July 19, 2017

Venmo Scammer Steals an URSA Mini

A Venmo scammer is targeting camera gear in Los Angeles, highlighting lessons for all filmmakers selling their kit.

When it's time to upgrade to the newest camera, one of the best ways to offset that cost is to sell your old equipment, which often harbors a lot of value. Unfortunately, used marketplaces are not always entirely trustworthy—as experienced by several Los Angeles filmmakers in a story broken by The Verge. A man going by the name Andy Mai has been buying photo and video equipment, including a used Blackmagic URSA Mini for the amazing price of $1,500, and paying via Venmo. A giant red flag should be Mr. Mai's insistence on breaking the payments up into many sub-$100 chunks; after the camera is exchanged, the payments turn out to be fraudulent, leaving the seller without cash or the camera. 

What can you, as a filmmaker, do to protect yourself?

This is yet another important reminder to be vigilant about money that seems to have cleared when, in fact, it hasn't. Many a filmmaker has received a check that "cleared" into their account, only to bounce two or three days later, after the bank completes processing and the funds are removed. We spoke to one filmmaker who sold a DVX-100—back when that camera was hot—to a buyer with a money order. The filmmaker scanned the buyer's drivers license as a backup, but both the money order and the license turned out to be fake.

One LA Filmmaker used to own one of these, and now they don't, with nothing to show for it.Credit: Micah Van Howe

Unfortunately, Venmo isn't helping to solve the case; the sellers were violating Venmo's terms of use by using the payment platform for goods, so Venmo has suspended not just the buyer's, but also the seller's, accounts.

What can you, as a filmmaker, do to protect yourself?

There are more trusted marketplaces, like eBay, that have anti-fraud policies in pland work in conjunction with PayPal to protect users, though some find the hassle of the auction and shipping to be too complicated. Even though fraud does occasionally occur, it's generally considered a safe transaction, especially if the buyer has a high rating.

If you are willing to accept a slightly lower price, selling to resellers like B&H who have used equipment departments is often a way to make sure you are engaging in a reputable transaction, but you will definitely get less there than you will selling directly to another consumer.

And while some would argue that there's nothing like cash, you should be wary of cash transactions. Some filmmakers have sold expensive items for cash, only to be robbed by the "customer" for the cash. 

All that said, most filmmakers sell their own gear at one point or another and manage to find a safe way to do so. The old advice, "If it seems too good to be true, it is," applies here. If someone is offering gear for an amazing price, be wary. And if someone wants to pay in a weird way, using a non-standard platform or with odd payment numbers, be especially wary.      

Hat tip to The Verge.

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1 Comment

Ebay, Amazon, Craigslist (Cash Only), or a manufacturer. Those are my methods of selling.

July 19, 2017 at 3:57PM

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Walter Wallace
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