White van speaker scam
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The white van speaker scam is a scam sales technique in which a con artist makes a buyer believe they are getting a good price on home entertainment products. Often a con artist will buy generic speakers worth around $40 and convince potential buyers that they are premium products worth over $2,000, offering them for sale at around $200. Con artists in this type of scam call themselves "speakerguys" or "speakermen", and usually claim to be working for a speaker delivery or installation company.
The speaker scam was common in the 1980s, and despite widespread information about the scam on consumer forums and watchdog sites, the scams continue operating across several continents.
The typical white van speaker scam involves one to three individuals, who are usually casually dressed or wearing uniforms. They drive an SUV, minivan or a commercial vehicle (usually a white commercial van, which may be rented inexpensively) that often displays a company logo. To find suitable targets, the van operators set up their con in moderately-trafficked areas, such as parking lots, gas stations, colleges, or large apartment complexes. Alternatively, they may target people driving expensive cars and wave them down. The marks (victims) are usually affluent, young people, college students, or others thought to have large amounts of disposable income. The marks may also be foreigners or people who are unfamiliar with typical business transactions in Western countries.
The operators often claim that they work for an audio retailer or audio installer and that, through some sort of corporate error (warehouse operator mistake, bookkeeping mistakes, computer glitch, etc.) or due to the client changing the order after supplies were purchased, they have extra speakers. Sometimes, it is implied that the merchandise may be stolen. For varying reasons they need to dispose of the speakers quickly and are willing to get rid of them at "well below retail" prices. The con artists will repeatedly state the speaker's "value" as anywhere between $1800 and $3500, prices often purportedly verified by showing a website, brochure or a magazine advertisement. Speakers are often given a fictional brand name, sometimes intentionally similar to a well-regarded speaker manufacturer in order to mislead the buyer. Some of these fictional brands have reputable-looking websites which list customer service telephone numbers and support e-mail addresses, but these methods of contact are often dead ends.
If the mark declines the offer, the scammer uses various high-pressure negotiation sales tactics. Among these techniques are producing glossy material that details the quality and high retail value of the speakers, and bombarding the potential customer with technical jargon, whether correctly or incorrectly used. If still unable to convince the mark that he or she would be turning down an incredible offer, the con artist will almost always lower the price significantly. Some con artists will even suggest that, since the customer got such a great deal, he or she should pay a little extra as beer money for his supposed benefactor.
Overall, the quality of the product is inferior. In some cases when a buyer tries to hook up the home theatre system to a high definition television set, they find that it cannot be done, and the claim of HD compatibility made for the white van system is just another element of the scam. Systems (typically amplifiers with speakers, sold as sets) with only two or three inputs and a lack of video inputs, with only analogue L/R/6ch RCA jacks, are common in this scheme.
Despite the age of the scam and its dubious legality, white van scams often have relatively sophisticated logistics. Distributors rent a warehouse and obtain licenses and distribution rights, then import large quantities of poorly made goods. They ship these goods to local warehouses in major cities and hire 'salesmen' to distribute the shoddy goods.
North American distribution operations are in major cities across the continent. The marketers at each office establish a promotion, benefit, and bonus scale for the speaker sales teams. Bonuses may be paid in cash, checks, fake credit cards or, with some irony, speakers.
In Australia the same tactic is used. Receipts are issued, but the contact details are usually fake so that the goods cannot be returned. As an added measure, vehicles are leased so that they cannot be traced to either the distributor or 'sales person' driving.
More recent versions
In more recent versions, the white van speaker scam can be turned into an electronic product sold in second-hand ad website. The most notable example is video projectors (sometimes accompanied with projection screen or speakers). Scammers create a non-legitimate website for their created brand to be referenced by search engines and build credibility around their scam. As usual the product is sold to a much lower (1/10th) price than the putative retail price.
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- Gary Harper (11 May 2015). "'Speaker Scam' thrives in the Valley". cleveland19.com.
- "EEV Blog #671 - White Van Speaker Scam Teardown". YouTube. 2014-10-07. - Examination of a typical speaker system sold by White Van Scammers.
- Suckers, an episode of This American Life which includes a segment on white van speakers.
- Scamshield archive of white van speaker brands and locations
- Crimes-of-Persuasion.com on Speaker Scams