Monday, May 21, 2007

Scammers target digital camera buyers


In preparation for my trip to New York in a couple of weeks I have been looking for a new camera that would enable me to shoot in “raw” format. After much deliberation I decided to stay with Panasonic, since I have been quite pleased with the results I obtained from the Panasonic FZ20. The latest Panasonic 12X super zoom, the Panasonic FZ-8, looks like it will fill the bill nicely so I began the search for a decent online price. The camera retails for $349 but my web search yielded a seller offering the camera for only $229 +shipping. The website looked like a regular shopping site and offered the usual secure transaction payment options so I went ahead and ordered the camera. I noticed that their prices for SD Memory Cards and auxiliary batteries were outrageous though so I just ordered the camera. Sunday afternoon I was awakened from my nap by a phone call from the camera vendor, http://www.thedigitalnerds.com/, telling me I obviously had forgotten to order any accessories for my nice new camera. I told the salesman I didn’t forget. I just wasn’t going to pay their prices for memory cards and batteries as I could obtain them elsewhere for a fraction of the price. He then proceeded to try to persuade me to buy extended warranty for something like $124 (for a $229 camera) and I told him I usually upgrade cameras before they ever wear out so I wasn’t interested. I asked if the camera had been shipped and he insisted that it had been shipped out right away. So I thanked him for checking with me and hung up. I got into work this morning and their was an email from DigitalNerds telling me that “unfortunately” the camera was out of stock for at least 6 to 8 weeks so my order was cancelled. (Interesting since the website said it was In stock and would ship in 2-3 days) They also told me not to place the order again.

So, I reran my search and this time I came up with a vendor, http://www.wisetronics.com/, offering the camera for $224. I didn’t want to go through all the hassle so I called their toll-free number this time to place my order over the phone. I began by asking if they would sell the camera alone for the price advertised. They asked me why I asked and as I explained my first attempt at ordering the camera, I noticed there wasn’t any background noise and looked down at my phone and found they had hung up on me. I also noticed their auxiliary batteries for the camera were priced at a whopping $143 each.

Not to be derailed from my goal, I went down the list of vendors to the third lowest vendor, http://www.stop4camera.com/, who offered the camera for $248. Once more I called them and explained that I wanted just the camera. I also noticed background noise that sounded like the person answering the phone was at home. I asked about it and the “salesman” said some guys behind him were just talking. He claimed he could sell me just the camera – no problem – but he would need to call me back in ten minutes - ???? Of course, no call back ever came.

All of these vendors are listed through a web portal, http://www.lowpricedigital.com/ prominently advertised as a sponsored link at the top of the Google results page. This afternoon, I see that both The Digital Nerds and Wisetronics have upped their price for the Panasonic to $299 (A price available from Amazon and just about everybody else.) Now the third dealer on the list, http://www.digitalsuperdeals.com/, is offering the camera for $229 (and the auxiliary high-capacity battery is offered for $149.99! This web portal and all of its so-called merchant links appears to be a huge scam operation attempting to lure people in with low camera prices so they can fleece them for exorbitantly priced accessories.

Finally, I noticed a Google sidebar sponsored link for B&H Professional Photography Supply had the camera listed for $269. Their spare batteries were only $27 and I got a couple of 2 Gb SD Memory Cards for only $26 each. Their shipping was only $6.95 (Everyone else was quoting from $15 - $20 for 5- 7 day shipping) I requested 3 – 5 day shipping for only $5 more. They were thoroughly professional and even spent quite a bit of time answering my questions about shooting in raw format, Panasonic vs. Canon, Super Zoom vs. DSLR, noise reduction strategies, etc. I got great service and still a good buy without getting taken to the cleaners for the extras.


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