Buying a Camera? Watch out for scams

By Jack Berglund

I’m assuming you use your common sense and judgment when ordering expensive items online but there are a couple of specific things to look out for that have caught out people I know:

Bait and Switch

There are a number of companies in the US and I’m sure elsewhere with an extremely frustrating business model.  They will advertise items with a low but not completely unbelievable price.  When you place an order, they will contact you and push to sell additional items such as an uprated battery or more memory for hugely inflated prices.  From what I’ve been told, their sales tactics are very pushy, boarding on unpleasant.  If you decline all the options, more often than not you will get an email that your order has been canceled.

To avoid waisting your time and effort, do a quick check on any company before ordering, particularly if it seems to be to good to be true.  Reseller Ratings is a good site for checking companies in the US.  Here is an example of one company to avoid:

I recommend using a known reseller such as B and H Photo, Admorama Camera and in the US. In the UK try Fixation, Calumet and Mifsuds.

A note on Amazon has been criticized for not checking out its third party vendors as carefully as people would expect.  In the US, Amazon stock a lot of the mainstream photography equipment themselves, but check when ordering where the item is shipping from.  If you’re unlucky, one of the smaller resellers listed on the Amazon site might not be legitimate or go out of business before you receive your order.

To eBay or not to eBay?

There are deals to be had but when using eBay be very, very careful…

My girlfriend recently found what looked like a good deal on a new Nikon D3.  The seller had a well organized store front and 500+ positive ratings.  After winning the auction and paying the seller, all was quiet.  On return to the sellers page, everything had been removed and nothing was ever sent.  To eBay’s credit, they did refund the money but there was a level of stress and worry involved and a period of time when she was seriously out of pocket.

Lessons learned?  500 positive ratings is not enough to guarantee its not a scam.  In this case, somebody (or more likely multiple people) had invested significant effort in building up this account, either legitimately, by hijacking an account or by rating themselves using other dummy accounts.  To justify the effort, they were selling a large number of expensive items all with a similar end time.  Everything looked as it should be with photos and descriptions.  My advice, avoid sellers with many expensive items listed to finish at the same time when they don’t have thousands of positive rating.  Its probably okay to buy from sellers with fewer positive ratings in cases where they are selling one or two second hand items and don’t look like an ‘operation’ (legitimate or otherwise).

So Where Should I Buy My Camera?

I’m lucky enough to live 15 minutes walk from B and H Photo in Manhattan where I buy a lot of my equipment.  They are priced competitively (even compared to online only merchants – the legit ones anyway) and have a great selection. If you’re in New York its well worth a visit for the unique system of boxes on tracks ferrying equipment around the store and the shear scale of the place.

I would buy from a local store if they are priced competitively.  Check out some prices online and always ask about a price match as many places will oblige rather than lose the business.  Do your own research and go to the store with a good idea of whats important to you and what things should cost.  Most camera stores are staffed by knowledgeable people with a real interest in the field, others not so much but either way its important to have your own sense of things.

In summary: use your best judgment as with any other purchases but look out for the specific issues I mention.  Always check out the details of a vendor before buying and be careful, bordering on paranoid if using eBay.  If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

  1. June 7th, 2010
  2. November 19th, 2010

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