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Caveat emptor: Folks looking for a great deal on a solid-state drive might have been jazzed to find a generic 30TB M.2 external SSD for about $18 on Walmart's website recently. However, the killer deal ended up being a scam product that didn't hold anywhere near 30TB of data. Always remember, "if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
Current SSD prices range from about $50 to $100 per terabyte. So when a security researcher, going by Ray [REDACTED] on Twitter, saw the advertised 30TB SSD on online retailer AliExpress for about $30, he was immediately suspicious. As a quick and easy project to teach his son how to analyze hardware, Ray bought a unit and tore it down to see what it was.
After opening up the generic SDD housing, Ray was not surprised to find it contained two SD cards held firm with hot glue. When plugged into a USB port, Windows showed the external storage device as two 15TB drives. However, even that was not accurate.
Board says HUB-TF2 and has two glued down cards (trans flash? SD Cards?). pic.twitter.com/gKd84tXIXI— Ray [REDACTED] (@RayRedacted) August 25, 2022
As Ray explained in his lengthy thread, the scammers took two 512MB flash drives (or whatever they can find on the cheap) and modified the firmware to report each as 15TB. To help obfuscate the ruse, the scammers slowed the bus to 0.48 gigabits per second instead of 5 Gbps. So anyone trying to verify capacity using a tool like H2Testw will find it takes 500 days to scan and verify the entire drive.
Furthermore, to extend suspicions for as long as possible, the counterfeiters programmed the firmware to overwrite stored data whenever a file exceeded the remaining storage space while keeping the directory intact. This sneaky trick would keep buyers thinking all was normal until they tried to load an overwritten file. And all this assuming you can get the drive to work at all.
H2Testw says it can test HALF the capacity (15TB) in 250 days. Do we have the time? pic.twitter.com/mRImhnjT7K— Ray [REDACTED] (@RayRedacted) August 25, 2022
This type of scam is nothing new. Counterfeiters have been selling cheap, high-capacity SD cards on Amazon for years that do the same thing. The problem was prevalent shortly after the Nintendo Switch release when users were looking for bargain-priced SD expansion cards to increase the measly storage of the Switch. The twist, in this case, is that they are now just taking these same scam flash drives and hiding them in a generic SSD housing.
Walmart learned of the bogus drive on Friday and removed the third-party seller's product page by Monday.
Screen capture by Motherboard
"Thanks for reaching out and bringing this to our attention," Walmart's Director of Corporate Communications Robyn Babbitt told Motherboard. "Walmart has a robust trust and safety program, which actively works to protect our customers and help ensure items are authentic. After reviewing this item, it has been removed from our site."
Walmart customers that fell for the scam weren't amused. Multiple buyers warned others not to purchase the hard drive, pointing out how they got duped.
"DO NOT BUY THIS — it is a scam," wrote one reviewer before Walmart took the page down. "Walmart should get smarter than to sell products like this. I thought I was buying a 8 terabyte SSD drive, for $28, and this piece of garbage does not work, in any way, shape or form. This product is a scam, and Walmart should be ashamed of itself to sell them."
Ray initially found and bought the drive from AliExpress, which was charging even more than the Walmart vendor. Interestingly, all 13 reviews on the reseller's site give it five stars and sing its praises. As of publication, the bogus SSD is still available on AliEspress for $32. The seller even advertises it as a marked-down item that usually sells for $66.67.
Buyer beware, indeed.