Watchdog: April 2008

Nathan Edwards

Chloe, watchcorgi of the month

Can I have the price you quoted me?

Dog, I recently ordered a Panasonic SDR-H200 Camcorder from Camera Addict ( ) for $475; most other shops sell it for at least $600. I called Camera Addict and asked if the unit was refurbished; the customer service rep said it was new. I placed my order and received an email the next day asking me to confirm my order. I became suspicious after the company tried to sell me an extended-life battery for $90—the rep explained that the battery the camera comes with “only lasts 25 minutes.” The sales rep then tried to sell me additional accessories and warranties. I soon started to realize that the price they advertised was too good to be true.

The knockout punch came when the guy on the other end of the line asked me if I wanted the import model or the U.S. retail model. I said I wanted the U.S. model without any additional products or warranties, and he said my total would be $699.99. I asked him why it was so much when it’s listed at $475 on the website; he explained that the Japanese model costs $475, but the U.S. model costs $699.99.

I told the rep I wanted to cancel my order and I was asked why. I said the company was running a bait and switch. He told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and that he’d like to cancel my order. I said, ”Yes, please do that.” Today the SDR-H200 is listed on the Camera Addict website at $545, but it still says nothing about it being a Japanese model, which I assume will have menus in Japanese and may not have warranty protection in the United States.

—Chris Schutze

Chris, you’ve just run into a textbook hard-sell sales tactic that’s long been used to sell cameras and electronics online and by mail order. It works by sucking you in with “can’t pass up” pricing on the camera. Then you’re upsold on batteries, warranties, cases, and other paraphernalia of generally low quality. The vendor usually tells you, “Well, you’ll need a charger, right? And a battery—this camera doesn’t come with a battery and charger you know.” Of course, Canon, Panasonic, Sony, and other companies don’t sell cameras without batteries and chargers; unscrupulous vendors simply unbundle camera systems and sell individual components at a high price.

A classic tactic to get you to buy a camera is to advertise it at a low price and then reveal you’re buying an import model without a warranty after you’ve been sucked in.

The Dog was unable to reach Camera Addict for comment before we went to press, but the company certainly raises red flags on the Internet. At, the store has received a six-month rating of 0.30 out of 10. The Better Business Bureau doesn’t have an individual report on Camera Addict; instead, it associates the business with Broadway Photo, a Brooklyn, New York-based company that also does business under the names A&M Photo World, Best Camera, Cameratopia, Digital Liquidators, Ghu, Millennium Camera, Preferred Photo, Prestige Camera, Quest4Cameras, Regal Camera, The Digital Expo, Tronicity, and Wild Digital. The verdict from the BBB? Bad. The BBB site states: “This business has an unsatisfactory record with the BBB.” Furthermore, “Complaints to the Bureau indicate that this firm uses high-pressures sales tactics after consumers place their orders. After ordering merchandise, consumers report receiving a phone call from the firm’s customer representatives attempting to sell additional items. Representatives allegedly try to persuade consumers to buy the U.S. warranty, as well as accessories like cables, peripherals, and software, or lead consumers to believe the product will not work if additional merchandise is not purchased. In some cases, if the consumers declined, an email was sent advising them to cancel their orders because the item was on back-order despite being listed as available on the firm’s website. Consumers also reported unauthorized charges on their invoices. When trying to dispute such charges, consumers report difficulty talking to management, claiming they are verbally abused by the company’s staff.”

Over the past three years, the BBB has logged 929 complaints regarding Broadway Photo and the stores associated with it. The company has taken steps to resolve some complaints though, but 200 customers have reported being dissatisfied with the fixes offered.

How can you avoid these kinds of “deals”? First, the old mantra continues to be true: If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Companies that employ these tactics know that greed is a powerful emotion. The chance to get a $1,800 camera for $900 from a seemingly legit store can get normally rational consumers to throw caution to the wind. The next time you get excited about a great price, stop and consider why the product is so cheap. You should also make sure you make your purchase with a credit card—not a debit card—with good purchase protection. Some cards even offer their own extended warranties. Make sure you read the fine print concerning the item you want to buy, as well. Watch for excessive shipping and handling fees, and pay close attention to restocking fees and return policies.

And obviously, the Dog doesn’t recommend shopping at Camera Addict, Broadway Photo, or its associated stores. Woof.

Why isn’t it Free for Me, Too?

While the Sound Blaster X-Fi gets free ALchemy drivers, Audigy and Audigy 2 owners must pony up $10 to get Windows Vista hardware support.

Dog, the March Vista Tips story said that ALchemy drivers for X-Fi and Audigy owners are free. They’re not—at least, not that I know of. Creative Labs is charging owners of its Audigy cards $9.99 to download ALchemy and enable DirectSound3D in Windows Vista. I don’t think consumers should have to pay for the fix. You should let readers know that the Audigy download will cost them. If you can get Creative to do the Audigy ALchemy program for free, I would love to know.
—R. Gardner

The Dog looked into this and, indeed, we incorrectly stated that Creative Labs provides Audigy and Audigy 2 ALchemy drivers for free for Windows Vista. Only drivers for the X-Fi series of Sound Blaster cards are available for free. Why isn’t ALchemy free for everyone? The Dog asked Creative and was told: “As a gesture of appreciation to the users of our current soundcard line, which is X-Fi based, we absorbed the cost of development for ALchemy, so our customers could experience the full benefits of hardware-accelerated audio in legacy DirectSound game titles. ALchemy’s popularity of more than a million free downloads inspired users of our previous-generation Audigy-based cards to contact us about a solution for the issues of legacy DirectSound game titles running on Vista. We redirected some of our engineering resources to develop an independent version of ALchemy for Audigy, while still absorbing the majority of the development cost while passing on a nominal fee to customers.”

The Dog thinks that giving away the driver would certainly make people happy, but $10 really isn’t an exorbitant fee if legitimate costs were involved in its development. That you can get hardware audio acceleration in Vista on a four-year-old soundcard should actually be applauded (even if the cost is $10), as most hardware vendors would have dumped you in the river.

EZ Video, Hard to Contact

I have been trying to find a video converter that will allow me to watch Real Media files on my cell phone, a Nokia 9300. I downloaded and paid for EZ MPEG To RM Converter at It seemed like a professional site, but I was wrong. As far as I can tell, the site is still running and will still take your money with PayPal but will not send the registration name or code required to use its software beyond the trial period of 15 videos.

I emailed the company three times and never got a response. I also paid for Easy Video Converter, which was supposed to convert any video format to any other format. I did get a code for it, but of course, it didn’t work as advertised.

Please know that this is not about the money. It’s just the principle of the thing. I know that I won’t get my money back, so at least let me get what I paid for.

— Lloyd Kuhnle

The Dog made numerous attempts to reach the operators of but had no success. Your problem might be lost in translation, though. The site is registered to a company based in the Qingdao province of China. The Dog also sniffed around the web to see if others have complained about the company, but surprisingly, the Dog couldn’t locate anything that set off alarm bells. Since the company actually did respond to you once, the Dog recommends that you continue to email the company for a code to activate the product. In the meantime, contact PayPal to dispute the payment. Although PayPal isn’t known to be particularly good with consumer complaints and disputes, you should at least give this avenue a try. Keep in mind that any dispute must be filed within 45 days, and PayPal is very strict about the deadline. The Dog recommends that other readers avoid’s products until he can ascertain what exactly is going on with the company. Woof.

Got a bone to pick with a vendor? Been spiked by a fly-by-night operation? Sic the Dog on them by writing . The Dog promises to answer as many letters as possible, but only has four paws to work with.

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