This is a long post about thinking I was smart when I was stupid. It could’ve had terrible consequences but I was lucky enough to get through without losing money in spite of taking all the wrong steps.
By the end of May, some of you might remember a couple LOMO BAS Squarefronts popped up on eBay. One of the listings was for a complete set, using photos stolen from the web, the seller being a malamutecinema (now erased account). Several people, myself included, reported the listing for several days until it was taken down. On my case, I found an 80mm 35BAS-4-7, from a new seller based in Kazakhstan, sergew001-6. The lens was up for auction and I sent him a message offering to buy it directly if he cancelled the auction, for a considerable amount of money. He told me he was expecting to get a little more than that in the auction and would contact me two hours prior to its end in case the price wasn’t what he expected.
When the time came, he sent me a message and told me to raise the bid on the item so he would cancel the auction. It was the middle of the night here, and I wasn’t thinking straight about how stupid that instruction was, so I did it. He stopped replying and 5 minutes to go, somebody surpassed my bid. Then the timer hit zero and the auction was over. I sent him a bunch of messages about how dishonest that was and yadda yadda. He apologized and said it was his first time on eBay, and a bunch of other things. He said that he cancelled the auction after it was over and sent me a payment request on PayPal. I sent him the money and he went silent.
I spent the entire next day worried about my money. The name on his emails was Sergey Davydov, but PayPal gave me a different name. Let’s just say D., for I’m not interested in being a possible target for anyone. Upon googling his name, I was linked to the WHOIS domain registration page of Malamute Cinema. The domain registration info has been changed after I confronted him about it.
My nerves went on lockdown until the money popped back in my account as a refund. He said it was blocked for 21 days and the original buyer also paid for the lens and he had to honor the eBay deal.
On the same message he mentioned he had a 50mm BAS that he would auction too. Then we moved off eBay’s messages onto gmail. About his name, he clarified that Sergey Davydov was his alias, but his name was indeed D., but also that there were many D.s and he couldn’t be all of them – like the one on Malamute Cinema. I should’ve stepped out of the story here, but getting a set of LOMOs was my lens-goal of 2016, so I kept pushing forward.
Besides mentioning the 50mm, he said he’d be getting some roundfronts, already tweaked and ready to go (PL mount, focus gears, colimated) in about a month’s time. By that time, I was totally into the tale and sent him the money for the 50mm. In my head I thought “you know what, this is a nice guy and this is a good deal, I’ll send the money as ‘friends and family'”.
BREAK: NEVER. EVER. EVER do that. Multiple people told me that when I figured out the scam, and I was very lucky to get my money back.
On May 28th D. confirmed that payment was through and he would ship them on June 5th. I had already talked to Olex (lens technician, in Ukraine) and Viktor (to install PL mounts, in St. Petersburg) and worked the best logistics. D. would ship the lens to Viktor so he could replace the mount, then Viktor would send it to Olex for servicing and fine-tuning. I sent D. a few emails about why June 5th, and not the next day, but again he was dead silent. Then instead of one day worrying, I spent a week.
On June 5th, he replies that the lens has been shipped and sends me the tracking code. He also mentions that the lenses that would be ready in mid-July will be done in the following week. It’s a full set of roundfronts. I make him an offer for three of them (35, 50 and 75), and we agree on the price, to be paid when the lenses reach him.
In the meantime I’m turning my finances upside down to figure out how to send the agreed amount, selling many of my lenses/anamorphics – including my beloved Iscorama 42 – and getting a little bit closer every day. Talking to a few friends, I realized it wouldn’t be smart to send him any extra money before the first lens (50mm BAS) arrived at Viktor’s workshop. Before the deadline, D. sends me an email saying that PayPal’s taxes are too high and asking if I’d be OK with a bank transfer, or Visa Direct Transfer. I used that as an excuse to buy myself some time while I went to the bank and asked about how safe these transfers are, and what kind of information I’d need from him.
June 19th he gave me an ultimatum in a rather annoyed email. The same day Viktor tells me the lens is ready for pick up and that he’ll swing by the post office later to get it. I was able to get myself another day by saying the bank had blocked my transfer and asked for more documents.
On the morning of June 21st I get a notification that the 50mm has been delivered, as well as an email from Viktor with the following images attached.
I don’t need to tell you this is NOT a 50mm BAS as depicted earlier by D.
I immediately posted on Facebook asking for advice and tried to open a claim on PayPal’s website. Since I sent the money as “Friends and Family” the website wouldn’t allow me, so I decided it couldn’t get any worse and called PayPal directly.
While I waited for a person to pick up the phone on the other side I ran all the crap I did wrong. Starting off with the “Friends and Family” thing, then sending such a big amount to an unknown person and lastly, for PayPal’s sake, getting the package shipped to an address other than my own – an address in another continent even! Then a girl named Wendy picked up and asked me what was my problem.
I went on to detailing the transfer, what happened upon delivery and what I wanted to do moving forward. I was lucky to have written in the notes section of payment that the money was regarding the 50mm BAS. Wendy asked then about the difference between both lenses.
– Could you explain me better how these lenses are different, and why you want to reverse the transaction?
– Sure. The lens he charged me for is a rare Russian cinema lens, the one he shipped is a $50 paperweight.
– Oh my god! Let me put his funds on hold.
That’s when my hope started to return. Wendy instructed me to not dispose of the box, gather as much proof as I could that the whole thing wasn’t a mere accident. She put his money on hold and told me he had ten days to reply to the claim or PayPal would return the money to my account. Things were indeed escalating in terms of worrying about money in this whole story. It started with one day, then a week, now another ten days!
I reached out to Viktor and asked him to hold onto the box in case we had to return it. I also provided Olex with all the info I got on D., so he would blacklist him for his other customers and spread the word about it. Then I waited.
On July 2nd PayPal restored my money and I started to organize all the info to write this post.
In the meantime he listed some other lenses on eBay and things didn’t end well for the buyers either. It seems to be a running scam now, for new sellers (zero feedback), from Kazakhstan and LOMO anamorphic glass. It might be a killer deal, but I’m no longer interested unless it’s from a reputable/known seller.
The reason I’m sharing this story is because it’s one of the best ways to avoid more people falling into such schemes. I’ve been buying and selling lenses (and anamorphics) for about five years now and hadn’t had any trouble with sellers or buyers so far. You might not even be buying LOMO anamorphics or anything super expensive, but always make sure you’re dealing with someone trustworthy and that will hold their word to the end.