Saturday, November 7, 2009

Criminal Minds Revisited, and Bootlegged!

I know I could have responded to my previous post on this topic but I have enough to say about it that it does deserve its own post. I have now seen every episode of Criminal Minds ever aired, and am totally hooked on the show which, in the previous post, I did blast, rather.

Nothing I said was untrue and I stand by it all. However, I have since been able to appreciate all of the actors and all of the characters, and their uniqueness (some of which was in question), much better for having seen more. In particular I have come to enjoy Kirsten Vangsness' Penelope Garcia, who at first reminded me of whatshername in NCIS, a show I really, REALLY dislike (I must, or I'd be watching it for the marvelous David McCallum): you know, the gothy girl. I thought Garcia was CM's answer to NCIS. She's not. She's herself, a very GOOD self, too. I also have come to appreciate Paget Bewster's Emily Prentice (and her uniqueness) quite a bit more than when I saw her as a replacement for Lola Glaudini's ever-staring Elle Greenaway based PURELY on her having long, dark hair (not to upset the balance in the full-cast picture; I saw their choice of Joe Mantegna's David Rossi as a replacement for Mandy Patinkin's Jason Gideon the same way -- dark-haired white men -- except that I was already very familiar with both actors and despite my opinion of how Mantegna may have been chosen, was glad to see him on the show; I should add that I don't hate Glaudini but she really never drew me in, even when she was the focus of the show and should have done so.) Brewster creates a much fuller character, whose depths have not even yet been plumbed by the writers, who are by and large (not without exceptions, alas) turning out better material than they once did (although an early two-parter, "The Big Game" and "Revelations" was flawless and played a large part in my becoming completely hooked on the show).

But I am not here to write a review (nor, as I may have implied, to apologize for the previous post). I am here to tell you a story about international deceit, if not intrigue.

I asked my fiancé to buy me the boxed set of the first four seasons (for those not familiar with the show, the current season is number five and only a handful of episodes have aired, so this won't be available for a while) if I could find a fantastic price. Amazon's SALE price is $135 plus shipping (or maybe shipping is free, who knows?) I've seen it go on eBbay for as little as $77 (but that was unusual; more often it has sold for $90-120). We decided $75 was our limit. Then he upped it to $80 and then to $100 (which I refused to do; that's too much, as we are impoverished; we should not even have considered spending $75 but for what was being sold and considering the going rate, that would have been a good price). I bid a few times, lost all those times.

Then I clicked on one of eBbay's sponsored links, where the same item was being sold for $49.99 plus $14 shipping. Good price, yes? Not an insignificant amount of money, if you don't happen to be rich, but less than the lowest price winning such an auction, and not itself an auction. It was also not the only sponsored link and the others were a tad higher but comparable, so I did not think it was "too low" (meaning likely a scam). The site, at, looked like any other store of its type, with a nice enough picture of the product and an assurance that it was available in both NSTC and PAL formats (a little odd since DVDs are generall classified by regions, not formats, and at any rate there was nothing on the page to permit anyone to choose between those formats). It looked okay and the price was right -- only a little under the lowest winning eBay auction I'd seen for that item. A lot less... yuou have to wonder why. A little less? You grab it!

My fiancé handed me his credit card and hovered while I paid for the item (he himself being hopeless on the computer). Easy, right? Wrong. I was briefly shown a page that said the payment would be verified in 24 hours, and then, without my clicking anything, was redirected to an order page showing the following order status: order confirmed, unpaid, unshipped.

Now, a credit card charge may take time to post, but it gets verified or rejected right away, so what was with the 24 hours to verify? While I pondered that, I received an email with a subject heading indicating that I should confirm (it didn't say precisely what, and the order page showed my order status as confirmed). I opened the email and read an affirmation that I had purchased the item, nowhere in the email was I asked to confirm anything, nor was I provided with a URL or link, nor given instructions (not even "reply to this email). I replied to the email, asking why and what I had to confirm, how to do so, if necessary, and why it would take 24 hours to confirm a credit card payment.

After sending this rather baffled and somewhat cranky email, I returned to the order page and found a new message: I need to confirm my order; click here to have confirmation email sent to me! Irked, I clicked, and to my guarded relif, such an email DID arrive, this time containing a link (or a url anyway, I forget whether it was clickable). I used the link or url and reached a page completely in Chinese, except for the letters HTTP and the number 404.

A moment of stunned silence, please, to match my own when I reached that informative page.

As soon as I overcame my momentary astoundment, I quickly rechecked the order page, which still told me my order was confirmed (without any messages telling me to confirm it, again or otherwise), unpaid and unshipped.

The site is entirely in English (despite that one Chinese confirmation page). The prices are all listed in U.S. dollars. There is no physical address or phone number offered under Contact Information (or anywhere else) but there is an email address -- the same one from which they sent both confirmation requests, the ridiculous one and the actual but useless one. I wrote to them asking to explain what was going on, and why even after much more than 24 hours they had not yet confirmed the payment. They wrote back saying they could not confirm the payment because the name on the card wasn't the same as the name of the person ordering the DVDs. That is when I realized they had not asked for a billing address, which would be different from my mailing address, as my fiancé was paying. They requested that I fill out a form (attached to the email) and send them a picture of both sides of my fiancé's credit card, for our security. I did not download the attachment and Ii wrote back that under no circumstances was I going to send them a picture of the card, which would at any rate prove nothing, since I had already given them the card number, expiration date and three-digit security code. Would my having the card in my possession prove I hadn't stolen it?

They backed down, and four days after payment was made, it was finally acknowledged on the order page as confirmed. It posted a day or two later to my fiancé's bank account... in a slightly higher amount. When we asked the bank what was going on they said the extra (approximately) two bucks was a currency exchange fee (as I understand it, if the price is listed in U.S. dollars, that means, in the absence of notification prior to purchase -- and we didn't get any even AFTER purchase! the order page to this DAY says we were charged $60.99!) -- THEY eat any exchange rate fees or wobbles. The banker disagreed; the customer pays the fee. (But why was that not part of the agreement? We were not buying an item whose price was listed in a foreign currency; had it been, we would have expected such a fee. Why did we need to pay a fee to convert U.S. dollars into U.S. dollars?) The banker was confused, though, about our confusion; hadn't we physically been present in a store to buy this item? After all, the card had been physically SWIPED.

Some at the company with which we were more and more regretting our interaction had made a physical copy of my fiancé's credit card. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't that considered at the very least NOT NICE? I am not conversant in international law but I can't imagine there is a reasonably developed country that hasn't got some kind of law against that!

Two weeks after making this order I received notice of an attempt to deliver a package. My fiancé picked it up for me at the post office. The package was from Beijing, People's Republic of China, and had, of course, a different company name on the packing slip than the one on the website. Instead of Dvds Collection, this company now turned out to be (or claim to be) Yan Hai Electronic Commerce (Beijing) Ltd. Nowhere on the site is there any indication that the company has another name (not so much as a dba), or a physical location at all (it floats in space?)

I was quite relieved to receive the boxed set lafter all that; it looked gorgeous but when I opened it up, the DVDswere in plain plastic slips, without episode titles, and there were no episode titles or descriptions anywhere on or in the box (no literature at all). The only information on the DVDs individual labels were the season and disc number (Season 1, Disk 4, for example. I had to play each one to see what was on it, and while all the episodes from all four seasons were represented, there was something else wrong: some of the discs had proper warnings and distribution credits on them, and came with extras, and had episodes complete and uncut, including end credits, but most of the discs were VERY obviously recorded from television broadcast! The CBS or CTV logo was at the bottom of the screen for the duration of an episode, while promos for those channels' shows would pop up the way they do when you watch a tv show being broadcast, the segues (where commercials were cut) were sometimes ept and sometimes inept, and without exception the end credits were missing. Shows ended abruptly with a freeze frame on the producer credit that appears at the end of a show, without regard for whether or not the music had finished fading. It was truly shoddy.

One could argue that you get what you pay for. I would counter by saying this was not a watch sold on a street corner. It was a product sold by an ebay sponsor, for a price not so VERY much less, once shipping was added, than the lowest winning auction price, and that at ANY rate, promises should be kept. By pretending to be a legitimate company, these folks promised me the real article and I got a bootleg, and a poor one at that. Ignoring for the moment the hassle they put us through just to get the order made, consider, please, the fact that they effectively stole my fiancé's credit card! (We're dealing with it, thanks, and the idiots, not asking for a billing address, probably can't use what they have anyway.)

I am not certain how to pursue this, since the company is in China, but I am starting with a complaint to my state Attorney General's Office, and I am sure they will direct me to someone who will direct me to someone who will direct me, ad infinitum, either to the right party or to a dead end.

Meanwhile I have now seen (as I mentioned at the beginning of this post) every episode of Criminal Minds ever aired, albeit most of them I have only seen slightly butchered, and without end credits, and sans extras, even though I have the DVD boxed set. Kind of.