Con men have a scam for just about everything these days. Unfortunately for the less-informed audio consumer, these shameless crooks have penetrated the speaker business in the form of a con that has come to be known as a "White Van Speaker" scam; in reference to the typical color of the vehicles from which these people sell low-quality speakers at prices that seem low.
Their prices really are exorbitant, considering the low quality of the speakers. If the increasing number of people getting scammed by this across America is any indication, the white van speaker scam is well on its way to becoming one of the most successful scams to be run regularly off the street, ever.
You need not contribute to the success of this scam. If you're truly a lover of fine audio equipment that you can get at fair prices, it is essential to take some time to learn how to spot the scam - after all, it's not always a van from where cheap speakers come.
However, it is just as important to learn how to spot a genuine deal. After all, great deals from quality non-big-brand speaker companies do exist, so it’s not good when this particular scam makes people too cynical to believe otherwise.
1. Run Away. First, the sight of a white van approaching while you're walking down the street or on your way to your car in a parking lot should be your cue to run in the opposite direction!
Kidding aside, a white van is the typical vehicle of choice for these scammers mainly because that very color conveys legitimacy, as if it really belongs to real company. Some even go to the extent of painting on a company logo on its side to make them look more official.
However, many scammers have also been using vehicles of other types and color these days, so you also have to be on the lookout for more than just a white van cruising parking lots, large apartment complexes, gas stations, colleges and other moderately trafficked areas for potential scores.
2. Watch for aggressive sales pitches. White van speaker scammers are quite notorious for being aggressive. Should they spot anyone, usually young men, who look like they could spare a few hundred dollars or more, they could be relentless in getting their attention. They would literally lean on their car horn, wave like madmen or even yell so their target would stop and see what the ruckus is all about.
The best thing to do in this situation is ignore them. Curiosity, however, sometimes gets the better of us, and before we know it, we find ourselves checking out what these people are trying to sell. And boy, do they SELL.
3. Watch for a polished sales pitch that seems too good to be true (because it is). Like many other con men, white van speaker scammers, typically two guys wearing neat and legit-looking uniforms, are pretty passionate about their well-rehearsed pitch, and a passionate sales pitch makes for a very persuasive one. Generally, the driver would ask you stuff like "Hey man, would you want to buy some speakers?" or "Dude, we've got a nice home theater system here that you can buy cheap".
Then he would segue to claiming they are a professional audio install team who has just finished a job, usually home theater systems or sound systems in bars, restaurants or theaters, and found themselves with an extra set of speakers, thanks to any sort of corporate mistakes ranging from inventory error to computer glitches. The need to dispose of them quickly at well-below retail price is then emphsized, for varying reasons.
Then they pull out a slick brochure or a magazine ad stating that the "high-end" speakers they're trying to unload are worth, say, $1,500 a set, and offer them to you for only $600.
These days, they'll probably give you the URL of an official-looking website to back up their claim. To further make themselves look more legit, they show you delivery invoices and business cards.
Just firmly saying no to these people should be enough, but some scammers just wouldn't take that for an answer. Once you decline, they'll kick their routine into high gear, bombarding you with technical jargon that you naturally wouldn't understand, or telling you that they are just "regular hard working guys" trying to make an extra buck to elicit any sort of sympathy from you.
If none of that works, they'll resort to asking you how much you would be willing to pay for the speakers, and they'll reduce the price significantly to match the price you'd quote.
4. Negotiating a Lower Price is Expected and Will Not Lead to a Good Deal!
This is where most victims fall. Given the power to decide, victims often turn greedy, and then get into negotiations with the scammers. Soon they offer $300 for those speakers initially priced at $600. And guess what, the "professional audio install team" goes for it! The buyer then pats himself on the back for out-negotiating the sellers and buying $1500 speakers for a measly $300 bucks. Now that's one hell of a deal, isn't it?
The truth is, the victim actually paid $300 for a set of speakers that could have cost the scammers no more than $30 dollars, with poorly made components and incredibly cheap materials. While the speakers they show you appear to be decently made and come in fancy boxes, they are at best crappy. Some have been described as sounding like a hornet's nest, while some have been reported to be so poorly made that it could short out one's amplifiers.
Those who end up buying these crappy speakers are the luckier ones. There are even stories of white van speaker scam victims who find out, a little too late, that the "great deal" speakers they bought actually contained nothing more than bricks or stones or any sort of junk once they get home and unwrap their "deal".
5. Even legitimate sounding speaker companies can be bogus. The victims, who more often than not know very little about audio equipment, really aren't at fault for falling for the scam. After all, the speakers seemingly bear brand names, such as:
Acoustic Lab Technology
Acoustic Monitor, Acoustic Studio Monitor 3311/3312, Acoustic Response, Acoustic Image, Acoustic Lab Technology, Acoustic Reference
Acoustic Response (not to be confused with the company Acoustic Research)
Advanced Sound Technologies (AST)
Audio-Tech, Audio Tech Pro
Blue Ridge Sound Engineering
BSS - Brendle Sound Systems (Not related to BSS Audio, part of the Harman Pro Group)
Canyon Audio (not to confused with Canary [Though that's the scammers intention])
Cerwin Vega (counterfeit)
DanWave, Dan Wave
DCS Digital Audio (Logo looks similar to the DTS logo)
Definitive Sound Technology
Denmark, Denmark Audio, Denmark Optics
Digital Pro Audio, Pro Audio, Digital Audio, Digital Audio Professional Speaker Systems, Digital Audio Skyline, Digital Research
Dogg Digital, Digital Dogg Audio (reportedly very popular on eBay)
Dynalab (not to be confused with Dynamat )
Epiphany (there are two different Epiphany brands, one is extremely high end, and the other is a scam. The high end one can be easily identified by its array of drivers, they are very large speakers)
Genesis Media Labs, Genisis Media Labs
Millennium Theater Systems (MTS)
Paradyme (not to be confused with Paradigm [Though that's the scammers intention])
PSD (Not to be confused with PSB[Though that's the scammers intention])
Skyline Digital Research
Theater Research, Theatre Research, Theater Innovations
Of course, these brands won't be hitting the streets without the involvement of companies that manufacture or re-sell them. These companies, based in the US, China, Canada, England, France, Germany, and Australia, include:
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
Paramount Audio Performance Pty. Ltd. (Victoria, Australia)
Oliver Beling (Sole trader with registered ABN) (Victoria, Australia)
6. What to Do if You Think You've Been Scammed
In Pennsylvania, the act of selling white van speakers is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000. So people who have been victimized by scammers within that state can actually sue and bring these criminals to justice.
Unfortunately, not everyone is from Pennsylvania, and other states don't have laws against white van speaker scammers as clear-cut as that one.
Victims, however, still have a number of options to at least get back at these scammers. One is to file a complaint with their state Attorney General, where they could claim to have been intentionally misled by the seller to believe he was buying high quality goods from a legitimate manufacturer. They could also go to their state's Department of Revenue or to the Internal Revenue Service itself, because these scammers can be charged with tax evasion too, considering that they usually don't issue receipts for their transactions.
Consumer watchdogs are also good places to file a complaint with. An example is ScamShield, where you can not only file your own complaint, but help others from falling prey to these crooks as well.
It is also great to cooperate with local law enforcement officials on this matter. While police could not really pin these scammers down just for the sale itself as there's nothing technically illegal with it, there are ways to get them for other violations. Trespassing, for instance, can be easily slapped on these scammers for doing business on private property, like gas stations or mall parking areas. There's also the chance that these guys are carrying fake IDs, and that would probably be reason enough for cops to take them down. For all you know, one of these scammers already has an outstanding arrest warrant. Charges of speeding or reckless endangerment can also be brought up[ against them, especially when they're trying to flag down other vehicles in a moderately busy street in hopes of doing some business. Then there's assault, which you could claim if you feel like the sellers were trying to intimidate or pressure you, physically or otherwise, into buying their inferior merchandise.
The best strategy in dealing with these crooks, however, is to let their activities be known to as many people as possible. Write about your experiences, or that of others for that matter, on blogs, forums, local gathering sites such as craigslist, get interviewed on TV or radio or any form of mass communication that would warn the general public not to make any deals whatsoever with these scammers.
But if you still fall for this scam despite the presence of the most obvious warning signs that you're being ripped off, take it as a lesson learned that could have been much more costly. These scammers make off with a few hundred bucks but many other scam types hit much harder. On the flip-side, if you want to SAVE a few hundred bucks on quality speakers, check out our products and learn how we are able to pass legitimate savings on to consumers like you.