For most of us, base jumping Go Pro photographers excepted, photography is a pretty safe hobby or profession. However sometimes we forget that the pride and joy hanging around our neck, is in fact, an expensive, hi-tech piece of equipment that may have cost several thousand dollars. The aim of this article is to inform but, not scare you, of some of the more frequent scams, both out on the streets and online. Being forewarned is being forearmed and understanding what is going on has helped me on more than one occasion.
How to Stay Safe on Location
There are a number of common scams on the streets at the moment. One of the most common, particularly in South America involves being stopped by a concerned passer by who points out some sort of dirt on your backpack. Often this is shaving foam as it can look like bird droppings. The passerby will attempt to wipe the dirt away, creating a diversion for co-conspirators to rifle your pockets, or even your backpack itself. If you are approached in a street under these circumstances, the best policy is do not stop, keep walking to a secure or busy location and then clean off the dirt yourself.
A fairly new scam, particularly in Eastern Europe is lens theft. You will be walking down a busy street, pull you camera up to take a photo and find the lens has gone. The teams carrying out these audacious thefts are very good at it, they know an expensive lens from a cheap one and they know which way the lens rotates on its bayonet. They will be long gone before you even notice it is missing. It nearly always happens on busy streets in crowds of people where you are easily distracted. Best policy to prevent this, is to keep you camera in a secure camera bag, until you actually need it, and avoid using the camera in large crowds.
The Mediterranean is not without it’s problems either. One very common scam in Naples, Italy but prevalent around Med countries is the moped grab. This usually happens down quiet streets with no pavement or sidewalk and involves two people on a moped coming up behind you and pinning you to a wall with the front wheel of the bike. The moped passenger will then cut the camera straps and the two will ride off. Always stay alert down backstreets and only bring out your camera when you need it.
If considering buying a camera in a duty free location be aware that the prices in the shop window, whilst looking a bargain may be a scam to get you in the door. Very often the vendor will tell you that you need to buy a charger, battery and memory card, which all together greatly inflate the price. All camera manufacturers will provide a battery and charger by default and these should be included with any purchase. Before purchasing, do your research, check the prices at home and in reputable dealers where you are going. Also look at the warranty details, often cameras bought in one country will not be covered by a guarantee in your home country. Be aware also, that you may need to buy power socket adapters for the charger if you buy your camera abroad.
Here are a few little tips for staying safe outside, if you have an expensive brand camera, us a little black electrical tape to cover the logo. Use generic unbranded camera straps and a camera bag that can be locked using luggage locks. When carry your camera, double wrap the strap around your hands and keep a tight grip on it and if hanging it from your neck, put your camera bag straps over the camera straps making it difficult for a snatch and grab.
How to Get Safe Camera Deals Online
Many of us buy our equipment online these days – the internet has become a great place to research and find the best deals on cameras and lenses. There are some superb retailers online with great prices and reputations but there are also many scam sites. If you find a camera online with a great price, check the company out. Google the business and in particular, search discussions via Google. This will give you real peoples' experiences of a company. Some sophisticated scams will pay people to write positive comments on forums so always visit plenty of different sites and get a wide range of opinions. The simple rule of thumb is that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is too good to be true. Generally you will not get better prices than the well known big international sites, due to their sheer purchasing power.
Love it or hate it, eBay has a massive market for photographic goods. If buying from eBay, always check the sellers reputation in detail. Very often scammers will steal accounts or sell many low price items to get a good reputation. Look for established eBayers that have an excellent reputation selling photographic equipment and ask detailed questions about the equipment. A genuine seller will almost always have their own photos of the product rather than generic ones stolen from the web.
If selling equipment, its best to specify mailing to your own country only and specify that the buyer must be Paypal verified or pay cash on collection. Never send an item until you are 100% sure the money has been received and you have transferred it to a safe bank account. Many scammers try to use money sending services such as Western Union, these are nearly always a scam and to be avoided. If you suspect the leading bidder is a scam report it immediately to eBay.
Ebay is also a breeding ground for fake memory cards. Many of these look identical to the real branded versions but will be made from inferior components and more prone to failure. Alway buy from a reputable company either through eBay or from their direct website.
You may never encounter any of these dangers or scams, but we hope that by being aware of them you will less likely to fall victim to them. Stay alert and focused and most of all, enjoy your photography.
Jason Row is a British born travel photographer now living in Ukraine. You can follow him on Facebook or visit his site, The Odessa Files. He also maintains a blog chronicling his exploits as an Expat in the former Soviet Union