Have you bought a memory card on ebay lately? Maybe you’ve been here too. Thinking about buying one? Think carefully about that one.
The story that follows is my recent experience of shopping for, purchasing, complaining about, and ultimately returning and receiving a refund for a knock-off SanDisk Ultra II Compact Flash memory card. More than 60 days after my original purchase, Paypal was kind enough to “decide” in my favor (please detect sarcasm here). Through the experience, I have lost trust in ebay, PayPal, Wolf/Ritz Camera, Best Buy, Circuit City and, of course, the seller brainydeal (aka, Brainydeal.com, Ying Liu, Kin Chau, among others), all the while, finding the trust I should have always had in my local mom and pop photo store. Before you buy another memory card (certainly from an ebay seller), read on.
In researching the auction a little further since my original purchase, I’ve noticed that these frauds at Brainydeal have modified the images from the original auction. Fortunately, I saved the original in .PDF format so we compare their modifications since then. More on that later. Let’s go back to the beginning, the purchase.
So I, like you, wanted another memory card for my Rebel XT. Specifically, I wanted a SanDisk Ultra II card. I’ve always respected the SanDisk brand and owned an Extreme III CF card, which I also bought off of ebay. It’s been a great card since the beginning. I still use it today. I was about to travel to Road Atlanta for the WERA Grand National Finals and wanted more storage because on my last trip to shoot mountain bikes at the NORBA Showdown at Sugar, I ran out of memory cards. I figured a SanDisk Ultra II 4GB would handle my requirements and give me a very liberal amount of shots for the day (I shoot RAW – so 4GB gives me 300-400 shots depending on the subjects). In addition to my previous SanDisk experience on ebay, I had purchased a 4GB Hitachi Microdrive, which was a legit sale in new, unopened condition, as it was represented in the auction.
What I thought I was getting:
After mulling over several online sellers (e.g., B&H, Adorama, Amazon), I saw that I could get an Ultra II card on ebay for $20-40 less than other sellers. So, I started checking the seller ratings, as I always do. I came upon several that looked bad and checked them off the list. Then, I saw a seller brainydeal that had something in the neighborhood of 99% positive feedback and had positive feedback on similar items like memory cards. The auction listing, which I’ve posted a JPEG of portions of it here, showed a picture of a genuine SanDisk Ultra II 4.0GB CF card and it was listed in “new” and “never opened” condition. Sounded good to me. So I used PayPal, as I always do, and purchased the card.
Unfortunately, the card did not arrive before my trip. As it turned out, I didn’t need it after all. But I was still looking forward to getting the card at the first of the next week, which I did. When I got the package, something seemed odd.
The Arrival and Inspection:
The envelope that the card came in was much smaller than I expected. After all, this was supposed to be a “new” and “unopened” card. My Spidey-sense started tingling and, as I opened the package, I realized there was a problem. There was a card inside, but it was not in “never opened” condition. It was only in a little plastic CF card case. No retail packaging whatsoever.
Ok, I figured I could probably live with it and as I pulled out the card I saw that it was labeled as a SanDisk Ultra II 4GB card, which was what I’d ordered. As I looked a little closer, something just seemed off. It felt thinner than my other genuine SanDisk cards. At this point, I thought maybe I’d been had. I knew of one surefire way to find out – take some pics. See, I can tell a big difference from the performance of the SanDisk Extreme III card and my other standard speed cards.
I started to insert the card into my camera and it wouldn’t go in with the label up, so I flipped it over and it went in fine (remember this for later). It registered on my Rebel XT and I shot a couple pics. There was a longer than usual delay before the image popped up on the preview screen. My suspicions grew stronger. I flipped the shooting mode over to burst and held down the shutter release. Six images was all that I could capture at once and the delay before it was ready to go again was worse than any other card I owned. Bingo! I’d been had.
So, I was the victim of fraud. Ok, so that sucks. However, all was not lost. I remembered that I’d paid for the card with PayPal. I had used the dispute process before for an undelivered item and it worked out to my benefit. It was time to figure out how I would go about proving that I’d been defrauded. I Googled “fake SanDisk Ultra II CF” and this ebay Australia page contained everything that I needed to see.
Everything matched up (or, should I say, didn’t match up). It was clear that my SanDisk Ultra II was a fake.
Before filing a PayPal claim, I thought I would give the thief an opportunity to come clean. I demanded a genuine SanDisk Ultra II card that conformed to the representations of the auction. I gave the seller, brainydeal, seven days to comply. Furthermore, I demanded a credit to cover the cost of shipping their fake card back to them if they wanted it back. Their reply?
Please write the RMA #(item #) and ur eBay ID on the return package, and send it back to:
7514 20th ave
Brooklyn, NY 11214
We will replace it for a working one once receiving the return package.
Thank you for your cooperation.
First of all, I wasn’t complaining that the card didn’t work. Still yet, the response did not address return shipping or whether the “replacement” would be a genuine card or not. After I replied to their evasive response reinforcing my terms, they again relied in turn as follows:
Plz return the goods ,we will refund 100% item price !
Ok, well I wasn’t about to return the item first. I figured I would kiss my money goodbye if I did so. More than anything, their reponse really chapped my rusty. I waited the promised seven days and no refund was issued by brainydeal, nor did I receive a genuine SanDisk card from them. I then initiated a PayPal dispute against brainy and stated my allegations against them.
As noted, these crooks really ticked me off, so I thought I’d see what SanDisk might want to do about these guys selling knockoff goods by using SanDisk’s name and reputation. Basically, I contacted SanDisk through their web-based customer support service and eventually contacted them by phone to inform them of this issue. SanDisk requested that I send them some pictures of the card. I sent several detailed macro images showing everything I could think of. I called SanDisk and they seemed clueless about the pictures and descriptions I’d given them. While on the phone with one representative, he wanted to know why I thought it was a fake. I pointed him to the ebay Australia page noted above. After his review, he remained noncommital about the genuineness of the card, but agreed in part that it “seemed” like their might be something to my complaint. I offered my assistance in tracking down this guy and agreed to provide an affidavit, send them the card, or do whatever they needed to nail these frauds. He told me that he would have to check with the legal department. I never heard anything back from my offer; however, I received an email through the web-based consumer site requesting more pictures.
In the mean time, I received the following notice from PayPal:
The seller has submitted an explanation describing the disagreement with
this claim. We will evaluate all available information including the
original listing, and both seller and buyer statements. A final decision
will be made on this claim per our User Agreement.
We will notify you if further action is required.
I’m curious as to what brainydeal has to say in their “disagreement” with my claim. Followed on November 8 by this one:
To continue our investigation, we require some additional information about
the item in question.
In order to continue with the investigation of your complaint, we must
request documentation to support your claim that the item is not authentic.
Please obtain a document from an unbiased, third-party, such as a dealer,
appraiser, or another individual or organization that is qualified in the
area of the item in question (other than yourself), which clearly
identifies the item as not authentic. If possible, the document should
include a serial number and description of the item, and must be on
letterhead that includes the name, address, and phone number of the
individual, business, or organization so that PayPal may contact them if
The documents should be faxed to PayPal at (402) 537-5760 (please note this
is a United States phone number, if you are faxing from outside the United
States, you will generally need to dial 00 1 before the number). Please
include a cover sheet with your fax that includes the email address
registered on your PayPal account and the ID number of your claim
(PP-212-862-533), so we may attach the documents to your claim as quickly
We must receive your fax by November 11, 2006 in order to proceed with the
investigation of your claim. If we do not receive your fax within the time
frame, your claim will be cancelled. We are unable to grant extensions to
this time period. Please note that PayPal is unable to reimburse you for
any costs or fees that may be incurred in obtaining the requested
documents. Any documents you provide may also be supplied to the seller in
your dispute if necessary.
Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or simply reply to this
email with details of the transaction, including a description of the item
that you purchased.
Remember, I received this email on November 8! They wanted a response by November 11! I called PayPal to see what the deal was. PayPal said that they had sent me an email on November 1, but that my email had apparently blocked it as spam. I checked my spam folder for block emails from PayPal. None. I asked the PayPal rep if I could have a couple more days to get things taken care of. They said no. I asked to speak to a supervisor and the rep got very defensive. After further urging, I spoke to a supervisor. Her new story was that Comcast blocks PayPal’s emails as spam and I had to talk to Comcast about that. Again, I was told I would not get an extension to take care of the documentation by a third party. If I didn’t have it to PayPal on November 11, then my claim would be cancelled and brainydeal would get to keep my money.
So, what kind of independent expert would I consult with? Someone who sells the card should be able to take a look and compare it with a legit card to determine whether it’s fake or not, right? If you answered “right” then you have too much faith in corporate America today. Don’t worry, I did too.
I went to Best Buy (don’t laugh just yet) to talk to the folks in the digital camera department that are always trying to get me to buy an extended warranty. I figured out of all the thousands of dollars I’ve given to Best Buy, it was time they give me something back. (ok, now you can laugh) I talked to the blue-shirted guy in the camera department and had a pleasant and reasonable conversation regarding the card. It didn’t take him long to determine that “sure” the card is a fake. There was no real question about it. He had the exact same card in the store that he compared it to. So, I asked for his help. Kudos to him for seeking permission to do so from a manager. However, the manager said “no” that they couldn’t give any such help to a faithful customer no matter how obvious of a fake it is. To his credit, the guy apologized that he couldn’t do anything and I don’t blame him. He wanted to help, but his company, Best Buy, did not. Guess where I’m not buying my memory cards from now?
After leaving Best Buy, I headed down the street to Circuit City. I guess I didn’t really expect them to help, but I had to try, right? Within minutes, there were a couple of guys that agreed with me that the card was a fake. I asked them for the same help I sought at Best Buy. One of the guys wanted to help and asked the other guy that worked in the photo department if they could. The guy from the photo department says “Hey, I’m not signing anything” very abruptly and was a bit of a snob about the whole thing (I will later refer to this guy as Mr. Snob). I was about as cordial a guy could be and was simply asking for some help. I continued to ask a few more questions, though I had given up on getting a letter from these guys. I asked Mr. Snob if he could find out something about genuine SanDisk cards. He replies, “Let me check on that” and walks away. I see Mr. Snob looking something up on a computer across the department while I continue to talk to the guy that wanted to help. After talking for several more minutes, I tell him that I should probably head on out and wonder aloud if Mr. Snob has come up with an answer. The guy goes over to where Mr. Snob is purportedly “checking on something” for me and reports back that Mr. Snob is not doing anything else for me. So I left . . . and haven’t been back.
As you can see, things were not looking pretty for me at this point. Next, I call the local Wolf Camera, explain the situation and ask for the same assistance. Wolf Camera says that they cannot provide such a letter because they do not sell SanDisk cards and suggest I check with Best Buy or Circuit City. Strike another store off my photography gear shopping list.
I also sent SanDisk more pictures as they requested (see above) and asked that they provide a letter confirming that the card was a fake. No such luck. After I had explained everything in detail and specifically asked for verification there response to me? Get this:
Thank you again for being a valued Sandisk customer. We have recieved your email and your pictures have been reviewed by our Level 2 staff. Unfortunately it has been determined that your product is a non-Sandisk product and will not be covered under warranty and therefore can not be replaced. We apologized for any inconvince and encourage you to seek you orginal place of purschase.
I’ve emphasized certain portions here for sport. But come on folks! Seriously? I was floored when I got this email on November 13 nonetheless! Level 2 staff? Warranty? Who said anything about warranty?
Finally, I try a local photography store that’s been in business for nearly 100 years. I called these guys and spoke to a very cordial fellow. He said they would be happy to take a look at the card and give an opinion of what they thought. I dropped the card off at lunch the next day (Nov. 9) and the nice guy (Mr. Helpful) says he’d try to have something that afternoon after I explained the time crunch I was in. When I called later that afternoon, he said that he hadn’t gotten to it yet, but would take it home and drop it off for me the next day since he wasn’t working. Sure enough, the next day, my letter was there spelling out all the the problems with the card and his opinion. The relevant portions of the letter are as follows:
In evaluating the SanDisk 4GB CF card that you brought to me today, it is in my opinion it is a fake SanDisk 4GB CF card. Listed below are th reasons I have com to this conlusion.
- The primary nameplate is found on the wrong side of the card.
- The font size found on the nameplate for “GB” is too large. This font should be approximately 1/2 the size of the “4”.
- In addition, the “4GB” should have been printed as “4.0GB”.
- The ink used for the nameplate has a more reflective metallic look than an actual SanDisk card.
- The metal plates that the front and back labels are attached have squared corners at the top and rounded corners on the bottom. All true SanDisk cards have rounded corners.
- The metal plates that the labels are attached have a dull metallic finish, whereas true SanDisk cards have a very reflective finish.
- The back label of the card appears to be a very poor quality copy of a SanDisk Ultra II card. The lettering appears to be very soft.
- The card does not have “Made in China” printed on the edge, nor does it have the serial number printed on the card. In fact, the serial number does not appear anywhere on the card.
- In terms of performance of the card, a genuine SanDisk Ultra II has a transfer speed of data of 10mb/second. In downloading a 706mb file, this card took 8 minutes, whereas a genuine SanDisk Ultra II should have taken no more than 1.5 minutes to accomplish the same transfer.
Therefore, based upon the above observations, I strongly feel that this card is a fake.
Well, that was the answer and letter I had been looking for. I sent it to PayPal and on November 17 the case was “decided in my favor”.
I ended up with all my money back and a few lessons learned:
- Don’t buy memory cards from ebay – especially brainydeal.
- Don’t expect Best Buy, Circuit City, or Wolf/Ritz Camera to help you with anything other than taking your money.
- Shop at and count on your local mom and pop photo store.
Honestly, this experience certainly proves that saving a buck or two is not always worth it. When shopping for something that you are going to rely on (e.g., a fast memory card, lens, camera, etc.), spend the few extra bucks at your local camera store. I know I will.
As I mentioned earlier, in my research and consolidation of info for this post I discovered that the original auction listing (.jpg capture of top of auction page) has been altered. Also, the original photo showed a genuine SanDisk card and now the current auction page shows a photo of a knock-off SanDisk card, which is still represented as genuine of course. I’m not sure when this was changed, but I imagine it was somewhere near the time of my PayPal fraud claim against them.
Also, I chose not to leave feedback because I have 100% positive feedback and after researching their feedback a little further, it appears that brainydeal will not hesitate to submit retailatory negative feedback. In fact, I chose not to write this post until after the feedback period had expired.
Still, I wonder how many of the various items brainydeal sells are knock-offs. Good riddence. And may the scam you call a business fail miserably.
Oh yeah, and SanDisk? I never received a reply to my response regarding their “warranty” message:
Tell your “Level 2” staff that I said “Thanks for nothing!” Next time, you might try actually reading an e-mail before firing off a canned response. Had you done that you would’ve seen that I knew it was a non-SanDisk product and was not asking for a replacement. Customer service is something that evades the corporate mentality these days. I’ve been a happy SanDisk user for several years now. You’re response (or should I say non-response) to my e-mail is shameful and I found it insulting.
That’s about the way I still feel. I haven’t bought another SanDisk card since then. They work great, but SanDisk really put a bad taste in my mouth after through this experience.
That’s all for now. As always, your questions, comments and derogatory comments are more than welcomed here.
UPDATE 6/5/07: This can also happen at otherwise reputable vendors. See the discussion on photo.net here.
[tags]sandisk, fake, authentic, ebay, knock-off, cf, sd, memory card, brainydeal[/tags]