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Published on July 29th, 2014

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Online camera scams: You could be next

By Shannon Kilgariff

You have been saving for a quality digital camera for months now and finally, an incredible deal appears online which seems too good to be true.

With equipment usually so expensive, you immediately contact the seller to make the purchase and wait with excitement for your new hobby to arrive. It never does.

You are a thousand dollars down and back to using the cheap camera you bought from your local department store. Many Australians are attracted to online deals when it comes to purchasing expensive camera equipment but scammers are lingering at the click of a button.

University student Lachie Argy discovered how easy it is to get scammed when he came across a deal on eBay last year: a second-hand DSLR camera.

‘I decided to take that offer. They seemed really genuine and everything so I went through with it and sent the money through,’ he said.

The following day he received an email from eBay informing him not to go through with the transaction, but it was too late.

The seller was clearly an experienced scammer: posting a diversion product, providing a tracking ID on the item and hacking the postal service to allow the item to be diverted to an address in New South Wales. To make things worse, the item turned out to be nothing more than a pair of headphones.

‘There was no camera involved whatsoever, and it had actually come from Hong Kong,’ he said. ‘I hadn’t had any experience before that with buying cameras—it wasn’t a very good first experience.’

Lachie did not do background research into the seller prior to the scam but is now very diligent at researching sellers’ legitimacy before making any big purchases.

‘I know how to look out for something that’s a scam now. It’s really obvious when something is a scam actually. If you know what to look for you can tell.’

Lachie stresses that it is vital to check the customer feedback, the joining time of the seller, their selling experience and if the photo provided is the real product or a stock photo from the internet. After two months of tedious disputes, Lachie was able to receive his $2000 back in a full refund from the payment processor, PayPal.

University student Jack Brookes was not so fortunate. Last year Jack wanted to upgrade his camera. Being a university student, a second-hand camera was the best option for him financially.

Jack searched online and found what he thought to be a great deal from New South Wales on local classifieds site, Gumtree. Jack said he was a first time Gumtree user and did research to make sure the seller was legitimate, such as making sure the photo of the camera was not from the internet.

‘I started talking to the user through email which was probably the first mistake, and then I talked to him and he seemed, just from his manner, legitimate.’

After communicating through several emails, Jack decided he wanted to make the purchase and transferred the payment into the seller’s account. He never received the camera and never heard back from the seller again. Jack did not have any other way to contact the seller except for an email account.

‘That was my main problem; my only contact to him was through the internet and I didn’t get a phone number which is what I should have done, so it was more my ignorance being a first time Gumtree user and I got caught out,’ he said.

Jack lost all his money. For a university student, it was quite a big blow. ‘I was pretty gutted. Being a uni student, you don’t come across $500 every day.’

Jack says purchasing cameras online is appealing because prices are much more affordable.

‘People go on there looking for good prices so when they come across one, it’s a bit more of an impulse type thing. You are looking for something that is second-hand; you are looking for a better deal and obviously the excitement of when you do come across one can be too good to be true,’ he said.

Online scamming is not restricted to second- hand sites like eBay and Gumtree and can include some legitimate appearing websites.

Buyers should watch out for sites that claim to sell electronic equipment for prices well below what you could even purchase for second hand.

Sites like these seem untrustworthy, not only due to the unrealistic low prices but often they provide false addresses while being registered in a completely different country

The bottom line is to be extremely careful; research every seller, compare prices with sites and companies you know to be legitimate, and phone the seller.

If the deal is so amazing that it seems too good to be true, like Jack and Lachie have discovered, it usually is.

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