1TB (terabyte) or storage for the same amount as a 64GB card. This obviously doesn’t make much sense, even if you think you’re paying a supplement for a well-known brand. Also, 1TB microSD cards are very rare – only a few manufacturers make them, mainly because it’s hard to fit so much capacity into a small microSD card. This means that legitimate 1TB microSD cards are very expensive – usually around £160/$200, which is around ten times the price of those dodgy microSD cards.
So lesson one: if something seems too good to be true, it might be, so approach with caution.
Reviews to the rescue
Usually that kind of price difference would be enough for me to close my wallet and run, but I was intrigued to know how they sold such cheap microSDs. Rather naively, I still thought they have been providing the capabilities they demanded. After all, there were a lot of them – and some even appeared as sponsored results. Surely Amazon wouldn’t allow such blatant false advertising? How wrong I was.
The nice thing about Amazon is that buyers can leave reviews, and while not all microSD cards have had reviews (another big red flag), many have. I was expecting bad reviews because maybe the microSD cards weren’t particularly fast or reliable, which would explain their cheap price.
However, to my horror – and amazement – the reviewers explained that these were indeed complete rip-offs and that the microSD cards sent to them did not offer the capabilities advertised. I was shocked because I hadn’t realized how easy it is to sell counterfeit products.
Lesson two: Always read customer reviews. These are great ways to tell if something is what it claims. If there is a product with no reviews, avoid it. Unfortunately, Amazon has another problem with fake reviews that boost the scores of certain products, but in this case the legit reviews warned me not to waste my money.
How does the scam work?
The reviews didn’t go into detail about the scams, so I did a little digging myself. It seems what’s happening is that real microSD cards are being sent, but with (much) smaller capacities than advertised. However, they are formatted so that the device you insert them into thinks the card has the capacity claimed by the scammer.
There also appears to be a script included that deletes data on the microSD card if you exceed the actual capacity. This way, people who purchased the microSD card may not know that something is wrong until they try to access the files they saved on the microSD card and find that their files are either corrupted or completely missing.
Once victims realize this, they find it difficult to get in touch with the seller or get 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 with confidence from the site, but the sheer size of the online store seems to have allowed unscrupulous sellers to scam unsuspecting buyers.
I was lucky because I knew what to watch out for, but there will be a lot of people who think these products are legit. To make matters worse, some of them were highlighted as sponsored products in search results, again giving the impression that they are legit, while highlighting how emboldened the scammers have become.
Amazon’s well-known issues with fake reviews can also make it difficult to know what to buy. Since last weekend, I have searched for microSD cards, and many have disappeared. Although it might seem like Amazon is going against sellers, new listings of fake microSD cards have appeared, this time without the many negative reviews that warned me not to buy them.
Amazon needs to do something about this, as it certainly damages its reputation. In the end, I bought a microSD card from a well-known brand and another retailer, just to be sure it was legit.
If Amazon doesn’t crack down on these scams, it could lose even more sales in the future.