How to Avoid Common Scams to Steal Your Camera Gear and Rip You Off

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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.

Look at my giant lens
Be careful with that expensive lens too – Photo by Spp

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.

Nikon D3
Tape out that logo Photo by -5m on Flickr

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.

Fake SanDisk
Spot the Difference. Photo by Paul Reynolds on Flickr

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

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here

There are crews of thieves preying on wedding photographers in Utah. They follow after photographers and when the photographers stop to get something to eat, and lock their car with the remote clicker the thieves capture the signal and steal the camera bags out of the car while the photographer and assistant are grabbing a bite to eat.
I wrote an article about this on my website. My daughter, who is a wedding photographer got hit and lost about $7000.00 worth of equipment. People need to know how tricky the thieves are getting now.
Nice article by the way.

I ran into a situation of an attempted theft while in Dakar Senegal. I had one person try to distract me by showing me something that he was trying to sell. A second person was going to try to grab my camera and run. The scam didn’t work because I had the camera strap wrapped completely around my hand and arm, and I also had a tight grip on my camera.

I got scammed a while back. I’d just done a shoot with a model in a London park, we went to a fast food place for a coffee and to get the release forms signed. While there, suddenly found my camera bag (a small one by the way) had suddenly vanished from my side. The manager of the restaurant went through the CCTV with me. Couldn’t see anyone blatantly picking up my bag, but a woman in full Muslim black dress, head to toe, with the veil, had walked by me and slightly faltered, before moving forward, to take a seat, without going to the counter, then after a short time, she got up and left. It’s very likely she stepped over my bag and then shuffled off with it under her dress. It wasn’t exactly expensive equipment, I was far more upset about losing the films from my shoot.

A while ago I was walking with my girlfriend in a park, we were taking some photos for fun. We both had our cameras, and it was still bright outside when we finished. while we were walking, we passed next to a guy who was peeing in the bushes, his bicycle was laying a few feet away from him. My girlfriend even giggled that we can even nick his bike if we wanted as he was busy peeing. Minutes after, as we were walking the guy passed between us on his bike, and grabbed my camera. I was wearing shoulder straps, so it is started to pull me towards the guy. After a few fast steps I lost my balance and I fell on the ground and the, and the guy released the camera. I was swearing a little, I stood up and I wanted to run after him but I realized his little “hoodsta” friends were around, so we left the park peacefully.
Since then I’m always wearing shoulder straps and I’m really suspicious of people in hoodies.

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