New York Times follow-up on Brooklyn Camera Dealers

Wed, Jan 11, 2006 2-minute read

I had a phone interview with Michael Brick at the New York Times a few weeks ago about the problems I (and others) have had with certain shady online camera dealers.

His article on that just got printed, and it’s a good read.

Especially interesting is the various official quotes that explain how difficult it is to solve the problem.  Our collective internet rage takes place in a thought-based medium, where anything is possible.  We CC company CEOs on complaint emails, conduct virtual letter writing campaigns, and many other grand schemes for enacting change.  The transition to reality isn’t nearly as high-fidelity, and illustrates a sharp contrast:

“It is a perennial problem for us, particularly in New York, not necessarily for New York customers but for customers around the country,” said Anthony Barbera, manager of the Information and Investigations Department of the Better Business Bureau of New York. “It is kind of a gray area, and we don’t have enforcement power.”

Keeping track of the companies has been a challenge, Mr. Barbera said, because they shift identities, shedding each Web site as it gains a bad reputation.

Without evidence of outright fraud, law enforcement agencies have largely declined to pursue criminal charges. This year, the state attorney general, Eliot Spitzer, mediated four complaints against Price Rite and referred two to the city Department of Consumer Affairs.

“It’s just not something we have the resources to pursue, in terms of you need a pattern and you need a number of complaints and a similarity in the pattern in order to put an action together,” said Brad Maione, a spokesman for Mr. Spitzer.

However, these places are in business to make money in our thought-based medium.  Blogs and online forums (indexed by the same search engines that drive traffic to these retailers) enable us to choke their supply of customers.  Word of mouth has never been so efficient.

Like mine, Thomas Hawk’s posts, and Don Wiss’ efforts have certainly been the cause of thousands of lost sales for these companies.

[Aside: As somebody correctly points out in Thomas’ comments, my quote in the article uses the word ‘literally’ very incorrectly.  I’m pretty prudish when it comes to that word (and hate its abuse,) so I think it was an incorrect paraphrase.  I could be wrong, though – it was a telephone conversation.]