There are a lot of scammers targetting photographers, it seems like. I’ve been lucky enough not to have been affected by these, until recently. There is a new scam aimed at photographers selling their used equipment, and I almost fell for it. I want to get the word out so that you know what to watch out for and don’t fall victim to these people.
I’ve been selling a bit of photography equipment on Facebook Marketplace, and so far, I’ve never had an issue. However, a fellow photographer friend of mine had a terrible experience where he had a camera stolen via a fairly sophisticated con. I didn’t believe he could have fallen for it, until it almost happened to me.
Last month my friend was selling his Canon EOS R6 on Facebook Marketplace. The guy came round to his house and decided very quickly that he wanted the camera. So he got his phone out, and he went through the payment process via his mobile banking app.
Everything looked 100% legitimate at this point, there were no red flags from my friend’s point of view. The buyer showed my friend that the money had left his account via the app and assured him that the payment had been made. It should appear in his account anytime.
Now many bank transfers certainly don’t always go through immediately. Some banks can take up to 24 hours to acknowledge the payment into your own account. So again, no immediate red flags here. The buyer took the camera and started to walk to his car, then drove off extremely rapidly. It was only at this point that my friend began to wonder if he’d been conned.
Of course, the money never arrived in his account, the man had effectively stolen his camera from under his nose. The banking app looked extremely convincing, but it was completely fake. Obviously, I felt very badly for him, and fortunately for me, had his story in the back of my mind for when someone tried to pull the same trick on me.
So now it was my turn to sell a couple of lightly used lenses that I don’t use much anymore. They were in good condition, and I was asking a fair price for them. I exchanged some brief messages with a man who told me he wanted to buy one of the lenses for his father.
Usually I check the profile out of the person first, and it all seemed very normal. Nothing to cause any alarm bells to ring anyway. I didn’t notice that the profile photo would be different to the person who actually showed up to buy the lens. The man insisted on coming to my house to collect the lens after dark. Again, not so unusual in the UK in winter, it’s dark well before the end of the working day. Luckily my partner was also at home at the time.
He came to the door, and he was a very big guy. It was again, quite a quick process. We agreed to the price, and then he got his phone out to pay through a banking app. I told him the story of my mate, and I could just sense from his face that someone was off.
I told him, “I’m not I’m not going to give you the lens unless I’ve got notification on my side”. After about a minute, I still haven’t received a notification, and my bank is usually immediate with notifications.
The buyer started to get angry, saying that I should trust him. He even suggested that I let him go outside to take a photo of his car licence plate as collaterol.
I stood my ground, and the altercation got more heated, with voices raised. It was quite intimidating, given the man’s stature. Eventually he just grabbed the lens out of my hands and tried to make a run for it out of my apartment. Fortunately, I was able to wrestle it from him again while my partner shouted that she was calling the police. This was luckily enough to scare the man, and he ran off, making an extremely fast getaway. I can only suspect that he had someone in a car outside waiting for him.
I had a close call, but imagine these people are pulling stunts like this three or four times a day. Online security and phishing is a huge deal these days, but you don’t think that you could fall prey to that via a local second hand sales market in person.
My advice is to be extremely wary of anyone buying your used camera equipment, especially if it is a high value item. You can look up their profile and check if they belong to any camera clubs or online groups. A non-photographer buying professional level equipment is a bit of a red flag. Particularly if they say it’s for someone else and they seem to know nothing about photography.
Other than that, you can sell through trusted sites such as MPB or even Ebay, which will have some sort of recourse if everything goes wrong. Or you can insist on cash. I would also advise from meeting them at your home address after this experience. Unfortunately he now knows where I live, leaving me more vulnerable to future break-ins. I have since taken steps to upgrade my home security for this very reason.
Honestly I feel extremely fortunate that no one was hurt. As a wedding photographer, I am often out and about with thousands of dollars worth of equipment and have heard some scary stories of photographers being robbed at gun point while out on shoots in London and San Francisco.
It’s a sad state of affairs not to be able to trust people, but my hope is that by sharing this story it will prevent others from falling victim to the same scam.
About the Author
Richard is a successful wedding photographer in the South of England. He wishes to keep his identity secret for security reasons.
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