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Passing the Sniff Test

Passing the Sniff Test

October 22nd, 2012  · stk

Passing the Sniff Test -- Scott & Rachel are replacing their broken Lumix DMC-TZ5 digital camera. They can buy it locally for $349 CAD, but know they are cheaper in the States. They almost pulled the trigger on one for $162, but the company - smarttechcases.com - turned out to be a SCAM. Find out more.

SmartTechCases.com Scam

British Columbia - NAFTA woes continue for Scott & Rachel. While backpacking in Cape Scott two summer's ago, the Lumix camera they loved (Leica-lens, 10X optical zoom), popped out of it's soft case, landing hard on a wooden bridge. It wouldn't work any more. They took it to a camera repair shop, but thought the $180 repair bill was a tad expensive.

Fast-forward to this summer, when they had an amazing kayaking trip in Johnstone Strait. They missed lots of great wildlife shots, because they lacked a good digital camera with a decent zoom lens. The decided that they would bite the bullet and purchase the latest Lumix camera. (Updated to a 20X optical zoom - same weight and form factor, plus a few other goodies - GPS, touch-screen menu).

They've highlighted the disparity in digital camera prices between the United States and Canada. First with their Casio EX-Z875 digital camera and again with the Lumix DMC-TZ5 that broke.

Today, this latest Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 camera is "on sale" at their local Canadian Future Shop (if money weren't an object, they could drive right down and buy the camera, today and be instantly gratified knowing that they got it on sale). The sale price is $349.99 ("Save $30" the online advert says).

Knowing that they could probably buy the camera in the States for a lot less money, they headed to their friendly shopping bots and gave them a spin. Actually, it was their head that spun, when they saw a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS20 camera on sale through a Yahoo e-commerce vendor (SmartTechCases.com) for $160. Wow!

To learn how cheaply they were able to buy this camera (and how they were almost swindled out of nearly $165) ... read on brave consumer ...

Scouring Canada for a Deal

Knowing they could find the camera online at a lesser price, they first scoured Google to find a Canadian, online retailer. Using shopbot.ca helps find low prices, but it's not always easy to determine if it's coming from a Canadian or U.S. location (shipping and duties from U.S. stores nearly always drive up the price, putting it out of the competitive range).

Shopbot.ca listed www.basatne.ca as the lowest price ($291 CAD), but the site said they were out of stock. The next lowest price was $299.99 at www.sigelectronics.com (Ontario). It appears that shipping would be $10 flat rate & the camera's regular price was $379.99 CAD ($80 off through 31-Oct-2012). So for around $310, they could purchase this camera from a Canadian company online and have it shipped to them in about a week.

So, buying from a Canadian online retailer would save roughly $50 off the sticker price, compared to the Future Shop sales price.

The SmartTechCases.com Scam "Deal"

They knew from past history that they could beat that price in the United States, so Scott typed in "Lumix ZS20" into the Google search field. One of the first sites to come up was a C|NET camera review. After confirming the new features, Scott hit the "See all prices" link on the C|NET review page.

The lowest price listed (it's not there any more) was $161.99. (It still shows as the "lowest price of all time", but the link to the retailer that offered this price is no longer available). It's a good thing too, because it's a bloody SCAM!

When Scott originally looked, that price showed for SmartTechCases.com. As a web developer, Scott's been around the internet block a few times, so he's not a newbie at this, though he's never been suckered into a scam. This was the closest he's come.

The site itself looks hokey, but he's purchased online products from sites that have looked hokier (is that a word?). There were two things that immediately put him at ease. First, the site carries the Yahoo! brand (figure Yahoo would do some due diligence before allowing a scam site to use the Yahoo! brand). Second, the site has a physical address that's easy to find. Good. So he added the camera to the shopping cart and proceeded to check out. That's when things got weird.

SmartTechCases.com only takes Diner's Club and JCB cards (whatever JCB cards are). They don't take the more common MasterCard or VISA. Odd. But not to worry, the site says, "Note: If you do not have a Diner's Club card or JCB card please select Purchase Order and do not enter your credit card number an email will be sent to you within 24hr with payment instruction." (which is what Scott did).

The email instructed Scott to purchase a GreenDot Money Pak. Once he purchased the Money Pak, he was instructed to send the activation numbers in an email reply and his camera would be shipped the next day. (Click to see the SmartTechCases.com email)

Scott had his father, who lives in the United States, purchase the MoneyPak at his local WalMart, figuring that he could use his VISA card and they would be covered in the event of a problem. Unfortunately, one can only purchase the MoneyPak with cash and it cost him $5 for it. When Scott's dad called with the activation numbers, that's when he told Scott that the clerk had told him to ONLY use the activation numbers at the MoneyPak.com website - never reveal them to anyone other than there, because it would be like handing over your cash.

Scott confirmed this at the MoneyPak.com website and then did some sleuthing. He discovered (via a WhoIs database search) that SmartTechCases.com was registered on August 10, 2012 (and was - essentially - a brand new domain).

This set off alarms and then so did his Google search for "smarttechcases.com + scam" - which yielded a single hit on scambook.com (it now registers a tad more than one)!

So ... Scott deposited the MoneyPak dough into his PayPal account and searched for another, more trusted, vendor - one that accepted MasterCard or VISA.

Amazon.com to the Rescue

The next lowest price for the camera was at Amazon.com, coming in at $214, which is the vendor that he ultimately selected. He won't get to hold the camera in his hot grubby hands until early November (their next planned trip to the States), but for a savings of around $136 ... he decided that he can wait.

This time, however, he ordered a camera case with a zipper (the one we used with the old camera used velcro as a fastener ... which failed and led to the camera impinging on a wooden bridge from shoulder height)!

Some lessons are worth learning!

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Updated: 1-Nov-2012
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