How To Spot A Scam: Must-Read Camera Buyer Advice!

Insights & Thoughts November 28th 2013 1:24 PM 11 Comments

It’s that time of year again, folks!

Before Black Friday and Cyber Monday get fully underway, I always like to spread the word about internet scams.  I hope that everyone can take a minute to read this article before doing any online shopping!  There are so many scams out there theses days, and this article is about online camera store scams that all use a very similar tactic that has a long history going back at least a decade…

The scam tactics and shady parent companies really exploded in 2004-2006, and the first scam group to do this was based in Brooklyn, in the 718 area code.  A couple of the most notorious ones were Broadway Photo and PriceRite Photo, which have long since been shut down of course.

They were even so bold as to buy advertising space in numerous mainstream magazines, closely mimicking the reputable stores ads.  This was back when social media was still in it’s infancy, and some people were even still very new to the whole concept of online shopping!

Back then, I first encountered this scam operation when I almost purchased a Nikon D70 from an online store called “Digital Liquidators.”  I trusted them because I first saw their printed ad in Outdoor Photographer magazine. I naively assumed that if they had a printed ad, they must be legit!  Suffice it to say, you can have a glance at their reputation by clicking HERE.

“I HATE BEING CHEATED, this company is full of scam artists. An Absoulety terrible experience. Bought a camera and was “forced to buy a battery, warranty and memory card” as I was advised this didn’t come with the camera. When I looked at the website it said all equipment brand new in box. I cant believe the manufactor would sell you camera that you need to buy a battery just to be able to use, let alone not stand behind their product. When I called “customer service” to discuss the camera I received and asked for a detailed invoice I was told that it was my fualt that I had a “comprehension problem”. I was then hung up on. My advice to anyone looking to purchase from these folks is to look elsewhere.”

 

Unfortunately, nowadays these types of scams are now operated all over the place and are extremely elusive.


The listed business addresses of online camera stores, circa 2010
Photos by Don Wiss, used with permission. Click HERE for more…

With the 2013 shopping season upon us, I was curious to see if any of these scam groups were still around.  Last year I googled “Nikon D800” and clicked on the lowest price that came up.  Sure enough, a crazy-low $1900 price listed at a scam store.  This year?  I googled “Canon 70D” since it is one of the hot new cameras that is already on the market, and sure enough I’ve found a listing or two for $950 when the camera sells for $1099 at reputable sites like B&H.  While there is a SLIGHT chance of finding such a deal on a camera that is 1-2+ years old, there is ZERO chance that a deal like this on such a newly released camera is legit.

So, allow me to warn, educate, and arm you all…  I will start by briefly describing the symptoms, the red flags, that indicate you could be getting scammed.

1.)  The insanely low prices

This is the  number one red flag that something is too good to be true.  Especially on brand-new cameras that came out within the past year.  Remember, it is actually illegal for an authorized camera dealer to list equipment below a certain price.  It is called “minimum advertised price”, or MAP, and you can read about it by clicking HERE.

2.)  The phone call

The phone call usually goes something like this: Shortly after placing your order, they call you just to confirm your order or some other information, however they quickly start up-selling you on memory cards, warranties, etc.  They’ll be VERY high-pressure.  If you decline all of the usual accessories, they may start to actually lie to you about the product you’re buying.  They might tell you the battery that’s included will only last for 10 minutes and isn’t rechargheable, and you need the $500 “good” battery and charger. Or they may all of a sudden start telling you that what you’re getting is not a USA model, and you have to pay extra if you don’t want the “grey” model.

If you manage to stand firm through all of this nonsense, they will definitely be getting extremely irritated and even condescending at this point. They may simply tell you that they’re sorry but the exact model you want is actually on back-order, then they hang up.  Red flag!  Or even worse in one case reported HERE, they may refuse to hang up, and threaten to charge you a re-stocking fee if you cancel your order, or even threaten to charge you for the full amount yet leave your order status as permanently backordered.  To quote Monty Python- “Run away, run away!!!”

3.)  The insanely high-priced accessories (and/or shipping)

Back in 2004, I remember seeing a 512 MB compact flash card for $300.  No, that’s not just what memory cards cost back then, that’s probably ten times more than the actual cost!  And the accessories are always no-name generics, brands that you’ve never heard of before.  …Or, oppositely,  the websites themselves may choose to display ZERO accessories whatsoever, and will only bring up the accessories once they get you on the phone.  Either way, if you see $300 memory cards that cost $30 on Amazon, that’s a red flag, or if you see absolutely no accessories listed whatsoever, that’s another red flag.  Lastly, beware of $100+ “mandatory” shipping rush charges, weight charges, or other fees.

4.) The silly testimonials and gaudy badges

In case you didn’t notice, the major retailers have reputations that speak for themselves.  They’re reputable and secure, and they don’t need to trumpet that fact in every corner of their website with flashy badges and satisfaction guarantees.  Aside from the handful of well-known web security badges that all major online retailers have, if you see a bunch of extra fluff trying to instill confidence in customers, beware.

So, how do you avoid getting scammed?

1.)  Don’t just google a camera and click the lowest price.

Rule number one!  Doing this is a recipe for getting scammed.  If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  It is well-documented that those “lowest price finder” sites frequently include these scam sites, especially Yahoo.  (Historically speaking, at least)

2.)  Use Reseller Ratings or Ripoff Report.

Visit ResellerRatings.com or RipoffReport.com and search for the store you’re considering.  Weed through the fake, one-liner reviews that are cut-and-pasted like Ebay feedback, and search for the more extensive reviews.  Or if you’re a cynic like myself, just go straight to the 1-star reviews and see if they consistently report the same “shady” tactics.  Chances are if they are a scam group then you’ll see multiple reports of the same things I mentioend above: up-sell tactics, over-priced accessories or shipping, and overall pushy / rude behavior.  …Or if they have no rating whatsoever, that’s not a good sign either!

While I feel very sorry for anyone who falls for a scam online, and we all make mistakes once or twice, there is still definitely an element of greediness in some people that just compells them to take greater risks just to safe a few bucks.  If you plan on buying camera gear from a no-name online store and you don’t do some serious research first, you kinda deserve what you get.

3.)  When in doubt, shop at B&H, Amazon, or Adorama.

It’s really that simple.  There is no free lunch.   So, should you just give up and pay the MSRP every time?  Not necessarily.  There are still plenty of rebates, sales, and gradual price drops.  And sure, there are plenty of other legit retailers out there who might offer you a few bucks in savings, if you’re willing to hunt them down.  Just don’t expect a free lunch.

That is why we here at SLR Lounge put a lot of effort into hunting for SAFE ways to save money on camera gear.  (You’re welcome!)

www.amazon.com

www.bhphotovideo.com

www.adorama.com

For the latest information on which sites are known scam sites using this bait-and-switch tactic, a good resource is: thoughts-of-dave.blogspot.com  For additional reading, see the immense collection of storefront photos that Don Wiss has taken by clicking HERE, or the late-2005 blog posts by Thomas Hawk HERE and HERE, (warning, some of it is a little shocking!) or the New York Times article from early 2006 HERE.  If you dig deep enough, some people claim that the original scam group may have been affiliated with the Russian Mafia.  Yikes!

Take care,
=Matthew Saville=

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About

Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge. Connect with him on Google Plus

11 Comments

  1. Mike Philippens™

    Actually, people falling for these scammers deserve to be conned. When you actually believe the lies and the low price, you’re delusional. When it looks too good to be true, it probably is. People like that should be fined or have their Internet License revoked (I wish there was something like that).
    It’s not that these scams are very subtle. If you’re smart enough to operate a DSLR, you should be smart enough to smell a scam like that.

    Reply 0
    • Matthew Saville Baldon

      Mike, while I agree with that general premise of “you gotta be an idiot to fall for such a low price”, that doesn’t stop these scammer’s practices from being extremely un-ethical.

      Most people wise up really quick and never shop “like an idiot” again, but many people still at least fall for it just once.  And sometimes the prices aren’t that incredibly discounted, either.  When I almost bought a D70 from DigitalLiquidators, I was only going to save $20 or so.  In my opinion that  doesn’t fall into the “too good to be true” category, it’s just a slightly lower price on a $1,000 item.

      Take care,=Matt=

      1
    • Stan Rogers

      It’s not quite that simple. Back in the days when “the internet” mean Gopher, Archie and NNTP (and Sir Tim had not yet invented the web), there was Shutterbug. And every month in Shutterbug, there were HUGE multi-page ads from a couple of really (and I mean REALLY) shady-looking companies. One of them was B&H, which openly advertised “grey market” goods and marked every other item with “call for price”; the other was Adorama, which had at least three pages of their ad dedicated to Eastern European knockoffs like the Kiev medium format cameras (the Cold War was still on at the time) and their own house brands of studio and darkroom gear. And yes, the prices were (for the time) too good to be true. If you weren’t in the loop, you’d pretty much had to have been an idiot to buy from either. The only things that have changed, really, are that it’s relatively cheaper to advertise now, and it’s easier for the uninformed to convince themselves that they’re “in the loop” when they find short-term “black hat SEO” astroturfed positive reviews in web forums. So, two choices for safety: long term research (can I really trust the online recommendations on a site like this one?); or the nice shiny local bricks-and-mortar store. One means devoting time that most normal people (rabid photographers ain’t normal) don’t devote to buying gear, and the other means spending more. (By the way, there are a lot of good reasons to support your better local bricks-and-mortar people. Dropping by to do a “hands on” then buying online means that before long there won’t be anywhere to do your “hands on”. Stock on hand, space to display it, and staff to help you all cost money, so spend a bit once in a while.)

      1
  2. Cinghialino

    how about supporting local legit shops instead of continue feeding big resellers?

    Reply 2
    • Donald B Miller

       Just what I was going to say! Don’t give your money to some out of state camera warehouse. As a plus it is fun to look at all the other goodies in the store!

      1
    • Jeremy

      Exactly what I was thinking. When it comes to camera gear, all legit retailers are going to be in the same ballpark on price anyway.

      0
  3. Igor Yudovich

    People wise enough to push buttons on a DSLR should not fall fall for a scam. Read small print. The biggest profit is made in accessories and warranty. The sales person tried to push me an extra battery by saying that my battery will not last long. I have to admit of being new to the field of photography and buying set of filters. It was wastefull. Vingetting is off the roof. Glass quality is poor. Sales person told me its a brand name.

    Reply 0
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    [...] a few sites currently offering the 6D for less than $2099, however they are most likely scams!  Click HERE to read my article on careful online camera [...]

    Reply 0
  5. Michael Leonard

    I almost fell for one while hunting for a good deal on a 5D mkIII just a month ago. But then I was directed to resellerratings and quite humorously most of the reviews went something like this:

    “They called me and told me about my credit card problems and informed me that I ordered the wrong lens for my camera. Wow, what great service.”

    Now if this were one review it would be believable. But I laughed when almost all of them went the same way. After placing an order they would get a phone call from the company saying their credit card had issues, then would tell the customer they either bought the wrong lens, wrong kind of camera or they convinced them to upgrade to a higher capacity battery or some such nonsense. and people fell for it hook, line and sinker.

    If I ever ordered from them and they told me I ordered the wrong lens I would tell them to fly a kite. I know what I ordered. NOW GIVE IT TO ME! :-)

    I don’t know if I can say their name here, but if you check out DigitalDepotOnline.com’s reviews in resellerratings, alot of them sound very similar.

    Reply 0
  6. Kristen

    I recently looked into the cheapest Canon 6D I could find and found it as cheap as 1300!! I called to find out why it was so cheap, the person I talked to informed me before I purchased that it was actually an import model so it was made of cheaper material and the wording and functions needed to be changed over to the American format. However everything else looked exactly the same! If someone sold this on eBay as a Canon 6D it would be priced right along with all the other “real” canon certified ones.
    I appreciated him telling me all this before I bought so I would not be disappointed. This company sold the canon certified 6d too at the regular price.
    This was concerning to me only now because I love getting deals on eBay or buying used cameras to save a penny, but is there an easy way to tell when buying a used camera if it is “real” or a knock off?! Because apparently they look and function the exact same.
    If your interested I could send you the link the the particular company selling both the real and the knock off version of the 6d.

    Reply 0
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