The Great International White Van Speaker Scam
By brettd in News
Sun Apr 11, 2004 at 04:39:07 PM EST
Tags: News (all tags)
An interesting scam has resurfaced in the last few years, taking the world by storm. It is at least a decade old scam, remarkably well organized, bordering on mafia-like proportions. There are many slight variations, but the scam is mostly the same- two guys, in a white truck(hence the name) approach you in a mall or store parking lot. Perhaps at a stop light, or they wave at you frantically as you drive down the highway. "Hey buddy, wanna buy a set of speakers?" Sounds absurd, but all manner of people fall for it all across the world.
The scam works as follows. Two guys, often wearing nice uniforms, possessing realistic looking invoices, business cards, and many of the trappings of a legitimate business, try to sell sets of speakers out of a van; it's white, because those are usually the cheapest to rent. The vans are often unmarked but occasionally have professional-looking graphics on the side which could be nothing more than temporary sticker or magnet signs. They will set up in a mall parking lot, at gas stations, large chain store lots or, alarmingly, ATM/bank parking lots. As stores and police departments catch on, techniques have shifted towards trying to hook people at stop lights or by waving them down on high traffic two-lane roads.
They look for luxury cars or other signs of disposable income. They look for young men, by themselves(especially without girlfriends or wives). They can be extremely aggressive and intimidating. Don't bother with made up excuses, simply say "No". If you say you don't have cash, they'll helpfully offer to follow you to the nearest ATM(why anyone in their right mind would allow themselves to be followed to an ATM is beyond me). If you're about to walk away, they'll get in your face, ask what price you would pay for them(or what your daily withdrawl limit is), and then "cave in" to that price.
The premise is that they are audio system installers; stories usually involve supposed jobs installing home theater systems or sound systems in bars, resteraunts, theaters, or often the local sports arena. They claim someone("the warehouse", for example) or "the computer" messed up and they got "extras". Another popular line is that "speakers are usually sold in pairs, but these are studio speakers!" Even more dubious, they want to unload them "before they get back and the boss finds out"; it is a common theme that they're "just broke hard working guys" and they hate their boss, for the sympathy angle. If nothing else, their willingness to tell a stranger they want to steal company property should raise warning bells all by itself, and remember folks- if the story were true, buying stolen goods is illegal anyway.
The speakers appear to be decently made, in part because most people wouldn't know what to look for in a good speaker if it said "Hello" and bit them, and much of what makes for a good speaker is hidden from view or difficult for the layman to evaluate. Such as:
Are wires inside soldered, or using spade connectors?
Is there internal dampening materials?
Is the cabinet properly sized, reinforced, and made of sufficiently strong material to not excessively resonate?
What materials are used in the speaker cone, the surround?
Is the crossover(the electronics which seperate high and low frequency sounds for the different sized speaker drivers) properly designed?
Often the company or model names involve common numbers like "5.1", a reference to 5.1 channel surround sound, and the speakers have impressive sounding names that either attempt to coin in on established, respected companies, or essentially made up at random using common audio terminology in an attempt to be generic. A sampling of the many, many names that I have come across on various websites and web forums where people have reported getting scammed or approached:
Acoustic Response (not to be confused with the company Acoustic Research, which involved the famous and respected Henry Kloss, who went on to found KLH and Cambridge Soundworks), Acoustic Image, Acoustic Lab Technology
Denmark (not to be confused with Denon)
Dogg Digital, Digital Dogg Audio (reportedly very popular on eBay)
Dynalab (not to be confused with Dynamat)
Digital Pro Audio, Pro Audio, Digital Audio, Digital Audio Professional Speaker Systems, Digital Audio Skyline Digital Research
Paradyme (not to be confused with Paradigm)
PSD (jokingly referred to as Paid Scam Drivers). Not to be confused with PSB.
They often come in fancy boxes, carrying sticker price tags(since when did goods from a warehouse carry price stickers?) of anywhere from $1000 to $2000 per speaker. Yes, that is a LOT of money for a speaker.
Your eyes glaze over at the pricetag, and ignore any cheap construction which would set off immediate warning bells (such as a paper speaker cone, or a very light and flimsy enclosure). There certainly wouldn't be a 'glitch at the warehouse' regarding the quantity, at these prices (yet another warning sign!) But, they've got invoices. They've got sticker price tags. They probably have any number of brochures and supposed reviews by major audiophile magazines. Our driver/installers are remarkably well equipped for a sales presentation, aren't they, and since when did brochures come laminated?(yet more warning signs). They've even got a website address for the manufacturer (which has been set up by the ringleader of the scam) and a phone number for the factory where they will happily tell any caller that, yes, those units retail for $2,000 per speaker.
If they think you're an easy mark, these guys are your new best friends, and they want to just make some fast money. What do you know, they'll sell you them for "only" a fraction of the price. They'll let you "drive a hard bargain", ultimately going no lower than about $125 to $200. Your ego is swelling; you've bargained them down to what you think is an insanely low price. Your mind is racing, ignoring the fact that you are buying goods you know nothing about; nothing but greed fills your mind. From people you no nothing about. In a parking lot. Literally off the back of a truck.
If you're wishy-washy and nervous, looking easily intimidated, they'll go into high-pressure mode. They may use intimidating body language, get angry, notch up the sympathy play, and so on. This is actually good, particularly if you're in the parking lot of a bank or ATM; you're afraid they were trying to rob you, right?
You're getting incredibly cheap speakers- or worse, wood boxes that look like speakers, with bricks in them- which you won't discover until you try to plug them into your sound system(which you should never do without checking the impedance of the speaker, to make sure it doesn't short out your amplifier). If they're actually speakers, construction will be cheap with poorly made components and cheap materials throughout. They might even sound half OK to the average person. Sit that same person in front of a real set of $200-$400 speakers, point out the differences, and they'll be left wondering how they could be so stupid.
Despite the fact that anyone who falls for this routine gets exactly what they deserve, (unless of course they were intimidated or felt threatened) don't let this happen to you. Don't let it happen to your friends, family, or coworkers. It's as simple as tomorrow saying to a friend "hey, there are these guys selling speakers out of the backs of vans in mall parking lots, they look like they're a steal but they're crap. Don't fall for it!" These operations move from region to region, moving on once local authorities, newspapers and radio stations catch on, which takes a while.
Some people give up there, and throw them in the attic or the trash. However- just as there are people who are utterly lacking in morals selling the stuff, there are plenty of people who will try to at least recoup their loss, or even worse, make a profit. Here in Boston, these speakers have recently started appearing on the community website Craigslist, as people who have been suckered into buying them realize what they got, and try to get -anything- for them. The degree of honesty the poster displays varies from "I got suckered, does anybody want these" to a near replay of the original scam.
What to do? Well, not much, except spread awareness of the scam. They're not doing anything illegal with the sale itself, so they need to be caught on other grounds. For one, anyone selling goods on private property is liable to get into a lot of trouble with the store owner, so there's an easy trespassing charge; this is why many of the operations have moved to flagging down people on the road or at stoplights. You can try playing along- look interested, maybe take a business card, make a note of the plates on the van- and say you'll think about it while you go and shop or after you check out their website or call the factory. Instead- walk straight to the store customer service desk, mall security, or call the police. Even if the cops have little to to work with, they can be very creative in finding something wrong; air freshner hanging from your rear view mirror? Illegal use of equipment, believe it or not. The first thing the officer will ask for will be identification (and if they're holding fake IDs, they'll probably get arrested for that alone). Perhaps you'll be lucky in that one of these shady characters will have an outstanding warrant. The police officer can also run the plates on the van(during which it will probably be discovered that the van is a rental or lease), and so on. All of that information will be of use to others who got scammed one it is in the police department's records.
The problem is that many police departments have given up trying to go after these fly by night companies, mostly because they're shady, but not illegal "enough". They need to be caught doing other things- trespassing(ie, trying to sell on private property without the owner's permission), assault(ie, physically intimidating or threatening you), speeding or reckless endangerment(such as leaning out the window and trying to flag down cars), etc. The best strategy, if you are scammed, is to go after the scam artists for violation of your state's consumer laws. Such laws, however, often have many clauses which are designed to protect legitimate businesses from unreasonable customers, but instead provide loopholes for scam artists(these include most commonly time limitations and whether you attempted to get a refund). You can also complain to your district attorney, and generally TV stations love to set their "consumer watchdog" reporters on this sort of stuff.
These speakers are made or resold through a complicated reseller network. Some of the many company names involved, consisting of companies in the US, Canada, England, France, Germany, and Australia:
Audio Wood Products
Century Distributors PTY LTD
Global Audio Network
JAM Entertainment/JAM Enterprises, now known as Kelfi Distributors
Omni Audio or Omni Audio Products
Republic Distributors, Inc. (parent of Omni and Dynalab) or Republic Distributors Of Canada or Republic Distribution GmbH
Sound Illusion Production
There is at least one class action lawsuit and reportedly one lawfirm has already received a judgement of about $45,000 against Audio Wood Products for failure to pay a company which supplied cloth for the speaker grills.
Remember, folks. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is!