Data Recovery Report

Hard Drive Data Recovery

For years the data recovery industry has taken advantage of unsuspecting consumers. Leeching every penny they can, and in the worst cases customers are left with thinner wallets and no data. The information contained within is provided as a guide to choosing a data recovery provider. As someone who was taken advantage of by a data recovery company years ago, it has been my mission to try and separate the good from the bad. I’ve done the research for you. I can’t tell you what company to use, but I can tell you what tactics to watch out for. The pitfalls to avoid. I can also help dispel some of the myths, and misinformation that seems to get passed to consumers like myself. I worked in the IT industry for 32 years, and even I fell for some of the scams that are out there. I’ve spent the last 8 years learning as much as I can about the data recovery industry, and I’ve put this report together as a way to help others avoid some of the common mistakes. This report exposes many of the tricks and traps that companies use when trying to gain your business. In short, it tells you what to look out for, and what to expect. If you have questions, feel free to email me anytime: mark.mathis(at)

My Introduction To Data Recovery

This report will probably be the nightmare of some data recovery providers. Then again, it may not be that big of a deal to them, because they know that most people won’t even take the time to read the information here. A word of advice if you want to avoid being scammed: keep reading!

Back in 2004 I needed data recovery, and ended up getting into a bad situation with a less than reputable company. I didn’t do my homework, and I paid the price in a big way. Luckily for me I was saved by a company with good business ethics, and I was able to get my data back. For years I had toyed with the idea of putting my experiences and the knowledge I had gained to good use, kind of a word of warning to others in my situation. I put it off, and eventually I just lost the desire to do anything, I just didn’t think it would make much difference. So for the last 8 years or so I just ignored it. Back in 2007 I had come across some information posted on this site by the original owner, and contacted him. We remained in sporadic contact, and I eventually asked what his plans were for this site, and whether he would be interested in selling it. He agreed, and I carried the torch for a few years, but never really made any changes to the information provided.

Fast forward to late 2011, and a good family friend, who didn’t know my history with this industry, suffered a devastating loss when his hard drive failed. On the hard drive was all of his family pictures, and his company files for his business, many of which could not be recreated. Having failed like so many of us do when it comes to backing up, he had lost everything when the drive crashed. The worst part of the loss was the family pictures. His youngest daughter, who’s now 5, all of her pictures from birth and beyond were on that drive. In a flash, they were gone. Can you imagine? It’s a horrible thought.

He called a few companies, and not really doing much research he went with the cheapest data recovery company. He said that he was getting prices all over the place, and most of the prices were just astronomical, so he went with what sounded reasonable. Later it was discovered that the company who quoted this “reasonable” price, was in fact one of the most incompetent data recovery companies in the industry.

Their shoddy work ended up giving our friend a hard drive that could no longer have any hope of recovery, and to add insult to injury he was still out $183 for the “service” these jokers provided. He sent the drive to 2 other reputable data recovery companies after, just to see if there was anything they could do, but unfortunately the damage was done. Pictures…lost for good. Company files…lost for good. It could have been avoided.


It’s Too Late To Backup

The “click of death“, it’s called that for a reason. It usually means you better already have your data backed up. If you haven’t been diligent with your backup process, then hang on for the ride, because it’s about to get crazy.

The first thing you need to do is put a value on the data lost. If you find that the information is priceless (like family pictures), then you need to really focus on the best way to restore lost data.

Choosing a company is a big deal, and it can be a difficult process. Just try Googling the term “data recovery company”. You quickly see that the results exceed 400,000! How do you make sense of it all? How do you choose? You call a few companies and you are getting price quotes of $400 to $2,500+. You see in the search results companies advertising data recovery for $149, some even as low as $99! As a consumer who can’t afford to lose their data, what should you be looking for? You quickly realize how crazy the industry truly is. There is no rhyme or reason to it. It seems like every company is in their own little shell, and getting a straight answer from any of them is harder than it should be.

Think Before You Act

When you realize you don’t have a backup, and your drive is completely inaccessible, just stop what you’re doing. Relax for a moment. Step away from the situation and think about what needs to be done, and how you’re going to do it. First and foremost, data recovery is expensive. If you can’t afford to lay out at least $500, just stop here. You can put the drive in an anti-static bag, wrap it in something soft, like bubble-wrap, put it in a box and store it somewhere safe. A hard drive is not going to be any more recoverable now, than it will be later. If a data recovery provider tells you anything different, don’t use them. If the information is not time sensitive, now is the time to start saving up little by little for the data recovery process. Sell something. Put $50 a month away towards a fund for the recovery. Do whatever you need to make sure that it’s not something that sets you back financially anymore than it has to. It will also allow you to choose a more reputable company, and not have yourself shopping for the cheapest solution.

Data Recovery Is Not Easy

If you think data recovery is easy, and it’s something I thought as well when I first started looking into it, I’m afraid you’re going to be in for a rude awakening. The Internet is full of do-it-yourself data recovery solutions that people harp about. I’ve seen message board posts boasting of head swaps, to full fledged platter swaps, that people have done themselves on their kitchen table. It doesn’t mean they’re all lies, but just because someone hit the lottery last night, doesn’t mean you’re going to the next time. In other words, luck has a lot to do with data recovery success when you aren’t experienced at it.

When you start looking at how intricately hard drives are assembled, and how delicate those components are, you begin to wonder how they last at all. I’m serious about that. I don’t believe bigger data recovery firms charge more money, just because they can. I believe they charge what they charge because it’s a specialty. Just like being a brain surgeon. The work is tedious and time consuming when done properly, not to mention it requires a lab full of specialized equipment, the least of which is an actual clean-room environment.

The Reality of Do It Yourself Data Recovery

Money is usually the biggest factor in users deciding to tackle the recovery themselves. Especially if the data is not that important to them. Pride I believe is another factor. Some guys that have been working at a local electronics store, or they’ve been experienced with working on electronics, automatically assume they can repair a broken hard drive.

I’ve become fascinated with this industry and have developed relationships with some of the technicians that actually do the work. Some of the stories they share are laughable, and at the same time, incredibly sad. There are cases where drives come in, literally in pieces. The heads in a ziplock bag, the platters in another bag, the electronics in yet another bag. Completely disassembled. Other cases where the user swapped the heads incorrectly and they were forced into position, and were completely mangled as a result. Which in turn scratched up the platter surface.

It was found that in some cases when the drive had been worked on by the user, and multiple attempts were made to swap heads, move platters, etc. that there was actually nothing physically wrong with the drive to begin with. It was simply a firmware problem. So the reality of do it yourself data recovery is that there’s no way you’re going to be able to have the experience, the equipment, or the knowledge to do it effectively.

Your Computer Tech Doesn’t Do Hard Drive Repair

Here’s how you know if you have a good computer repair person. When they tell you your hard drive has failed, they immediately refer you to a professional data recovery center. In other words, they don’t say “don’t worry about it, I can recover the data for you”. If they say that, ask for your drive immediately, and don’t go back. Sorry if this ticks off some of you that work on computers for a living. I realize you can change motherboards, swap memory, troubleshoot general computer issues effectively, but I can promise you…you’re not ever fixing a physically failed hard drive, not in this or any other universe. Same goes with IT personnel. For some reason the more degrees and computer certifications that someone receives, the more they think they can do something that they have no clue about. I know this sounds incredibly rude, but I’ve seen it happen with people I know. I worked in the IT industry until I retired. I know the mindset of some of these guys. They simply think they know it all. The arrogance and pride is appalling at times. I sometimes wonder how many people have been adversely affected by people making false claims about being able to help them when they’ve lost their data.

Data Recovery Scams To Watch Out For

Data recovery scams have targeted consumers for years. There are even websites dedicated to targeting specific companies that have a reputation for scamming the public. Most of these scam artists operate with the same agenda. They lure customers in with low prices, then jack the price up once they have the drive in their lab. In the most severe cases, they actually charge the customer before the data recovery work is even started, and if the drive is unrecoverable (which in most cases it is because these guys have no idea what they’re doing), they still charge the customer. Our family friend that was discussed earlier was hit by a company that used this tactic.

The problem is, there are hundreds of companies out there that operate this way. They prey upon an unwitting public, who are at the time are desperate and vulnerable. There are specific markers to watch out for when it comes to finding out if a company is truly legitimate.

Up Front Fees For Data Recovery

NEVER EVER EVER EVER NEVER pay for any part of the data recovery process up front. Unless you are having the job rushed, or some other premium service provided, you should never be charged a fee up front. Having a credit card on file may be required when the work is authorized, but if a company comes to you and says they need $200, or $300 or whatever up front…immediately ask them to send your hard drive back to you.

Hidden Charges

If possible make sure to get the full price of the recovery process in writing before sending your drive in. Any company should be able to give you the exact price almost to the penny, including shipping, and even media if they happen to charge for that as well. If they give you some wide range (usually a range in excess of $800), and won’t commit, that can be considered a red flag. Granted there is going to be a difference in price for some companies when it comes to a logical recovery vs. a physical recovery, but they should be able to tell you that the price is either going to be A or B. If they are really competent, they should be able to give you a decent diagnosis, and a fairly firm price over the phone just based on your description of the problem. If they can’t, then that would be another red flag to take into consideration.

The reason for getting the price, at least roughly set in stone, is so you don’t get hit with hidden charges that some companies like to use. They may tell you they can do the recovery for $300, but then they charge you for each parts drive they use, or they charge you an additional fee for each gigabyte of information that is retrieved. In today’s world, most real data recovery companies won’t charge you for parts drives that they use when doing the recovery. It’s already factored into the price. So keep that in mind.

Charging When Data Is Unrecoverable

This isn’t exactly a scam, but it is sometimes a way to weed out the cheap low-end companies from those that are successful enough that they don’t need to nickel and dime their customers. Any data recovery company that is competent enough, doesn’t need to charge a data recovery attempt fee. However, the exceptions to this rule are when dealing with RAID arrays or hard drives that were already opened by someone else. RAID data recovery is extremely complex, so attempt fees or diagnostic fees are not uncommon. The bulk of the companies out there that have been doing data recovery for years, and are successful at it, will generally offer a strict No-Data=No Fee guarantee.

Useless Certifications

Another recent trend in the data recovery industry involves company websites advertising ISO and other certifications that really mean nothing. The truth is, there are no real industry standards when it comes to data recovery. There are no certifications that are required, or really even offered that are specific to this field. There are small groups and organizations here and there that try to establish a professional membership for companies to join, but for the most part they are irrelevant.

The ISO certifications you read about may apply to the clean room area of the data recovery lab, but in most instances it just pertains to the “procedure” used by the firm to track cases and make sure that customer information is kept secure. Kind of like making sure a doctor isn’t leaving patient files lying out in the waiting room for everyone to read. Other companies have things like network security certifications (why any company would ever store data on a networked server is beyond me, but that’s another discussion), or HIPPA compliance, but really all it amounts to is, they are paying, in some cases large amounts of money, to maintain each certificate. An auditor comes in, makes sure they have procedures to follow, they make sure those procedures are secure, and they get a piece of paper verifying it. Nothing more, nothing less. How this translates into verifying their ability to perform hard drive repair is beyond me.

The truth is, any reputable data recovery company is going to have these same procedures in place, or they couldn’t stay in business. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there’s really no way to know for sure that a technician isn’t going to be gawking through your photos. Does it happen? I’m sure it does in some companies. You just have to have faith, and understand that some things are beyond your control. You aren’t going to be able to vet something like that before you send in a drive. It’s all about building a relationship with a company, and doing your homework. Keep in mind that if you are dealing with a data recovery company that has been in business for, say 5 or more years, and you can’t find any real credibility issues with them through the Better Business Bureau or various online complaint websites like and others, then chances are they are ok to deal with.

Advertised Data Recovery Success Rates

One of the biggest, and I do mean BIGGEST red flags to watch out for with data recovery companies is success rates. It’s a big marketing tool that data recovery companies like to try and use these days. It’s actually been around for a while, but now I see it becoming more and more popular. You’ll see companies market themselves with terms like “industry leading success rates” or they’ll have ridiculous percentages of 90% or higher. Here’s what you do…you ask those data recovery companies what they base their success rate on, and then ask them if they can provide documentation to prove it.

I guarantee you, not one of them will be able to do it. Success rates in data recovery are not nearly as high as you would expect them to be. From the technicians I’ve spoken to, the reality is only about 70 to maybe 85 percent of the drives that fail are actually recoverable. I had always had this vision that data could be retrieved from any hard drive. As I learned more about the process I also discovered that many of the failures that occur can cause irreparable damage to the platter surface. This is the area of the drive that actually stores your data. Beyond that, there are sometimes cases when data becomes so corrupted either through viruses, or formatting then partial overwriting, that the data is fragmented and unusable.

So the question becomes, how is the company determining their success rate? Are they excluding hard drives that are beyond repair, such as those with obvious platter damage? If so, how is that fair to you as a consumer? It’s not an accurate measure of their success.

A company’s real success rate should be discerned by the way they run their business. Are you getting hammered for money up front? Are they charging you for every little part and piece they use during your recovery? Are they charging you if they can’t recover your data? A company that is truly competent is successful enough to make their earnings from actually recovering data, and doesn’t have to rely on all of the ancillary charges that other lesser companies use.

$149 Data Recovery

$99, $149, $199, right off the bat you can throw these data recovery companies in the toilet. There is NO data recovery company out there that can effectively recover data from every situation for that kind of price. Yes, if you deleted your data, maybe even if you accidentally formatted your drive, those companies might be able to do it. However, if the hard drive has suffered a physical failure, or even firmware corruption, there is no doubt…let me repeat…there is NO DOUBT that they won’t be able to recover your data for that price.

These companies make their living, by pulling people in with low prices. Most are going to tell you that the cheap data recovery prices are for “logical” failures. A logical data recovery is where the file system, or boot partition has become corrupted, accidentally formatted, or files have been deleted. Tell them you have a drive that is clicking and the tone will change instantly. It’s only then that they quote you what a typical hard drive data recovery costs, and it’s generally $500 to $1,500+.

How To Avoid Data Recovery Scams

The best way to avoid being scammed is just to be conscious of the tactics used by some companies. If something sounds too good to be true, it might be. Don’t get me wrong there are plenty of companies out there that do the right thing, and they treat their customers with respect. However, you have to be aware and arm yourself with knowledge to protect yourself from companies that may be looking to make a quick buck. Do a Google search for “data recovery scams” and you’ll be surprised at what you find. Here are a couple of videos I discovered while doing some research on the topic, and they offer insight on things to watch out for.


The following video is in German, with subtitles

Hard Drive Myths…BUSTED

When a hard drive fails, it’s a common reaction to want to try and fix it yourself, or just try anything you can to resolve the situation as quickly as possible. Often this will lead to an Internet search where you would input the problem you are having in hopes of finding someone else having had the same issue and a possible solution. Again, I go back to the point of how important your data is. If it’s just something you’d like to have, and not necessarily something you have to have, then there’s no harm in attempting a recovery on your own. However, if your data is critical, or priceless, then avoid following any of the tips you find online. With respect to what you might find in your searches, I’m going to address a couple of the biggest myths that are still floating around out there.

Hard Drives Are Air Tight

Hard drives are actually NOT air tight. A hard drive relies on a steady amount of air pressure to function normally. According to a couple of hard drive websites, they are constructed in a manner where the heads actually float on top of the platter surface. I had always been under the impression that the heads rested on the platter and read from it, kind of like a record player. However, that’s not the case. Hard disks usually take in and release air, in order to equalize pressure so that the heads actually float as they should. That is why so many hard drives have a tiny hole on the cover, and it usually instructs you not to cover it.

So the myth that drives are sealed air tight is just that, a myth. It’s misinformation. The air intake does offer substantial filtration for the outside air, to keep contaminants out. According to one data recovery technician, some newer hard drives are so poorly constructed that the breathers are not filtered very well. This technician stated that it’s actually quite common now to open up brand new hard drives and find the platter surface littered with contaminants such as small specs of dust. It is believed by some that these contaminants are what cause some newer drives to fail after only a short period of time, and no other outside factors coming into play (i.e. the drive wasn’t knocked over, dropped or shocked).

Hard Drive In The Freezer

Putting your hard drive in the freezer is one of the biggest myths still propagated. There was actually a time a couple of decades ago when hard drives did respond well to being frozen. You could have issues with the heads, or even the motor bearing and a couple hours in the freezer would allow you enough change in the drive dimensions (due to lower temperature) to gain access to the data for a short period of time.

With hard drives today, the freezer does nothing but lessen any chance you might have at recovering your data. As stated in the previous section, hard drives are not air tight. So even if you have the drive wrapped up in a ziplock bag, aluminum foil, or whatever, as soon as the drive starts to warm up, the cold air that has gone into the drive through the intake, is going to start to condense and form moisture on the platter surface.

I’m reluctantly including a video here, that while does show the concept that I’m talking about, I believe it is doing so in a slightly exaggerated manner. While I do believe that moisture can be shown to condense on the platter surface, I’m not so sure that it does so to the extent that represented here. Again, I could be wrong, so take this video with a grain of salt, but do take heed as to what it is saying in regard to freezing your drive, because the facts presented are accurate.

**UPDATED January 28,2013**

I found another video as well highlighting the dangers of placing your hard drive in the freezer, and it seems to be a much more realistic example of what to expect when freezing your hard drive.

Swapping PCB/ Logic Board

Another quick fix that people think they can try, especially when their hard drive has a bad logic board (i.e. the drive will not power up), is they try to swap the board out for one on a similar drive. Aside from just a VERY select few newer drives, the results are going to be across the board the same…the drive will either click, or it will be completely inaccessible. I found this out for myself one time, when I was playing around with a couple of hard drives, and one of them would not spin up. I couldn’t figure out why the drive would spin up when I replaced the board, but would just click, like the heads were bad. I actually assumed that whatever happened to kill the electronics, also killed the heads. Talking to a couple of my data recovery friends I found out that the controller boards have specific chips on them that store data that allows the hard drive to function properly. These are called “adaptives”, and they work with the firmware of the hard drive, in what is typically referred to as the hard drive’s system area.  Each drive has it’s own unique set of adaptives, the most critical of these adaptives are what is known as the P-List and G-List. These two lists contain lists of sectors that the hard drive cannot use for data storage. This information is also saved on the PCB, and when you replace a board with the adaptives from another drive, there is a mismatch and the drive is unable to function.

So when you have a seemingly simple problem like a blown PCB, it actually turns into a pretty serious problem where the board has to either be replaced, or you have to use extremely expensive equipment to transfer the data from the chips on the damaged board to the chips on the new board.

What Company To Choose

I won’t specify a particular company. I won’t even give the name of the company I use. This website is not designed to be an advertisement for any particular brand. It’s intended to prep you for what lies ahead when it comes to getting your data back. If you are interested in discussing your hard drive issues with others, you can submit a question to us, and we will post it in our blog section.

You want to choose a company that is well established. You want to make sure they are well equipped and able to recover your data. I’m going to list a few companies below that have years of experience in the business, and generally appear to have a good track record when dealing with customers. I may add others as well:

Please note that I don’t specifically endorse these companies nor do I warrant any work completed by them, and I receive no compensation from them in order to have them listed.

Kroll Ontrack

ESS Data Recovery

ECO Data Recovery

Data Recovery Group

We love feedback. Send us your comments and we’ll post them below. Also if you have any experiences with data recovery companies (good or bad), let us know. We may be running featured stories in the near future. Email: mark.mathis(at)


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Pretty decent write up. I do a lot of PC repair but I wont touch hard drives.

Dec 24, 2012 by Jake R

Pretty decent write up. I do a lot of PC repair but I wont touch hard drives.

I just had to add my experience with a company recently. I\'m a photographer and shoot weddings mostly. Let me just preface by saying I DID have a bac

Dec 24, 2012 by Michelle Acker

I just had to add my experience with a company recently. I\'m a photographer and shoot weddings mostly. Let me just preface by saying I DID have a backup of my data. However, back in April we had a major storm with flooding. The flood submerged my main computer about half way, killing the hard drive. Then I had my backup drive on a rack and it must have received a voltage surge during the storm because it wouldn\'t power up.

I sent it to what I thought was a reputable company in California. They suggested I send both drives in. I was given a quote of around $1,500 over the phone, and since these were wedding photos I really had no choice.

They received my drives and immediately told me the flooded drive was unrecoverable. Then they said they were able to recover the external drive and it would be $2,800!! That was almost double what I was originally quoted! So I gave them the ok, and waited, and waited and waited. I called them 3 weeks later, but they hadn\'t even started yet. I again had no response and I called at the 6 week mark. This time I was told it was not recoverable. I was so frustrated I asked them to just send both drives back. They then informed me my balance was $500 for \"data recovery lab work\". I refused to pay, and they said they would not ship my drive back until I paid. Finally I had to get our family attorney to send them a letter demanding the return of my drives, which seemed to work. I then sent the drives to --- ---- (Edited - sorry we don\'t promote data recovery companies) down in Texas that was able to recover the data and get it back to me within a week. I was sooo happy!

This is a great piece of writing, and I wish it was the first result when anyone is searching for data recovery services. There are many companies out

Dec 20, 2012 by Alan

This is a great piece of writing, and I wish it was the first result when anyone is searching for data recovery services. There are many companies out there that are just horrible. I came across one company here in San Diego, and it was so bad they even have a site dedicated to warning customers:

This is without a doubt the best article I've seen on data recovery. I also got screwed by a company a few years ago, and it was an experience I'll ne

Dec 20, 2012 by Don A.

This is without a doubt the best article I've seen on data recovery. I also got screwed by a company a few years ago, and it was an experience I'll never forget. There are a lot of scammers out there that are willing and able to take advantage of unsuspecting people. Thank you for bringing some of these issues to light.

You left out a whole bunch of reasons why data recovery companies charge for parts and evaluations. It's done because that's how businesses stay afloa

Dec 20, 2012 by Patterson

You left out a whole bunch of reasons why data recovery companies charge for parts and evaluations. It's done because that's how businesses stay afloat. You have to charge for your time. You can't just expect people to spend hours looking a hard drive and diagnosing it and then not expect to get paid for it.

What about data recovery on Solid State SSD hard drives? Is that going to be putting data recovery business out?

Dec 20, 2012 by Mike Dawson

What about data recovery on Solid State SSD hard drives? Is that going to be putting data recovery business out?

This is a great read, but I wish you had more detail in how data recovery is actually done.

Dec 20, 2012 by Andy Newsome

This is a great read, but I wish you had more detail in how data recovery is actually done.

I lost all of my pictures when my hard drive fell on the floor. Can I still recover that data?

Dec 20, 2012 by Kelly G.

I lost all of my pictures when my hard drive fell on the floor. Can I still recover that data?

Thanks for the great info. Wish I would have known about this sooner!

Dec 20, 2012 by Mike McGrath

Thanks for the great info. Wish I would have known about this sooner!

Data Recovery Report , USA 4.4 5.0 9 9 Pretty decent write up. I do a lot of PC repair but I wont touch hard drives.



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