Christmas is just around the corner and most of you have hopefully already got all your shopping out of the way. But for the few of you who like us still need to pick up a few bits and bobs a word of warning: steer well clear of hard drives from electronics retailer Dick Smith.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the retailer was caught out this month after filmmaker Darryl Mason who is working on a documentary of iconic Sydney band The Angels, lost hours of footage due to the hard drive he bought being riddled with viruses.

Not only was the hard drive’s security compromised but it also contained a number of illegally downloaded movies and could only hold about 30 Gigabytes of data; not the 1.5 Terabytes as listed on the box.

So how could this happen? According to a spokesperson for the electronics retailer they regularly reformat old hard drives and sell them in their stores as if they were brand new. “Following an investigation it has been confirmed that this unit was in fact returned from a previous customer who had downloaded nine movies on to it,” the spokesperson said.

“We do have procedures in place to thoroughly check and restore settings on all units when they are returned but on this occasion the process wasn’t implemented.”

The tragedy is amplified by the fact that Mason had taken every precaution to ensure that his footage would not be compromised. The laptop he was using to edit the film was purposely never connected to the internet and he deliberately sought to buy a new hard drive so that he could be sure it was clean.

“To me, that’s an amazing thing to admit, that they take returned drives, wipe them and then sell them as new,” he told the newspaper. “And if their statement is true, why is the drive only 30GB? Instead of 1.5TB? I have a friend who’s coming to have a look tomorrow, reckons he can fix the corrupted file. I think he just said that so I’d calm down.”

Mason had been shooting The Angels recording sessions and gigs over the last six months and had hoped to get the film out to coincide with a new album from the band due sometime in January.

The Minister for Fair Trading in New South Wales, Anthony Roberts, said that Australian Consumer Law had protections in place if traders are found to be misleading customers. “I’d be very concerned if Dick Smith are selling used goods as new and not disclosing this to consumers,” he said.

“In this instance, if the consumer doesn’t get a satisfactory outcome from the retailer, Fair Trading can help negotiate a successful outcome as well as investigate any potential breaches of the ACL.”

Mason said he was in the process of backing up footage to the replacement drive but worried that those files now may be corrupted too. “Are more files being corrupted right now? Lost forever? Absolutely sickening feeling,” said Mason. The filmmaker still hopes to get his documentary out in time.