Wanna get ripped off? Buy from these guys!
December 19, 2007 10:55 PM   Subscribe

Whoa, two BK posts in a row. Brooklyn stand up!
posted by secret about box at 10:57 PM on December 19, 2007

In New York unless you're camera shopping at B&H or Adorama it's likely you're getting ripped off.
posted by clevershark at 11:01 PM on December 19, 2007 [4 favorites]

posted by sklero at 11:03 PM on December 19, 2007

I think they've already turned most of these into storefront houses of worship.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 12:56 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can't get with your wording on this post, though. Saying Brooklyn "thrives on" this is, um, kind of an unnecessary, across-the-board diss, don'tcha think? I mean, Brooklyn thrives on a lot of good stuff, too.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 1:02 AM on December 20, 2007

Damn, I wanted bestlowcostbattery.com so bad!
posted by parmanparman at 2:14 AM on December 20, 2007

Awe, Abe's of Maine moved to Jersey? They were, like, the definitive rip-off camera store in Brooklyn.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:07 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm curious, what exactly makes these places a rip off? I understand the tactics are pretty damn shady (like the articles mentions, "gray area") but are they selling phony cameras too? I ask because several months ago my wife and I purchased a camera off of eBay whose location was Brooklyn. Now, right now I don't think I see that company on the list of photos, but I'd like to know if I bought a fraudulent product.

The buying experience was actually kind of pleasant. We got a whole package deal, lens, tripod, case, etc. The only thing I didn't like was that you had to call them in order to complete the order. I was aware of the Price Rite photo thing, and tried to research this place online, but didn't find any complaints. I was worried that when we called they'd try to upsell (or bait-and-switch), we would decline and they'd leave my wife negative feedback on her eBay account. They did try to upsell, we did decline, and that was that.

My last complaint is something I coin "feedback blackmail" We fulfilled our end of the bargain, yet they won't leave feedback until we leave them feedback. I just do not like that policy at all. Seems that lots of places do that on eBay.

Anyway, so, do these places sell fake stuff or is it "hot" or what?
posted by mrzer0 at 4:33 AM on December 20, 2007

I'm about 80% sure Brooklyn also has other business establishments.
posted by Plutor at 4:39 AM on December 20, 2007 [2 favorites]

I think the deal is that you are rolling the dice when you buy from some of these places, most times if you can resist the upsell, etc. you'll get the same merchandise as you would anywhere.

However, there is also a much larger chance that you'll be receiving faulty equipment (merchandise someone else has already returned and is just restocked) or even fake equipment. Somewhere on the interwebs I remember some photos posted of a camera they bought whose battery exploded, the camera caught fire and Canon (or Sony) stickers melted off to reveal a no-name brand beneath.
posted by jeremias at 4:51 AM on December 20, 2007

I've had mostly good experiences buying from places like this, for whatever that is worth.
posted by caddis at 5:00 AM on December 20, 2007

My last complaint is something I coin "feedback blackmail" We fulfilled our end of the bargain, yet they won't leave feedback until we leave them feedback. I just do not like that policy at all. Seems that lots of places do that on eBay.

posted by mrzer0 at 7:33 AM on December 20 [+] [!]

I'm not a camera reseller, but I do that. When the customer leaves a positive feedback it lets me know they received the item and are satisfied with it.

By doing things this way rather than blindly giving my customers positive feedback, it also helps stave off people who turn around and start making unreasonable demands with the threat of blackmailing ME with a negative. Once I leave a positive feedback, I lose my ability to make their after-the-fact difficulty a matter of public record.

Retail industry wisdom may hold that the customer is always supposedly "right," but by waiting for the customer to make the first move regarding feedback I'm not obligated to give utter morons and con artists the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 5:04 AM on December 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

Ziggy Zaga:

I see what you are saying about that. I have only ever sold one thing on eBay, so correct me if I'm wrong... but you can retract feedback can't you? Or at least leave a follow-up to said positive feedback?

I'd go into a whole further rant about it all, but that would detract from the actual topic at hand. Thx though for your thoughts.
posted by mrzer0 at 5:30 AM on December 20, 2007

This has been well known in photography circles for a few years now. The scam here, in most cases, is that if you refuse to buy the shit they try to "upsell" you on, the stores are suddenly "out of stock", or your order is mysteriously delayed or lost. In the most extreme cases, you may also find that your credit card information has somehow ended up in the hands of identity thieves. There's been a lot of speculation, over the years, as to whether the Russian Mafia has a part in the whole thing.

The moral of the story: don't buy camera equipment from NYC, B&H or Adorama notwithstanding.

Optional secondary moral to the story: if a deal seems too good to be true, it is.*

* this is particularly true when you realize that most camera resellers only make $50 or so on the sale of a $1000+ DSLR body. any store selling such items at more than about $50 below the typical retail price on these items is probably a scam, because selling at so low a price means they're actually losing money on the sale -- hence, the upselling.
posted by tocts at 5:34 AM on December 20, 2007

I'm curious, what exactly makes these places a rip off?
Well, for one thing, lots of the upselling is to try to get people to buy things that already come with the camera, like a battery or charger, at some ridiculous markup. I guess the idea is they attract the first-time buyers, who see a great price and place the order, and can then be easily talked into buying "accessories" like a battery charger because they don't realize it is (or at least should be) included with the camera.

As has already been said, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is, Brooklyn or otherwise.
posted by Godbert at 5:43 AM on December 20, 2007

eBay's feedback system is total and utter crap. The tactics you describe are simply a logical result of eBay's shoddy system.
posted by knave at 6:43 AM on December 20, 2007

Well, for one thing, lots of the upselling is to try to get people to buy things that already come with the camera, like a battery or charger, at some ridiculous markup.

That's only the tip of the iceberg. Other services include:

- Cancelling your order outright if they fail to upsell you
- Charging service fees on said failed upsells (for your 'cancelled' order - it's your fault you didn't need a $1000 lens after all)
- Shipping a different camera, then charging you a restocking fee if you have the gall to return it
- In-box replacement of genuine manufacturer parts (nikon, canon) with knock-off chinese crap
- Selling warrantees and replacement plans which they have zero intention of honoring, most of the time referring you to the OEM and hoping they'll replace it

Above alll, these people are aggressive, abusive asshole. They are not above cursing at you on the phone or retribution in the form of fraudulent charges should you charge-back or rate them negatively on sites like resellerratings. My parents had many such experiences while camera shopping during the holidays. They've since wised up. In defense of Brooklyn, this happens all over and in markets other than photography equipment. There used to be a fair number of computer part drop-shippers in the southwest that did much the same things to PC builders.
posted by datacenter refugee at 6:44 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

I can testify that Cambridge Cameras, aka Cambridge world is well deserving of their place on this list.

I won an ebay auction for a twin lens reflex lens set to be used for my Yashica Mat. It is a set of two lenses for closeup work. They were described in the auction as being in good conditions, some wear, but the glass was clean and scratch free. After paypaling 33 dollars, a week later I received a set of lenses that were covered in speckles of black paint, scratched to hell, and totally unusable. This is the sort of item that you don't even bother trying to restore, and certainly don't sell. Well, it took me a full month to get my refund and I only got that because I called their Brooklyn number every day Monday through Friday and spoke to the same guy asking for my money back (I'd mailed back the item immediately) and finally, exasperated and annoyed, he gave me the refund. What a drag. I think they bank on people being too lazy or busy to put up with their stonewalling service.
posted by JBennett at 7:29 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

so correct me if I'm wrong... but you can retract feedback can't you? Or at least leave a follow-up to said positive feedback?

I'd go into a whole further rant about it all, but that would detract from the actual topic at hand. Thx though for your thoughts.
posted by mrzer0 at 8:30 AM on December 20 [+] [!]

Those are features that were implemented long after I started selling anything on eBay. While I know that they exist, I don't fully understand how they work.

With follow-ups though, from what I've seen they are more or less useless. If I leave a "A+++ WOULD SELL TO AGAIN!!!!!1" feedback before the deal is even done and then they successfully screw me over, my follow-up stating "YUO RUINED MY LIFE!!!!!!" would just be a byline to the positive feedback I previously left them. Ergo follow-ups don't really count for much.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:02 AM on December 20, 2007

Brooklyn thrives despite...

I knew someone who worked at one of these places, and he told me the story of "The Mac Guy." They had a broken Mac computer that this guy would sell for $500, within a few days the customer would bring it back, and they would give him store credit for it. This alone would pay the guy's salary. One time the customer didn't bring it back, and that was the end of The Mac Guy's job.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:04 AM on December 20, 2007

While a lot of us know about these scams, these camera places thrive by having a lot of web savvy and setting up slick sales web sites that seem legit. If you are ordering camera equiptment from aboad - and many do via relatives and friends in the US - these scam sites show up first in Google and offer the best prices. I just dealt with this a couple of weeks ago with some friends in Hungary who wanted to order a camera and have me bring it back to Europe for them. I checked the link above and warned them against it, telling them that if they ordered from B&H or 17th St. Photo I would help, but not otherwise. If it is cheaper than B&H then it is probably a scam.

Why are they getting away with it? B&H and 17th St. Photo are all legit, and they are owned and staffed by mostly Orthodox and Hasidic Jews - as was the original 47th St. Photo. If they were to be involved in a scam they would be way too identifiable as a group and vulnerable. The scam sellers, however, often come from certain other Brooklyn Mizrachi Jewish communities, and have enough money and pull to buy support ("protection") from local Brooklyn politicians. Simple.
posted by zaelic at 9:23 AM on December 20, 2007

Relying on Froogle and the other online rating systems led me to J&R and Abe's of Maine, both of which have been completely satisfactory to me. J&R took back a $550 dSLR last summer after I decided I didn't like that model and gave me a full refund.

What exactly should I be watching out for?

Perhaps I should add that I bought everything from their websites -- I wouldn't touch eBay unless I was prepared to get ripped off, regardless of the seller.
posted by bjrubble at 9:32 AM on December 20, 2007

unaware camera buyers
Hey, if someone can make me buy a camera and I don't even know about it, I say you're a damn good salesman. Egg cream on me.
posted by hellbient at 10:10 AM on December 20, 2007

Ugh, I've dealt with some of these stores. It's always the same scam -- you place an order through a slick-looking website for a price that's substantially lower than legitimate operations (Adorama and B&H), but then find out at the end of the order that you need to call and "confirm," or that you have to wait and receive a call from them. If you don't buy on the upsell, bad things can happen -- I got charged extra anyway, and the camera's box had obviously been opened and things had been removed (charger, batteries, etc.).

I sent it back and had to wrestle with my credit-card company to have the charge reversed. I hope those bastards rot.

Anyway: moral of the story is (1) if it's cheaper than an establishment you trust, don't buy it, and (2), if you don't listen to point #1, always put it on an Amex card -- they are far more likely than Visa/MC to go to bat for you against a shady merchant, at least in my experience. If a place doesn't accept Amex, run far, far away.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:14 AM on December 20, 2007

I found a deal on Craigslist for an LCD HDTV - an offer nearly too good to be true (ok, it was, but not by too much). I wrote the guy and he gave me his address where to check it out. I googled the address and came across one of these sites. I ran the opposite direction.
posted by yeti at 10:43 AM on December 20, 2007

I rarely buy from anyone who's not recommended. Aren't there any sites that alert online buyers to scammers?
posted by zorro astor at 10:44 AM on December 20, 2007

IMHO, regarding ebay feedback, if I've bought something from a vendor and sent the money quickly (I usually Paypal within the hour of winning a bid), so they've received it in good time without hassle, I've completed my share of the transaction and should be given favorable feedback from the vendor based on it. Basically, did you get my payment, swiftly and without hassle? Then give me good feedback based on that. When I receive your product, if it is in good condition, etc., I'll do the same.

When vendors withhold feedback until the buyer gives a good feedback rating, assuming the buyer has done everything right, I see it as a kind of unethical extortion of a positive feedback rating from the buyer.

Ziggy is right, in his comment above, that vendors don't like to make themselves vulnerable to the unscrupulous buyer who may try to reverse this on them. But there are ways for a vendor to address this, by withdrawing feedback or leaving a follow-up.

By not using those tools and instead withholding positive feedback when it has been earned, the result is twofold: one, ethical buyers are essentially coerced into giving better feedback on the vendor that may or may not be merited (which leaves a bitter taste in a my mouth) and two, the whole feedback system becomes a worthless game, as has been mentioned above, as well.

Of course, this system has been lamented profusely before now.
posted by darkstar at 10:52 AM on December 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

"With follow-ups though, from what I've seen they are more or less useless"

You can leave a URL as follow-up, though. Many folks don't know that. At least you used to be able to, and I've done it, pointing to a URL detailing the entire scam story.

We still got screwed in the end, though.
posted by drstein at 10:55 AM on December 20, 2007


I had wanted to setup a website detailing what I called "feedback blackmail" Where-in, you would leave a positive feedback so you could get your deserved positive feedback in return. After that, you'd follow-up with a URL to your story on the feedback-blackmail site.

I was already to start writing some web-based app to do this, and then I remember reading somewhere that you can no longer include URLs in the eBay feedback area. I'd have to dig around in their ToS to see if that is the case, or if what I read a few months ago was wrong.


Thanks for all your guys' input. What I find interesting is the majority of these "too good to be true" deals, at least on eBay, have a pretty fair amount of positive feedback. To the tune of 95% or better. There were a lot of the same gripes I've read here on MeFi, "they sent me something with black specks on the lens" as an example. And how the consumer was ripped off, etc.

Naturally, the shady store in question would say "This person is a loser!!" -or- "Asks too much for what they paid" Or some crap like that. I just gotta wonder more about these places though. Like, are they all some kind of fence for the mob? Is there really hundreds of places that specialize in these kinds of bogus tactics?

Anyway... Just some more thoughts I guess.
posted by mrzer0 at 1:01 PM on December 20, 2007

I found a scan I made of that crappy lens set I received from Cambridge. Take a look.
posted by JBennett at 7:36 AM on December 21, 2007

I knew someone who worked at Abe's of Main and was warned me to stay far, far away. They were definitely taking included accessories out of boxes and selling gray market items.
posted by terrortubby at 8:35 AM on December 21, 2007

In some (other) countries, eBay uses a double-blind feedback, where neither party can see the feedback until BOTH have been posted.

While it's still open to all sorts of abuse, it does remove that blackmail crap, which I've always found selfish and shady. It's made me doubt all the 99.9 percent good ratings, that's for sure.

A buyer who pays promptly has done their part. They deserve feedback right then. A seller doesn't get theirs until the damn thing arrives and is not a brick. If it arrives and works, the seller now gets good feedback. If they have other problems later, that's outside of what feedback is for. And it sure as hell is not quid pro quo.

I both buy and sell often (not for a living; I just have a lot of junk), and try to stick to that myself. It's amazing how many people think it's a post-sale bartering point though. "I'll give you good feedback IF..."

Cameras on eBay seem to be a particularly shady market. I'd noticed the large number of Brooklyn addresses before, but didn't realize it was so widespread.
posted by rokusan at 11:23 AM on December 21, 2007 [1 favorite]

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