DO NOT buy a digital camera online until you read this.
Wisebread readers, take note. This is not just a case of buyer beware. This is “buyer run for your life clutching your credit card close to your chest.” Bestpricecameras.com, one of hundreds of Brooklyn-based digital camera stores with very shoddy reputations, is out to do one thing…deceive you and take your money. In my opinion, they are performing a classic fraud called Bait And Switch (more on that later).
So, my wife has her own photography business. I decided it was time to upgrade her camera to something rather special. A Fujifilm S5 Pro, which has an RRP of $2400. I did what I always do when searching for a new product…I went to Google Products and did a search.
Many results came back from Google Products, but I was surprised to see a result for $1089. No, that’s too cheap. It’s too good to be true, right? Well, the web page said no. A very professional site gave me the lowdown on the new camera. It said it came with a full one-year US warranty, instantly calming my fears that this was gray market (Chinese) product. They don’t carry that kind of warranty. And the deal, wow, what a deal. Not only was I promised the Fuji Camera (body only of course, she has all her own lenses) but I also was offered an MP4 player, a digital flash, full-size tripod, cleaning kit, and express shipping FREE. I patted myself on the back for getting the deal of the century, entered my payment details and sat back, smug and impressed with myself. I got my wife a great camera for half price. Sweet.
A few minutes after placing my order, I got the email saying I had to call and confirm. No big deal, sounds professional. And that’s when the whole world came tumbling down.
A very pushy salesman called Richard, with an accent right out of The Sopranos, answered the phone. His first job was to tell me the camera I had ordered was a Chinese model and came with nothing else but the body. “That’s what body-only means” he said smugly. “No battery, no strap, no charger, just the body…and it will take 6-8 weeks to deliver. Oh, and it only comes with a 90 day warranty. You’ll need to upgrade to the US model, I can do you a special deal on that, just $2100.” I haggled and haggled and was very confused, eventually he put the price of $1999.99 out there and before I knew what was happening, he said my new order would be on its way.
A few seconds after I put the phone down, I felt sick. What had just happened? Was this bait ‘n’ switch? Had I just been through the oldest con in the game? I called back to immediately cancel my order. By that time, it was too late. The store had closed. I set my alarm to get up at 7.30 (9.30 NY time) to instantly call and cancel, and get a refund (you can see how badly that went in a second).
Bait And Switch. A rough guide.
Wikipedia defines Bait And Switch (BAS) as…
“…a form of fraud in which the fraudster lures in customers by advertising a product or service at an unprofitably low price, then reveals to potential customers that the advertised good is not available but that a substitute good is. The goal of the bait-and-switch is to convince some buyers to purchase the substitute good as a means of avoiding disappointment over not getting the bait, or as a way to recover sunk costs expended to try to obtain the bait. It suggests that the seller will not show the original product or product advertised but instead will demonstrate a more expensive product.”
You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out that Bestpricecameras.com are experts in Bait And Switch, even when the deny furiously that they are. I urge you all to visit their website right now and look at the myriad products and deals they have. Everything is well below retail, sometimes half of retail. There is no mention anywhere of Chinese models on the order page. In fact, on the whole site I found one mention. It was buried at the bottom of the help page, and read as follows….
BestPriceCameras carries US & Non-US products. Non US products may be considerably less expensive. The product packaging may or may not include all software, accessories, and features intended for US customers. Please allow three to four weeks for delivery on some international products. USA warranty may be additional. Images and specifications are for illustrative purposes only.
Since my experience, and logging a complaint with the BBB, it has been reworded slightly and moved up the page. But it’s still deceptive and well-hidden from the main order pages (and now, I cant even copy & paste it...they have disabled that feature, hence the screen cap below)….
What does that all mean?
Well, in either case, this one piece of verbiage is keeping bestpricecameras.com from being shut down permanently. They are basically covering their butts by saying ANYTHING on the site could in fact be gray market, stripped down and not available for immediate delivery. Crooks? Fraud? Make your own mind up, but I know a scam.
My continuing customer service nightmares.
So, back to my hell. I called the customer service department the next day, very early, and talked to someone called James. I told him that I had been railroaded into a fraudulent deal, and wanted an instant cancellation before the order leaves their warehouse. The website states a 48 hour processing time, so no problem. Well, not so. He explained that the camera was in a warehouse ready to be shipped out with over 2500 other products and they could not find it (hmm, that’s handy). I stated clearly that as I had called to cancel, I was not going to pay a restocking fee, and he agreed. He also put a note on my account saying ‘no restocking fee’ so that when I received the camera I could return it without losing any money.
Lies, lies, lies.
A few days later, the camera arrives. I don’t even open the box. I just call and ask for my return authorization number. And that’s when bestpricecameras.com went on high alert. I was passed around from one rude salesman to another, speaking to over 11 people in all, just to get a return number (which to this date I have not received). Guess what? No note had been placed on my account. I owed them 10%, or $200, to return a product I had tried to cancel less than 24 hours after ordering it. It hadn’t even been opened.
I was shouted at. Verbally abused. At one point I was even questioned about why I would want to return a product, and that as a company they only make about $6 on a camera like a FUJI S5 (somehow I’m doubting that). Then, they hung up.
I called back again and talked to another CSR. Explaining why I thought I had been victimized, I pointed out that I was well aware of the phrase body-only, and that every reputable site includes the battery, charger and so on with the body. Body-only means no lens. He was adamant, I was wrong, he was right. “But hang on, the site said 1-yr warranty” I said. “The site is wrong” he said. Hmm, good to know.
I had another question. “Why then, if it takes 6-8 weeks to deliver, does the site offer shipping options as quickly as overnight?” I was given no answer. “And why doesn’t it state on the site that this model is Chinese?” I asked. “It does” he said, look at the help center page. Well, I have already shown you that verbiage.
I asked another salesman if he had heard of the term Bait And Switch. “We are not bait and switch” he said, parrot-fashion. He said it several times. When I asked him what he thought Bait And Switch meant, he fell silent for a few seconds and then said “we are not bait and switch.” This guy would not have done well on a debating team. Then he hung up on me.
I called again, a day later, still trying to get a return number. This time I was shouted for asking for the customer service rep’s name. “HOW DARE YOU ASK THAT, YOU DON’T DESERVE TO KNOW THAT” he screamed before hanging up on me. My total number of hang-ups to date…seven. This company will not talk if they are backed into a corner.
Do everything you can to protect yourself.
Across the Internet there are hundreds of very professional sites offering amazing deals. But save yourself a lot of time, money and effort and follow these pieces of advice, which I have garnered from several newsgroups, blogs and news stories about this epidemic.
p>Do a Google search for the camera store name, and most importantly, add something like scam, rippoff or problems in the search. Read every comment.
Visit the BBB and do a name-check. If they have an unsatisfactory record, or no record, run like the wind. Here is what the BBB says about bestpricescameras.com (aka www.infinitycameras.com, www.infiniticameras.com, www.mraccessory.com, www.regencycamera.com, www.hellocamera.com, www.beststopcamera.com, www.jandkcameras.com, www.eastcoastdistributor.com)
Complaints to the Bureau allege that Best Price Cameras engages in high pressure sales tactics and false claims in order to intimidate consumers into buying extra items while they are placing their original order. Reports allege that these extra items are usually not compatible with the camera and consumers are not given an exact total of all items at the time of purchase. As a result, consumers are charged for warranties, batteries and other camera accessories that they did not know they were buying and that were advertised on the website as being included with the camera. Consumers report that invoices from Best Price Cameras are not itemized so it is difficult to know what consumers are being charged for and it is very difficult to obtain a refund. Consumers also detail grievances with the company such as being lied to about order status, cancelled orders without notification, purchasing and never receiving a product, being charged in excess of their original purchase without their consent, and difficulty contacting the company.
Check out this amazing collection of Brooklyn Camera Store images by Don Wiss . If your camera store is included in the collection of images, run screaming.
Do not trust ratingsplanet.com. From what I have uncovered, this is a front for companies with bad reputations. Bestpricecameras.com got amazing reviews. But go to a legitimate site like reseller ratings for a true picture. As you can see, it’s appalling.
0.27 out of 10 - Lifetime rating
0.42 out of 10 – 6 month rating (wow, they’re getting better)
If it’s too good to be true, IT IS. No-one is going to sell you a $2400 camera for $1200, and I feel ashamed that I fell for it. Go to reputable sites like Adorama.com or Wolfcamera.com. They have great reputations and good customer service.
Check the blogs for Digital Camera Scams. Here’s a story I found about wawadigital.com, and it’s way scarier than my experience.
They list cameras for the lowest prices out there and then after you give them all your credit card information will not sell you the camera unless you purchase inflated and unnecessary accessories to go with it," wrote Kristin of Troy, Mich.
"When I told them I didn't want to purchase anything else, just the camera that they advertised, the representative yelled at me, spoke belligerently and told me that if I didn't buy the extra accessories he would cancel my order and charge my credit card a 20% restocking fee," Kristin said.
One blogger recounted the frightening experience one of his coworkers had. After refusing to purchase accessories, a representative left this message on the coworker's answering machine:
"You better not pick up, b****. I'm gonna to come down there and break your god**** neck. You heard me, alright? Kid, you better hear me, b****. Do you hear me, b****? Yes, you'd better believe it. You're in big trouble, my friend."
And if you haven’t had enough punishment yet, try these links for yet more stories and complaints about bestpricecameras.com. Bottom line…they will lure you in with a great deal, then try and take you for as much as they can. You have been warned folks.
And...the status of my camera horror story…
As you can imagine, I gave up calling bestpricecameras.com. They either verbally abuse you, transfer you to someone else, or hang up. So, I have filed a complaint with the BBB and the Internet Crime Complaint Center . I also called my credit card company to dispute the charges. I will let you know how it goes.