Spot the crook?

I’ve beem thinking about how one can actually spot shady businesses. It’s not as easy as it initially seems—there are plenty of dodgy retailers that manage to look totally legitimate, and there are plenty of good companies that you might assume to be crooks because (for instance) they don’t list any kind of address online.

For example, if you’ve ever shopped online for camera equipment, or browsed the ads in magazines, you’ve probably seen lots of stores in New York selling photo equipment at way below MSRP.

Don Wiss decided to start a project to photograph the actual storefronts of all the discount camera businesses in NY and NJ. He has put the photo gallery on his web site.

For instance, I’ve seen legit-looking ads from Cambridge Camera in magazines, so it’s interesting (ahem) to see their actual business premises.

In the UK we call these places “box shifters”. They all used to collect along Tottenham Court Road in London, though that may have changed.

The problem is that not every obscure online store in Brooklyn offering amazingly low prices is run by crooks. I bought our new TV from Best Buy Plasma in Brooklyn. It arrived promptly, in perfect condition, and has made me very happy; so Best Buy Plasma are clearly not to be confused with PC And Plasma.

Similarly, HKFlix are legit and knowledgeable (in my experience), even though it seems to be almost impossible to find out where they’re actually located. (No address on the site, domain hosting points to Hawaii, stuff ships from California.)

Generally speaking, I’ve been able to shop online and save a ton of money and not get ripped off. But I don’t think I could write down a set of objective criteria for working out if a vendor is honest; it’s usually an intuitive decision for me. I do a bunch of research, but ultimately there’s some kind of non-logical synthesis of the available information.