The Buggrit Online Photo and Camera SHITLIST
updated 4/14/04 at Michael Birman's request
I've bought a lot of camera equipment on eBay, and by and large been very happy with the people selling stuff. However, as I had a series of bad experiences with one specific company, I feel a special mention is deserved. Whether they've improved since is left to the reader to decide; I hold them no particular ill will, please understand, but like to set the record straight, as it were.
Western Bid, Inc is a company is Minneapolis, Minnesota that accepts payments for eBay sellers in the former Soviet Union. They seem to be the largest company of their type, inasmuch as I can tell. Presumably, they get a cut of the take on each transaction, plus monthly and perhaps annual fees; I neither know nor particularly care. They've historically been less than responsive, let alone helpful, though that may have changed, and their website is almost entirely in Russian. I say "they" here, but I believe it's essentially just one man, Michael Birman, who runs / ran a slightly dubious website selling Russian cameras (sovietcamera.com), and who traded on eBay himself for a short while as "m.b.i.s." - (Michael Birman Internet Services). In late 2000 I bought a FED-2 camera on eBay from him for $25 + postage. The money order was deposited into his account, weeks went by... no camera. He insisted he'd sent it, and since I hadn't sprung for insurance, I was seemingly out of luck. So I bought another one, for slightly more. Again, money order was deposited... No camera. Emails to him were not responded to, time went by, and I largely forgot about him. That should have been the end of it, with my having sent him some $65 with nothing to show for it, except for his "Western Bid" operation. In early 2002, I bought an Iskra camera from a seller (since removed from eBay due to a barrage of complaints) in Russia. He didn't mention it in the auction listing, but Western Bid was his "payment partner". Da, comrade? Being extremely apprehensive, I sent payment to Western Bid - a money order, sent registered mail. They got it, and deposited it. Two weeks went by, and I emailed the sender, who acknowledged that payment had been recieved. Of course, when asked if the camera was shipped, he suddenly developed a severe case of I-don't-speak-good-english and stopped answering emails. Western Bid, who don't seem to offer any sort of buyer protection policy, as far as I can tell, didn't respond to my repeated emails, either. I wasn't terribly surprised.
I've made it a point to fastidiously avoid any and everyone attached in any way to Western Bid since then; a case of "thrice bitten, evermore shy". In November, 2002 this particular webpage was created, detailing my hat-trick of unpleasantness with Western Bid and Michael Birman, and that could well have been the end of the story. In fact, for well over a year, it was.
I got an email from email@example.com on, of all possible days of the year, APRIL 1st, 2004, some seventeen months after this page was created. I shan't quote his email in it's entirety - fair use and all that - but he said that he'd searched the web for feedback on Western Bid, found this page, and would "gladly resolve all the issues that you've posted on your site", as "I do my best to maintain a good reputation for myself and Western Bid, Inc.". If I'd send him my address, he said, he'd reimburse me for my losses from himself and his company. It seemed implausable and unlikely, given the date, and I told him so, while adding that the address in the whois information for the domain is correct. I was not holding my breath, you understand, so it was something of a surprise when a cheque arrived in the mail a few days later from none other than Western Bid, Inc of Minneapolis.
I am nothing if not lethargic in updating this site of late, due to heavy time commitments to, ahem, extracurricular projects of little interest to the average layperson. A couple days passed - actually, just over a week, and I received, my word, yet another email from my good buddy in Murderapolis, Mikhail Birman. Two email in one month, unsolicited, when a year ago I couldn't get a reply to any number of messages? Goodness gracious me. What did he have to say this time? "I hope you've received our check...May I ask you to remove negative information from your website?".
That irked me, a bit, because it's not how the game is played. I voice legitimate grievances; a year and a half later, Western Bid says, in effect, "We're sorry - here's your money back", with the hope, perhaps even the expectation, that I'm going to be bribed into utter silence about my history with them, and a few days later I'm being prodded, albeit gently, to amend my site. I was planning to amend this page, in any event; I've just taken the time to do so somewhat sooner that would have otherwise taken place.
A year and a half ago, there was not a lot of feedback to be seen on the web about Western Bid, and I don't believe much, if any of that has remained online to this day, with the possible exception of this site. A quick search of the web shows that, by and large, others have had more recent, more positive experiences with Western Bid than I. Perhaps I'm unlucky; perhaps Birman and Western Bid really have improved since 2002. It would seem that he/they are headed in the right direction, and I have to commend him on his tactful approach, which contrasts nicely with the heavy-handed threats made by certain other companies mentioned in negative fashions on this site.
Would I recommend them? Would I use them again? No, but I hope the complete account of my interaction with them will be taken as it's intended - one person's experience, no more, no less.
The verdict may be out on Western Bid - perhaps they really have improved - but one group of losers, weenies, and jackals on eBay who deserve special attention are ImageDepot (firstname.lastname@example.org), Directfoto, Econocommerce, and the dozens of other front companies used by William Paul and Associates of White Plains, NY. Click here for more on ImageDepot and William Paul. They sell a wide variety of photographic stuff, but mostly film. I've made two orders from them. Once, I ordered five rolls of 120 slide film from them. Eleven days later I received five rolls of 120 print film instead. I complained, and never got a response. I placed a second order, for a total of ten rolls of film. I received eight, including five that were the wrong film. Eventually my complaints were answered by a smarmy jackass named John; after exchanging impolite email for over a week, he finally relented and said ImageDepot would "make it right". Supposedly the replacement film was mailed on December 18th. Over two weeks later, it's yet to show. Weenies, the whole damnable pathetic lot of them. Avoid ImageDepot like the plague - it's my firm and unshakable belief that they want nothing more than to screw you out of as much money as possible.
Another, similar, and in fact related weenie is Directfoto (email@example.com). They sell mostly film, photo paper, and toner. I purchased six rolls of "fresh" film from them. It turned out to be six months expired. As you'd expect, they never responded to my complaints, despite all sorts of bullshit on their auctions about satisfaction guaranteed, blah blah blah. Little pricks. Avoid them, too, unless you want disappointment. Naturally, the film sucked, too, and I wasn't surprised to discover they were one of several "fronts" for the same gargantuan New York company. Click here for more about William Paul, DBA Directfoto and Econocommerce.
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