Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Caveat Venditor - Seller Beware

Perhaps you've been yearning for a new camera.  Maybe one that's full-frame.  Or has much better high ISO performance.  Or has that one feature missing from your camera that could transform your photography.  So you think about selling your camera to upgrade.  You research the prices online, and advertise your camera at a fair price on craigslist.  You get a few inquiries that are mostly low-ballers.  Then one day you get an offer from someone who's willing to buy your camera at $100 more than the price you offered if you can ship it out of state immediately.  A bit suspicious, you email the seller, expecting that they want to pay by check or some unreliable means.  Instead, you find out they're willing to pay by Paypal as long as there's delivery confirmation.  Shipping out-of-state sounds a little iffy but with Paypal as a form of payment, how can things go wrong?

Here are a few things to watch out for when selling stuff:
1.  Payment by check.  A check can bounce -- Duh Mic, you didn't need to tell me that!
2. Payment by money order, or cashier's check.  Safer than a check right?  Not really.  A money order or cashier's check can be counterfeit, even if it clears the bank.  Here's how one scam works:  The buyer sends you a check with the excess amount.  You deposit it and the check clears.  The buyer asks for a refund of the excess amount.  Since your bank account has been credited with the full amount, you figure it's ok and send the excess.  A couple of weeks later you're notified that the check was counterfeit, and the credit to your account is reversed.  You lose the amount you sent, and if you sent the product, you lose that too.  Plus you might be charged fees by your bank.  See http://www.snopes.com/crime/fraud/cashier.asp .
3.  Payment by credit card.  The problem is that the credit card number may have been stolen.  If the credit card turns out to be stolen, then the card issuer will not pay the seller and the seller loses the product he sold.  See http://www.snopes.com/crime/fraud/cnp.asp .
4. Payment by Paypal.  This is similar to the credit card problem.  If the credit card used to fund the Paypal payment was stolen,
Paypal claims the right to reverse the credit to your account (a chargeback).  If you've already withdrawn the amount from your Paypal account, then Paypal will take the amount from your Paypal-linked bank account.  See http://forumserver.twoplustwo.com/30/business-finance-investing/craigslist-paypal-payment-scam-176383/ . See also https://cms.paypal.com/us/cgi-bin/?cmd=_render-content&content_ID=security/chargeback_guide .
Here's a sample of an actual offer I got:
"i just went through the listing of your item and would like to know if i can
purchase it for an amount of $900.00 for the item and $100 for the shipping
through USPS INTERNATIONAL EXPRESS MAIL(USPS).If so,i would like you
to send me your
PayPal details and end the listing,so i can send in payment for the item would
also like you to IM or email me at my email address d3williams98@yahoo.com <compose?to=d3williams98@yahoo.com>  for
further correspondence.I am also on MSN IM:bluemooose@hotmail.com <compose?to=bluemooose@hotmail.com>  Hope to hear
from you soon

best wishes
Gary Benz"
And not surprisingly it was followed by:
"this is the name and address that you will need to get the item shipped below

name: Biodun Salawu
addres: no 13 kujore street challenge
city: ibadan
state: oyo
zip code: 23402
country: nigeria

hope to hear from you soon with your paypal account name and email address for your payment.

thanks"

Sure, dude.  It's in the mail. ;)
One common theme in these scams is that they dangle the possibility of a huge reward.  "Sure it looks a bit risky, but what if it's true?"  That's one of the ways the old 419 scam works ( http://www.snopes.com/fraud/advancefee/nigeria.asp ).  If you find yourself thinking along those lines -- STOP.  Or you'll lose your camera, lens, flash, equipment or whatever you're selling.
Here are a couple more tips for sellers:
5. Sob stories.  The buyer will tell you some sad story about a recent tragic event in his/her life (my house was burglarized and my camera got stolen, my mom is sick and her hospital bills are very high, etc.) in an effort to get you to decrease your selling price.  There's a slight possibility that what they're saying is true, but the vast majority of the time, they're grossly exaggerating or simply fabricating their story.  Don't bother trying to poke holes in their story.  When someone engages in this tactic, they're probably already wedded to the idea of getting a spectacular deal.  Unless you're willing to give them that spectacular deal at your expense, don't bother negotiating with them - consider this someone who's not willing to buy your equipment.
6. Moochers.  When you're selling used equipment, you're dealing with buyers who are usually looking for a good deal.  That's to be expected.  The problem is that some buyers may be willing to use any means to get that good deal, regardless of ethics, even if it's at your expense.  In short, they don't respect the golden rule.  When they contact you, they appear to be sincerely interested in purchasing your equipment.  They may even purport to agree to pay full price on the phone, perhaps "subject to inspection."  However, when you actually meet up, they will only be willing to pay far below the fair price for your equipment, resulting in lost time or heaven forbid, selling your stuff far below what it's worth. (This has happened to me twice now.)  You can reduce the number of moochers to deal with by making your price realistic and specifying "fixed" or "firm," indicating that you are not engaging in the haggling game.  It's possible they may still lie but at least you're not painting yourself as a target.  If a buyer you agreed to meet turns out to be one of these ilk, just stick to your guns, don't spend any more time than you already have, and be ready to walk away.  Never be needy, nor do anything that could be misconstrued as neediness or desperation.
You can also ask them about some of their recent photographs.  If they don't sound excited about their own photographic work, you may be dealing with a toy collector, who will be more fixated on the shutter count than getting a tool to fulfill his or her vision.  The times I've successfully sold on craigslist were to buyers who were truly interested in their craft/hobby.  For example, I sold a paraglider to a professional paraglider pilot, and I sold my D80 and Tamron 28-75 to a photography student.
KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE
Don't get discouraged if you only get calls from lowballers.  There's always ebay.  I've sold a number of things on ebay, such as a Pentax K100D, a couple of lenses, a couple of flashes, and a bunch of non-photo related equipment, all at fair prices (some for more than what I paid).  I find that the prices on ebay are more fair, even after the fees.  Of course, Ebay has its own scams (as well as techniques) but that's for another post.
Be safe out there and if you're selling via craigslist, remember the basic rules: Local, Cash only, and meet only in public places.
Got tips or war stories?  Pls. share them in the comments or email me so I can post them for you.