Update Sep 23, 2004
MacFanaticShop has run again. Since at least July 17th, 2004, the shop has been closed.
That was certainly good news; the immediate threat was over and of course they did not come back on July 30. Several days after the come-back deadline expired, they simply updated the dates:
It's late September now and Charalambides did of course not "re-open for business". Ha, I wonder why? Perhaps he saw this site here and figured it was time to move on. However, this Good-Bye message also means that he didn't get caught. In fact, I'm still learning of new victims as the pages behind that homepage are still up. The list below has been updated accordingly. The scammers may already be plotting the next Mac[xzy]Shop. If anyone finds it, please let me know. This site will stay as a warning.
Macfanaticshop.com is a fraud that has been going on since May 2003 under different names — and possibly much longer. It's luring people into sending money by wire transfer and never delivering the products, committing copyright fraud in the process. Confirmed damage so far: over $30,000. Please read all about it at the MacRumors forums: forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=41856 I had already bookmarked the shop for a later purchase and I am glad I found the thread in time. Others were not as lucky and it is safe to assume that dozens or hundreds more people were scammed by MacFanaticShop aka MacMasterShop aka MacWhizShop but never found their way to the MacRumors forum. Below is a summary of information gathered from the forum.
The following people reported losses in the forum. I have more details about some of these cases; below is publicly available information.
From the cases in this thread alone, we get a minimum total monetary damage of $30,747 (likely more, could someone confirm the exact prices of the n/a items above?). In addition, the following people had their identity stolen or copyright of their work violated. Apple itself should probably also go on this list, although I'm not sure how much Apple allows resellers to simply copy the Apple Store.
Several people on the thread reported to have begun dealings with MacFanaticShop (= MacMasterShop = MacWhizShop) and pulled out in the last minute because they became suspicious. They all had various communication with the site operators. Again, I only know their nick names from the discussion thread and their publically available information.
MacWhiz placed advertisements at Google and other portals, apparently even Macworld and Amazon. MacFanaticShop currently advertises through Overture, a Google competitor that provides "sponsored listings" for chosen search terms. Overture powers search on Yahoo!, Altavista, CNN and many other popular sites, which gives MacFanaticShop a wide reach. Its ads will show up when users search for the terms "Mac", "iMac", "eMac", "iPod" etc.
MacFanaticShop offers Apple hardware at significant discounts. For the full line of Macintosh computers, the site charges $200 - $300 less for the same, brand-new model than Apple and all other stores I know. In the case of the eMac, for example, this amounts to a 25% discount ($599 vs. $799). This in itself is suspect because Apple sells in the US only through authorized dealers who have to adhere to Apple's Minimum Advertised Price (MAP) policy. That's why you sometimes read "Price too low to print!" or the stores give freebies or mail-in discounts. But you will not find current Macintosh models for more than $5-$10 less than what Apple charges itself. (Try it! This link will perform a live-search for the current low-end eMac on PriceGrabber.)
Lured in by these low prices, the buyer is encouraged to pay by bank wire to an account with Bank of America in Blaine, WA. MacFanaticShop offers another 3% discount for this payment method. If they buyer insists in paying per credit card s/he has to print out a form and fax it. A few days later, the buyer will receive a call or email saying that the charge did not go through and s/he is encouraged again to pay by wire instead. Inquiries with the credit card companies, however, show that no one attempted to authorize a charge and there is no problem with the card.
If the buyer wires the payment, MacFanaticShop will employ delay tactics, claiming the buyer's emails were not received, the customer database had been hacked, the product is backordered, etc. and eventually simply stop returning calls or emails. The buyer will not receive the products purchased.
History and Evidence
The earliest records I have of this crime are from May 8, 2003. That day, a post on TheMacintoshGuy.com reports the loss of $1,530 to the website PowerMac4U.com which was associated with a "Dennis Charalambides".
The MacRumors thread starts in Oct 2003 with mentioning the store at shop.vendio.com/macshopz operated under the name "Mac Whiz". Around November, this shop was moved to its own URL at www.macwhizshop.com
Several accounts of identity theft and copyright infringement were commited at that site. The design of the entire site was a blatant copy of The G4 Store. (see post 38 and following and post 48). The G4 Store itself confirmed this in post 104.
MacWhizShop posted a picture claiming to show site owner Derald Dutchak (certainly not his real name) with Steve Jobs. It turned out the picture was really a professionial speaker and presenter for Apple, Scott Rose (post 75) and stolen from his website. Scott, too, joined the discussion and confirmed this (post 79).
Another picture on MacWhizShop's site claimed to show their store outlet in British Columbia, Canada, but it turned out to be pictures taken from Creative Computers in Santa Monica, CA (post 80 and also here).
On Dec 30, 2003, just after the Christmas shopping season, MacWhizShop disappeared, but re-opened in January at www.macmastershop.com. Although design and all names had been changed, the two are obviously the same. MacMasterShop operated from the same IP (post 238 and 239, DNS lookup still works on both URLs as of July 1, 2004) and scammed people with the same method.
Around mid-April 2004, MacMasterShop disappeared too, but was re-discovered in June at www.macfanaticshop.com. On June 22, 2004, MacFanaticShop run "official" press releases on several news wire services announcing the opening of the new store, which were syndicated all over the net. The site claims to be run by a Dennis Charalambid, which is the same name that was listed as MacMasterShop's owner and the same name initially found at PowerMac4U.com (except an "-es"). A picture is posted again in the About page claiming to show Dennis, which is likely fake. The design and fraud method of MacFanaticShop are also very similar to those of MacMasterShop. So, a clear line can be drawn that links the "shops" in this order:
powermac4u.com -> shop.vendio.com/macshopz -> macwhizshop.com -> macmastershop.com -> macfanaticshop.com
The name Mac Fanatic has been used in the press release and several ads, also the site logo shows MacFanatic.com although the site's URL is macfanaticshop.com. MacFanatic.com belongs to an unrelated "NYC based company that provides Macintosh based consulting services". The owner of the real Mac Fanatic confirmed this in post 290.
One of the strongest hints that there is something fishy: MacFanaticShop claims "We accept VISA, MasterCard, American Express and Discover Card/NOVUS." However, inquiries with those credit card firms show that MacFanaticShop is not on their list of merchants. In other words, MacFanaticShop isn't even authorized to accept credit cards!
MacFanaticShop claims to have been in business for 6 years, but the URL has been registered this year.
MacFanaticShop "has" all the latest Macs, even the 2.5GHz G5, but curiously, the Xserve is still listed as the long outdated 1.3GHz G4 as of July 7, 2004. Certainly, a real Apple retailer would be more up-to-date.
MacFanaticShop copies all its product descriptions 1:1 from the Apple Store, even titles as Ultimate and the "custom built" logo. All product pictures also appear to come directly from the Apple store.
Although MacFanaticShop claims to have been in business for 6 years, it constantly misspells Apple products. Just have a look at the ads or the hilarious press release. Which self-respecting Apple dealer would call his bread-and-butter product "MAC"? It's not an akronym, but an abbreviation for "Macintosh"!
There are other threads on the net discussing the same fraud scheme, although none of them is as complete as the MacRumors forum thread.
I know that the authorities and Apple have been informed of this fraud scheme in the past. Everytime one of the old "shops" disappeared, the people on the MacRumors thread hoped that this scumbag had been put behind bars — only to see the next incarnation of the scam popping up a while later. It is very unsettling to see this unfold in front of our eyes and, while some unlucky, unsuspecting person probably is falling into the trap as you're reading this, apparently nothing is being done about it. This is the reason why I put up this site. Please spread the word and help warn people!
If you'd like to learn how to protect yourself against email spam, go to the home page of this site: www.BustSpammers.com