All posts tagged scam

I’ve written about The Photo Paper before. And the last time I did I thought to myself that maybe I was nagging a bit. But I’m starting to wonder about that now. Was it really nagging, or was I making a point?

Photo Paper

image courtesy of The Photo Paper

See… After… what…? almost two years or  something they finally said to have published the first issues. I guess they actually have physical editions, too, but in any case I downloaded the first issue as a digital version for free (after the first issue you’ll have to pull out your wallet).
This magazine is supposed to have collected all winners and nominees from the Black and White Spider Awards and the Color Awards. They “say” a lot on the Photo Paper website. They mention a lot of names, jurors among others, half of which may not even be truely consciously related to this. And funnily my name used to be on the website, mentioned as one of the photographers published in the magazine, but only until I made a fuss about my subscription being paid for and not delivered.. I’ve been a nominee with one or more images in Spider Awards for the past 4 years and Color Awards for the past 3 years straight, but my name nor my pictures are in this first issue.
Is that because I told them I wanted my money back when they didn’t deliver the magazine after me nagging for a year?
Or is it really so that they are a vanity press and publish your name and picture only when you pay for the subscription? Was that why it took them about a year and a half to publish the first issue? Because they didn’t have enough photographers to pay for being published in the first issue(s)?

Truth be told, there are a good number of really awesome pictures in that digital issue that I paged through, but what’s really the underlying thought for these people to publish this magazine? Would The Spider Awards and Color Awards really want to be related to this magazine still if they were really nothing more than a vanity press?
Anyone out there who’s featured in this magazine and has NOT paid for a subscription? (employees, family members of employees and acquaintances of family members of employees are not allowed to answer this question 😉 ).

I have an old lens for sale. It’s a slower lens, I bought it for about 1200€ back when I was still more of an amateur than I am now. It’s a great lens, but when you’re starting to work on a more advanced level and you need fast glass, this one just doesn’t do the trick anymore. Yet, it’s a beautiful lens and perfect for someone just starting out and wanting something with a long reach. It’s a Sigma 170-500mm, APO, f/5-6.3. Just before the days of image stabilization.

Anyway… I put it up for sale on the Finnish, hoping to find the lens a nice new owner.
I was of course happily surprised that after a week or so I received a message in my inbox through from a guy named Chris Thompson (
Very short:

Onko sinulla vielä tämän kohteen myynnissä?

Meaning literally translated: “Hi, do you have this item still in sale?” My Finnish is far from perfect, but between the lines that reads already “Google Translate”. But hey… English name of the sender, that’s ok. It’s an effort, I’d say. So, happy I may have found a buyer for my piece of glass I reply to the message in Finnish, confirming that the lens is still for sale.

Several hours later I get a reply from Chris again:

Kiitos vastauksesta. Olisin halunnut tulla katsomaan sitä ja maksaa käteisellä, mutta olen pois kaupungista juuri nyt. Haluan lähettää tämän ystävälleni joka asuu Lagos Nigeriassa lahjaksi. Lähetän rahaa teille, sisältäen postikulut maksut kautta pankkiin, mutta minä tarvitsen sinua assit minulle postitse paketin Nigeriaan haluaisin tietää kuinka paljon se tulee maksamaan postitse Lagos Nigeriassa ja kaikkiaan rahaa maksaa. myös lähettää minulle tilitiedot, jotta voin siirtää rahaa tilillesi mahdollisimman pian.


Thanks for your reply. I would have loved to come and take a look at it and pay you cash, but I’m out of the city right now. I want to send this to my friend who lives in Lagos Nigeria as a gift. I will send the money to you, including postage charges through your bank, but I will need you to assit me post the package to Nigeria.
let me know how much it will cost to post to Lagos Nigeria and the total money to pay. also send me your bank account details so that I can transfer the money to your account as soon as possible.

First in Finnish, and then just to be sure in English, so that if Google Translate has screwed up, I could still understand it from the English version. And I understood it very well. Both the Finnish AND the English version. As soon as I saw Nigeria all the red flags went up and the angels sang Christmas carols with alarm bells.
Nevertheless… I’m always willing to give a person the benefit of the doubt (ahem), so I replied:

Hi Chris,

I’m not sure if you prefer English or Finnish, but I can also write in English.
I’m not in a hurry with selling the lens, so I will wait until you are back in town so you can have a look and pay in cash if you like the lens.
In that case you can also take care of the sending yourself, because if I send it I will only send it insured. The costs for sending this lens insured are about 250€ extra, so that would be quite a big sum extra on top of the 400€.

Let me know when we can meet.


Now it takes Chris only one hour to reply:

I would have loved to come and take a look at it and pay you in cash, but I’m buying this as a birthday gift and want it to get to Nigeria before the birthday is over. send me your bank account details so that I can transfer 650 euro to your account. thanks.

Of course it is very likely that Chris is out of town for awhile and that he wants his friend in Nigeria to have this before the birthday is over, so I still give the guy the benefit of the doubt (ahem). So I tell him it’s too bad we don’t get to meet and send him my bank details and ask him from which bank I can expect his payment. To which he fairly immediately replies “Bank of America” (which of course makes perfect sense, his IP being located in the US and Finland not having a Bank of America).

So the next day I get a mail from Chris:

I have transferred the  money to your account. please go to the post and send out the package to Nigeria immediately
this is the name and address of the receiver
Name:      Peter Emmanuel
Address    No. 84, Ijesha Road, Ijeshatedo
City:         Surulere
State:       Lagos
Country:   Nigeria
Zip code:  23401
let me know as soon as you have posted it out.

I also get SIX mails from the Bank of America. Or so am I supposed to be thinking. Logos unproportionally stretched into oblivion, AND hot-linked from a variety of other websites (of companies that have done or are still doing business with Bank of America and which have the logo hosted on their website). And the email address it came from was One would think, logically speaking that is, that it would come from a email address, but then again… what do I know…?
The Executive Vice-President Deb Walden of Bank of America tells me that I have just received a payment of €650 from their valuable subscriber Chris Thompson and that all I need to do is send a scan/copy of the package slip as proof of shipment of the item to the bank, so they can release the funds into my account (angels singing ChrisT(hompson)mas carols with alarm bells). So… Off I go to the post office to get me a package slip, fill in the address, and my address, which of course is fake and make a scan of it which I send to the email address of Bank of America (the one). Initially I wanted to make my address Huijaus 4 N 19, but I figured then it may have been a bit too obvious that I had no intention of actually sending the package.

Package slip

The package slip as proof of me sending my precious lens to Nigeria

I received a reply from the Bank of America that they received my mail and that they would verify the information.

In the mean time I sent Chris a mail informing him that the package was sent, and at the same time I forwarded all the emails, including the Bank of America ones to Bank of America, the FBI, the Helsinki Police, and the African 419 scammers police department, as well as to the websites from which images were hot-linked. I haven’t received a reply from any of them, but I guess that’s not really my problem.

A day passes and I get a message from Bank of America saying that they have been unable to verify the postage of the item from the courier’s website, but I have nothing to worry about, because my money is safe with them.
At the same time I get a mail from Chris, asking me the tracking number for the package. I play stupid, and tell him that according to his bank I should send the tracking number of the package to the buyer unless I have received my money, and that I haven’t received my money yet, so I won’t be sending him the tracking number just yet. He instantly replies:

why have you not received the money? I have paid and the money has already been deducted from my account. so how do I know the status of the package? please let me know the status of the package
thanks for your understanding

To which I reply:

I don’t know why I haven’t got the money, yet. Ask your bank, they are responsible. I sent the package on Monday and sent a scan of the package slip to the email address your bank gave me. I’d prefer to get the money ASAP, too. I just sent off an expensive lens and I haven’t even gotten any money. This is starting to taste very dodgy…

To which he profusely apologizes and asks me if I have got any message from the bank about a shipping document that needs to be verified and I need to let him know so he can contact them about it and ask what’s going on (he’s such a sweet guy! 😀 ). I tell him that I got a mail from them saying they couldn’t verify the document, but that it’s probably because of the holiday (Finnish Independence Day was around that time). He writes me back:

okay maybe because of the holiday, that is why they couldn’t verify the postage. I will write them to know exactly what the problem is.  I can assure you that you will get the money. I will write them.

So… He assures me I will get the money… And he continues a day later:

I contacted the bank to know why you have not received your money, but they told me that they have not been able to verify the postage.
please did you give them the right information?
what is the status of the package now?
please let me know so that I can talk to them. let them give you the money so that I can have the shipment tracking number to know exactly where my package is.

HIS package?? 😀 Riiiiight… So I reply to him:

Yes I gave them the right information. And I want my MONEY!
The package has left the airport of Helsinki, and I’m out of a lens and out of money.
I hope you’re not scamming me, because I will run to the police quicker than you can say package.

And his totally indignant reply:

OMG! how could you think of me scamming you? if I do, how will I be able to get the tracking number? I have been honest to you and I want to make sure that you get your money. I’m a very honest person. I will still contact the bank to make sure that you get your money.

That’s basically where the communication stops.
I got a couple of things in between that took up most of my time. Would’ve loved to keep him on a leash for awhile longer, even only so that he couldn’t go after other people’s stuff, but I think he got wind of it that I was actually pulling his leg.
Next time I’m going to send them an actual package and see what happens with “the money”.

In any case, aside from this being a funny story, it’s more of a warning. I’ve written about scams before, but this is one of those 419 operations that keep on going on all the time, and not only with photography items, but with everything. Be very wary about who you deal with. If people don’t negotiate about prices of items you sell, and are willing to pay a shitload of money extra for shipping without blinking, or if they bid generously over the set price of which you sell your item for, your red flags should go off. And if they want you to send it before paying you, even more red flags should go off. And if they want you to send it to Nigeria the red flags and alarm bells should go off so loudly your neighbors will bang the walls.
Be careful out there!


(By the way… The lens is found an honest new owner in Finland)

I don’t get it. Do I attract it or something? I got into another one of those situations.
For a couple of years now I’ve been taking part in photography competitions from the Color Awards (Photography Masters Cup) and the Black and White Spider Awards. Last year I received a mail from a website The Photo Paper, which announced a magazine bundling all the winners and nominees from these competitions. Aside from my own excellent photography (ahem) it’d be great to see the best of these together in magazines. There really are some great images among them.

Photo Paper

image courtesy of The Photo Paper

I signed up and paid for the subscription and was looking forward to receiving the first issue, as was announced to be released in June of 2010. June came. June went. But no Photo Paper in my mailbox. July came and went, too. Also without any Photo Paper (see a pattern forming?).
August came, and I decided to try to get some info. I checked the website for a contact address and found it. It’s a good website (gotta give them that!). I sent a mail to the given email address and, my Life took a hopeful turn, I received a prompt reply from a very friendly lady, who apologized for the delay, but reassured me that the first issue of the magazine would be shipped still that very month, so in August.

August went. September came. September went. October came and went. November (see that pattern again?)… And even though that on the website there was now one place which (still) said that the first issue would come out in June 2010, in a second place it said it would come out in November, it didn’t, hadn’t, wouldn’t.
December… was the month in which I thought that four months patience is sufficient to justify another mail. That hopeful turn had made a solid U-turn in the mean time and that was emphasized by the fact that this time the prompt reply didn’t come. No sign of life, whatsoever.
I sent a mail to another address on the website, to no avail. December went, and I was too busy with work to follow up. In January, however, I felt like I needed to do something about it and so I thought I’d poke with the stick in the anthill.

I sent a new mail. But now to a number of big names that were in the partner-list on the website, with a CC: to the addresses I sent my first emails to. The first replies came in immediately. Automated responses about how they value customer service etc. etc. and they’d get back to me as soon as they can. Not immediately, though fairly quickly, came another reply, from PDN. Very short, but very clear (names are XXXXXX-ed):

We are not a sponsor of the PhotoPaper
Send me the url if it says something different

Ouch… So I sent the URL and got a prompt reply back:

Dear Arno
This is what it says below and it lists XXXXXX XXXXX who works for
us who judged one of their contests years ago. XXXXXX is going to
contact them to have our name removed but I really don’t know
what is going on. Thanks for contacting us and bringing this to our
attention. Sorry we can not be more helpful

Our industry partners are made up of a collective Judging Panel of
over eighty of the most recognized industry experts who participate
on the panels of PHOTOGRAPHY MASTERS CUP and BLACK &

So… Gets you thinking, doesn’t it? I started wondering how many of those so-called partners were actually aware of being made partners. But in any case, this didn’t bring me much closer to knowing when I would get my first issue. I didn’t get any replies from the other “partners”, but I was surprised when I found a mail from, yes!, The Photo Paper in my mailbox today.
It was a reply to the mail I sent on December 4th and it read the following:

Dear Arno,
To confirm, your subscription to The PHOTO Paper has been
cancelled and your payment of $XX has been refunded to your
credit card.


To which I pretty much concluded that they have no idea when this magazine will be published. I decided to go check out the website and the first thing that opened was a pop-up window saying

The first issue of The PHOTO Paper will be released February
along with the launch of a new website.

I scrolled on to the partners page and also noticed that indeed the PDN entry has been removed…

Oh, and I stated in my second mail to them that they’d either refund my money OR give me a concrete release date. The fact that they (say they have) refunded the money makes me believe that this whole thing is still rather uncertain. If it’s actually released in February, I’ll check if the magazine comes to the stores and buy it from there. If not… I might consider signing up again… Or not…

But first… Let’s see if I’m actually going to get that refund to my credit card or if I have to start chasing that, too…
Maybe “to be continued…”

A while back I wrote a few posts about scam sites popping up all the time all around.
Yesterday I got a mail from a mate (he probably doesn’t even know he sent it, I’m gonna have to let him know still) saying he bought some stuff from a website called I tell you now to beware and do not approach. Don’t touch even with a stick! If you feel like you want to go have a look, do just that: only have a look.
And, before everyone runs there to check it out, let me emphasize that alarm bells should start ringing instantly if you see the following, on ANY website:

1) a page redirect upon load
2) super low prices, up to 80% cheaper than your regular retail prices
3) payment options only by money transfer or Western Union (DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING!!!!)
4) a Chinese store with a web page completely in (faulty) English (only, and not in Chinese) and currency in €
And for the more advanced among you:
5) they claim to be around since many years and the web domain is registered just a few months or even just a few days ago.

This elesales is your typical example of a scam site, just like the Alihashop and Admreshop I wrote about in the other posts.
Prices are way way down (€1380 for a Nikon D3?? Yeah, right!).
The store is said to be Chinese (with 50 staffs 😀 ) and one of the first e-commerce stores in China (Yeah, Right!!) and in business since 2008 (one of the first, eh?). The domain is registered on December 6th 2010, the redirect was registered on June 7th 2010. Website’s only in English, default currency is in Euros (but you can actually change that, wow!).
Payment is only via bank transfer or Western Union. They say they accept PayPal, but conveniently, that’s only for VIP customers, which I can assure you, is very hard to become and not as they say by just contacting them. So DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING DING!!!!

Once again: if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.
Better pay a bit more and be assured you get your stuff than paying a lot less and not getting anything.

Beware, always!

This is only a quick post, just as a warning. Some time ago I wrote a post about a website called Alihashop which turned out to be a big scam.

The “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is” is a fairly solid motto to live by, so please do keep an eye out for these kind of things.

This morning I was checking my site and site statistics and my eye fell on a Google ad for Admreshop. Not putting the actual link up, so they won’t get any Google rating boost from me, but it’s a .com site, so if you’re curious you can check it out. DON’T BUY FROM THERE THOUGH!!!
The first thing I saw was an ad for  Nikon D700, for only €780. Too good to be true, yeah? Second thing I saw was that the layout of the pages were EXACTLY the same as those from the Alihashop I remember. Dubious, yeah?
I bet if you go through the order process you’ll find that you can pay only by money transfer or Western Union. Dodgy, yeah?

I haven’t kept track of IP numbers or domain registries, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the registrar / company behind the domain name is the same.

I’m not totally happy that these kind of sites appear next to my blog in the advertising space, but unfortunately I have no say in what Google shows in their ad space. And you can’t of course blame Google (not completely, at least), because these sites are paying customers and it’s impossible for Google to check everything.
But with your own common sense you get a long way, so if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.


Dang! I feel sorry for myself…

Last week I attended a seminar at Epson. Very interesting, but the content of that seminar isn’t the point right now. As a by the way (a very by the way by the way) buying a new camera body came up and I heard only half of the story, except for the price.
Being Dutch (yeah, I know!) that got stuck like a little splinter in my brain.

So… Little background info: I’m in the market for a new camera body. Or rather, an extra, because I don’t have a spare. So I was looking to replace my D200 with a D700 body as a main camera.

The D700 (body only) goes for around $3,000. That’s an average price. The splinter which was pushing in my brain had a price tag of €1.280, which is about $1,650.
So I googled D700 and 1280. Lo and behold… A website came up advertising for a Nikon D700. For €1.280. Wow!

Very tempting, very tempting. However, since I’m not the type of person to blindly trust anything good the moment I see it, I looked around for a bit. The site itself looks very professional and very reliable, advertising with the AMEX, VISA, Mastercard and the PayPal logo.
I asked a friend who has lived in those parts of the woods for awhile to put out some flags. My better half has a couple of colleagues who come from those areas and she would ask them.
That all came up empty. No one’d heard of the place.
In the mean time the price went down from €1.280 to €1.120.
I decided to go for it. Just order it. I’d be insured through my credit card company, so this was all covered.
Added a D700 body to my shopping cart and went for check-out.
But then… Hmmm…
Where is the credit card payment option? Only Western Union, MoneyGram or bank transfer?
And PayPal payment option grayed out, because it’s only for VIP customers?

*alarm bells*

So I wrote the good people an email.

Dear Sir, Madam,

I was going to order the D700 body from your store.
Seeing all the symbols at the bottom of your website, I assumed I would be able to pay by credit card, but when I got to the payment part, there’s no option for paying by credit card.

How does this work exactly?

Looking forward to your response.

It took them only 1,5 hours to reply (considering the time difference I thought that was quite good). The answer was… well… polite but dubious:

Dear Arno.
Thanks for your enquiry,
For the strict chinese foreign exchange system, the company can not accept payment directly by foreign credit card. You can pay via bank transfer or westernunion by your Mastercard. We are sorry for the inconvenice.
Hope you a gald shipping.
Best regards

(typos are copied as-is)
I mean… Because of the strict Chinese foreign Exchange system, they can’t accept payment directly from foreign credit cards? I don’t know really how the system works in China, but this sounds like a very lame excuse.

Anyway… It was late and I decided to go sleep on it, and maybe go down town the next day to check from Western Union if a payment could be insured somehow.
But the next day (yeah, I know… should’ve done it first thing) I decided to google the name of this shop. And WHAM… Long list of “is this a scam?”, “can we trust this?”, “anyone any experience with this shop?” came up.
A lot of good points in a lot of threads in the search results.
Chinese site with only English and no Chinese?
No credit card payments possible and only money wiring?
Domain name of the shop was registered only in mid-March, which is kind of weird. This shop claims copyright on their website for their stuff from 2005-2009. Wouldn’t an electronics shop in today’s digital era have a website up and running longer than mid-March 2009?
So all in all…
Very dubious, very dodgy. Needless to say that I’m going to check elsewhere. Probably have to pay a bit more, but be sure to get it instead of being out a bag full of money.

As goes the saying:

If it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is