BBB hopes to mute speaker scam

April 13, 2016

Based on a recent report to BBB Scam Tracker, Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) is warning consumers about the return of a classic scheme sometimes known as the “white van speaker scam.” This con involves individuals approaching potential victims in public spaces and claiming they have premium home entertainment products – generally electronics, and still in boxes – they’re willing to sell at a deep discount. Though customers believe they’re getting a deal, they soon find out the boxes contain products worth far less than advertised and also far less than what they paid.

“Though everyone loves a deal, it’s important to always consider the source,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota. “Ask yourself how such people wound up with these products, why they’re selling them in a parking lot and what your recourse will be if the products prove to be shoddy, defective or cheap repackaged goods.”

The incident reported to BBB Scam Tracker occurred in Southern Minnesota, with the victim stating they were approached in a parking lot by an individual claiming to work for Berlin Audio Designs out of the Twin Cities. The salesperson claimed they were in possession of an overstock of home theater equipment and offered to sell goods supposedly worth $10,000 for $1,100. The price was only good on a cash basis, however, and the original asking price was $1,700. After paying $1,100 for the goods and collecting them from the back of the salesperson’s black SUV, the victim took the packages home and discovered they contained only cheap speakers which were Bluetooth compatible, but not wireless as the salesperson had claimed.

Though BBB found a website for a Berlin Audio Designs, the site does not provide any address information and BBB can find no listing for a company by that name in the metro area.

According to Wikipedia, the white van speaker scam operates on several continents and is often run out of the back of white commercial vans which can be rented inexpensively. This scheme was prevalent in the 80’s, particularly, but has carried on through the years and evolved from stereo speakers being offered for sale to home theater equipment in recent years. Common “tells’ for this scheme are claims that the goods being offered for sale are valuable or premium, yet the seller is willing to part with the merchandise for a fraction of the supposed value – if the buyer pays cash.

BBB advises people to steer clear of individuals selling electronics from the back of their vehicles – regardless of make or model. Such merchandise could be stolen or may have been repackaged to give the appearance of being quality, name-brand products, when in fact the boxes contain cheap or generic goods. Customers should also not trust labels they see on the side of what might appear to be unopened boxes which say MSRP (Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price) $2,269 USD, as such labels are very easy to create.

“We’re advising people to not only avoid such suspect sellers, but to report them to local law enforcement,” added Badgerow. “Police and city officials are always interested in situations which might involve stolen goods or individuals operating in their jurisdiction without a solicitor’s license.”