Beware the white van:
November 16, 2001 3:18 PM   Subscribe

Beware the white van: (scroll down a bit for the content that matters) I've never been scammed before, but these guys were brilliant. The details of my sad story are inside.
posted by aladfar (49 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So I'm walking down Clark street in Chicago, when these guys in a white van holler at me. They ask if I'm interested in some really good speakers.

My bullshit sensors start buzzing . . .

They pull over, open the back of the van, and produce a glossy catalog. The speakers they offer are listed as retailing for more than $1200.

A box is pulled from the back, and the speakers are displayed - they look really good. I offer $150 and am talked up to $200. I do need some new speakers for my computer, and I feel like I may well have stumbled on a good deal.

The fellows say that they're grossly overstocked and that they really need to get rid of some inventory. As such, they're willing to accept the paltry sum I'm able to scrape from an ATM machine.

I hand over the cash and lug the speakers home.

Research on the internet reveals that I've been completely had. Closer inspection of the box yields the following:

Unit is sold to independent contractor for resale to the public - product does not have a suggested retail price.

I feel very very stupid. My only consolotain comes from knowing that there are hundreds of people around the country that have suffered a similar fate.

Should the white van people come your way, (be on the lookout my fellow Chicagoans) get as far away as possible.
posted by aladfar at 3:27 PM on November 16, 2001

I have been duped in the past, and in worse ways, I'm sure, but I must ask:

Why would you buy anything out of the back of a van?
posted by Kafkaesque at 3:29 PM on November 16, 2001

I once bought speakers from a white van. But I was 13. Or was it 9?

P.S.: Sometimes the White Van isn't white. Or even a van.

P.S' Since only a fool would be buying speakers from a mass merchandiser, you get no sympathy.
posted by ParisParamus at 3:34 PM on November 16, 2001

My bullshit sensors start buzzing . . .
Moral of the story: always listen to the bullshit sensor.
posted by gazingus at 3:37 PM on November 16, 2001

Nelson Algren
"Never play cards with a man named Doc. Never eat at a place called Mom's. Never sleep with a woman whose troubles are worse than your own."

And, never buy anything out of the back of a vehicle.
posted by Carol Anne at 3:37 PM on November 16, 2001

This happened to me back in 1990 in Riverside, CA -- and indeed, it was a white van (probably not the same folks :). They double teamed-me while I was dropping off a friend in a Sears parkinglot... As a previous poster mentioned -- the bullshit meter immediately started to buzz.

Aside from the fact I had no money, they tried to pressure me into walking over to the ATM (like there was any thing there, either). I made a show of writing down their license number, and they got indignant and sped away, calling me lots of colorful names.
posted by magnificentsven at 3:46 PM on November 16, 2001

I love this story:

"I worked the streets for a year and saw more than what I might have liked to see these guys might have a infamous profession but almost EVERYBODY has done this sh*t!!
We would hire and fire 20 guys a week!! No bullsh$t!!
20 guys trying to find someone with the balls to do this.
Chances are someone you know sold speakers,I guarantee it
sure these arent the best speakers,sure the approach is shady but when we were selling 90 to 120 pairs a week and getting 1 or 2 returns, doesnt that say something? those guys work longer days than you,put in more effort than you, put up with more bullsh*t than your job,and certainly get paid more than you unless you have a degree or something."

Noble speaker-scam guy, we salute you! I also like the way he says "chances are someone you know sold speakers" like it's the hidden secret shame of our society. Meetings where people stand up and say "My name is Kafkaesque and I...I sold speakers out of a van!"

"Hi, Kafkaesque!"

posted by Kafkaesque at 3:47 PM on November 16, 2001

we were selling 90 to 120 pairs a week and getting 1 or 2 returns

Yeah, that means about 1% of people can track you down.
posted by kindall at 3:49 PM on November 16, 2001

Why would you buy anything out of the back of a van?

Because they're suckers who would rather play an angle than earn and spend their money honestly.
posted by websavvy at 3:53 PM on November 16, 2001

I've heard everything now.
posted by Katy Action at 3:54 PM on November 16, 2001

Ahh...I was approached by some people with the same story not too long ago. I'm glad that I didn't fall for it, although had I the cash on my right then, I may have.
posted by skwm at 4:04 PM on November 16, 2001

From reading some of the comments on AudioReview I'm suprised the number of people that let the swindlers get in their car to go to an ATM! Common sense people! Common sense!

I would like to know more about this. Obviously this is well organized from the distributor up. News reporters on MeFi -- I just gave you a killer story.
posted by geoff. at 4:18 PM on November 16, 2001

Shit i need some speakers for my new surround sound reciever. How do I get to White plains?
posted by computerface at 4:19 PM on November 16, 2001

Shit i need some speakers for my new surround sound reciever. How do I get to White plains?

It's White Plains. Or Yonkers.

If they were really good, they would be selling you the van.
posted by ParisParamus at 4:24 PM on November 16, 2001

Why would I buy something from the back of a van?

God only knows. I've shamed both myself, and my family for generations.

Thankfully, I was able to recoup some of my losses at a local audio retailer. They were familiar with the scam (which is better defined as a "hustle" as no real illegal activity took place) and admitted to losing a bit of money themselves. While I'm still out, some of the sting was removed. To be honest, I'm just grateful to be rid of the thing.

I'm embarassed as all hell, but I'd rather make people aware of a ripoff than allow it to happen again.
posted by aladfar at 4:36 PM on November 16, 2001

I thought this was a big joke..

I can't believe ANYONE would fall for that shit... like buying meat from the guy in the truck... it's always his "last one.." and he'll "let it go for cheap... just for you!".

Good thing I live in a country/state where I can carry a Glock30.
posted by BlitzK at 4:42 PM on November 16, 2001


I think aladfar already feels crappy enough. We've all done stupid things. I once gave a complete stranger 50$ just because he asked me to. I told a friend who was with me at the time that it was experiment in human nature to see if the guy would come back. More like an experiment in me being dumb as a bag of hammers.

C'est la vie

and good on you for the warning, aladfar.
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:47 PM on November 16, 2001 [1 favorite]

I'll try that again...

White Van Man is a British institution.
posted by dlewis at 4:48 PM on November 16, 2001

I once fell for a con by a medical group named Kaiser. They promised 3 months worth of prescription for only the double price of the other HMO's 1 month supply. What they didn't tell me about was their "formularies", a limited list of medication they are willing to prescribe whether it agrees with you or not. Also, if you didn't insist with your doctors to write 3 months worth of medicine, they'd "forget" and only write prescriptions for 1 months worth. That is, if you were able to get an appointment to see a doctor. I was getting sick just from dealing with them.
posted by semmi at 5:21 PM on November 16, 2001

Heh, I ran into this two weeks ago here in Central PA. These aggressive stooges driving a gray van with a fake audio business's name and a toll-free phone number on the door actually blocked me as I was trying to back my car out of the parking space. They tried to get me to roll down my windows to give me their "this fell off the truck" spiel, but I just waved them off, noted their license plate and got a friend (who is a merchant in the mall where this took place) call the cops. And of course, the cops didn't do a damn thing about it.
posted by MegoSteve at 5:57 PM on November 16, 2001

I traded a wah wah pedal for a pair of the speakers of the white van. They're stupidly called "Linear Phase", but they have 15" woofers and are great at volume. The white van guys here in Seattle also had nikes, but I only rock adidas. At least you didn't get suckered like my friend who bought a shrinkwrapped vcr box filled with newspaper and a brick.
posted by roboto at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2001

this was profiled on 20/20 a few years ago.

a few years prior to that, my friend was approached in a Safeway supermarket parking lot(we were in high school) and was dead set on buying them. my friend went to go get more money to pay for the speakers but when we returned the guys just seemed too shady. the capper was when the guy told us how much money he made selling these speakers 'legitimately' and showed us his fancy watch to prove it. gold plate crap was all we needed to see in order to eventually end up telling this guy to BIOYA(blow it out your ass).
posted by donkeysuck at 6:36 PM on November 16, 2001

This thing's been going on forever. Back around 1987 or so I bought a pair of speakers out of a white van behind a liquor store for a hundred bucks. The sales pitch was exactly as described above, except these were floor-standing speakers. They turned out to actually sound really good, and I used them for well over a decade. I can't complain...

On the other hand, once I played the shell game on Broadway in NYC. Lost $20 in under 10 seconds. I'm pretty sure I got scammed on that one.... :)
posted by spilon at 7:33 PM on November 16, 2001

Three Speaker Monte. Or is it One Van Monte?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:34 PM on November 16, 2001

it even happens in australia
posted by johnboy at 10:00 PM on November 16, 2001

I'm embarrassed to admit that in my younger years, I too, fell victim to 3 Card Monte on Broadway and 55th. What a nightmare that was! One of my first paydays, a group of at least five guys in cahoots, and I was left feeling like such an idiot. I have to admit those guys were good -- or at least it makes the memory more tolerable to think they were...

A few weeks later some guy tried to sell me a cool Sony handicam, for a steal at $100. I knew better and declined. About an hour later I saw the same exact handicam box on a bench, opened with newspapers and rocks inside. Some other poor idiot must have fallen for it.
posted by Fofer at 10:01 PM on November 16, 2001

Those were the good old days. I've lived in NYC for almost 4 years now and I've not seen one three card monte game.... sigh... and I rarely see any whores.

(And no bodies in the park.. it's sad really)
posted by QrysDonnell at 10:56 PM on November 16, 2001

my dad bought some speakers from the back of a van in houston and then sold them to me and i've been using them for years and they sound pretty kick ass - but i always wondered what the real brand is and where they we're made. but we are talking houston so they could very well have been stolen.
posted by ggggarret at 11:45 PM on November 16, 2001

thankfully, i've never been approached like this and peer pressured into dropping like $200 bucks for it... god knows with my inability to tell people "no" (i have a hard enough time telling telemarketers to go away), i'd probably be the easiest hustle ever...

the dumbest con that ever got pulled on me only cost me $20 dollars, as i had bought imposter cologne..
posted by lotsofno at 12:09 AM on November 17, 2001

i had white van people try to give me free speakers. they said they were on break from their job and they couldn't go back with the speakers so they wanted me to take them.

i had never head any white van stories, but my bullshit sensor went off and i told them to go away.

i wonder how they were going to try to scam me for paying for them?
posted by ignu at 12:28 AM on November 17, 2001

lotsofno: i have a hard enough time telling telemarketers to go away

Gee, for someone named 'lotsofno', I'd think you had, um, lots of 'no'. No?

Seriously, the right thing to do to telemarketers is to say, "Please put me on your no-call list," at least if you're in the US, in a state where it is required that all telemarketers keep lists of phone numbers that have requested no further calls. Over time, say months, this really does cut down on the telemarketing calls. Not all states require this; Ohio does not, sadly for you, but many do. Some states keep a state-wide no-call list that telemarketers are required to abide by. Pennsylvania, sadly for me, does not. Maybe I should write my state representatives?
posted by Slithy_Tove at 12:57 AM on November 17, 2001

The white van speaker scam also takes place in Denmark. My brother and his friend both bought a pair of huge speakers. They sound great. So this other friend wandered around town for a few days looking like someone that needed a pair of speakers and he actually found the white van and bought a pair. These didn't sound so good though.

The MO: Sell a few very good speakers in the beginning - get the word out that they are good (And the word sure was out in Copenhagen at that time) - after a week or so return and get rid of all the crappy speakers.
posted by FidelDonson at 12:59 AM on November 17, 2001

I can't *believe* you fell for the speaker scam, a trick so old and hilarious it has become almost a cliché here in England. And it's great to see it's so international. But someone tell me... what is it about speakers? Why do they sell speakers, of all things? And why is everyone in such a rush to *buy* discount speakers?
posted by skylar at 1:30 AM on November 17, 2001

Are any of you speaker buyers / approachees women? I'd imagine that any woman approached by two guys with an open van would run screaming for her life. Guys ought to develop the same sense of guys + panel van = nothing much that's good.
posted by Dreama at 2:00 AM on November 17, 2001

I, too, was approached by the white van folks in a bank parking lot while hitting the atm, about five years ago. I was tempted, but declined.
posted by rushmc at 3:01 AM on November 17, 2001

I escaped the White Van with my wallet intact, roughly 9 months ago. I even wrote about on my blog. Called it my Sopranos moment.

I made my saving throw, proved immune to Jedi Mind Trick, or whatever. Who wants to touch me?
posted by NortonDC at 3:03 AM on November 17, 2001

You guys rule! Maybe I can get some deals like that this weekend - I need some new speakers. I don't WANT them, I NEED them, right now. These people are legitimate businessmen. Why pay for the overhead of a showroom when you're already making van payments? Nothing wrong with that.
posted by crunchburger at 4:20 AM on November 17, 2001

caveat emptor
but It Fell Offa Truck is my favorite store
posted by roboto at 5:38 AM on November 17, 2001

I've never been accosted by a white van, but I'm regularly accosted by homeless people who hang out at the nearby gas station offering to allow me to give them money in return for nothing at all. Comparatively, the white van thing sounds like a deal.

I wonder if these white van people are hiring? I need a job. The homeless gig is actually starting to sound tempting, come to think of it. I should make a "Will Rant Endlessly For Food" sign and stand out in front of the gas station. People will give me money just so I'd go away. I can't lose!
posted by ZachsMind at 6:12 AM on November 17, 2001

what is it about speakers? The best ones are made by obscure companies; e.g., a Scotish company, Linn, makes my favorites. Also, you can't tell how good speakers are by the way they look.

Who knew it was so universal? Afghanistan?
posted by ParisParamus at 7:04 AM on November 17, 2001

Hmmm, I don't see it listed for Barcelona, but the three-card Monte is there. I confess it: I love to watch three-card Monte. Some of those guys are really good at it.
posted by realjanetkagan at 7:36 AM on November 17, 2001

I'm amazed that so many people have run into this same hustle outside of fiction. I've lived in two of Canada's biggest cities and never been approached by a white van selling anything more expensive than popsicles. We're ripe for the plucking, White Van Nation! I guess for 4 months of the year the van won't start, so that's a problem.
posted by Yogurt at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2001

I was approached by the same pair of gap-toothed mouthbreathing white-van guys in the Milwaukee area three times one summer. White Ford van, Illinois plates, "Linear Phase" speakers, air of desperation... I was just curious enough to listen to their pitch. They claimed to be working with the local high-end audio store -- only they had the name and location wrong. I said I'd follow them to and ATM, and on arriving told them that in the interim I had called the audio shop and the police. They fled hurling epithets.

Weeks later they blocked me in at a Taget parking lot. I walked back into the store and notified management, who had the police chase them off the grounds.

The final encounter went something like:

me: "No, you idiots, you've hit me with the same lame routine 3 times now!"

them: "Yeah, well, I make more money than you do, m***f***r (drool, spit) so go to h*** you %@&* bleep blankety blank..."
posted by Tubes at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2001

Wow, the strangest thing was that a friend and I decided to go on a tour of the Bronx, and we saw at least 3 three-card monte games on Fordham Rd (west of the University/Metro North station). It was crazy. It was also bootleg/illegal diseased baby turtle central too...
posted by QrysDonnell at 2:44 PM on November 17, 2001

bootleg/illegal diseased baby turtles?

You mean like Michelangelo and Raphael?
posted by Kafkaesque at 4:04 PM on November 17, 2001

Their these little 'baby' or 'mini' turtles that they sell on the street in Chinatown. Last I heard they were illegal to own because they usually had some disease (salmonilla, can't spell it right probably, or something like that).

Of course, maybe they're just illegal because Guilliani didn't like them (i.e. squeegee guys).
posted by QrysDonnell at 10:28 AM on November 18, 2001

Wow. I think I must be the only person in the civilized world to have never heard of the speaker scam.

I don't think I'd have been dumb enough to fall for it, though. My bullshit detector is so good I probably miss out on genuine good deals for fear of "the catch".
posted by salmacis at 3:31 AM on November 19, 2001

Aladfar, don't feel bad. Just the price of experience. A pretty cheap le$$on, by most standards. Anyone who says they've never been scammed is full of crap.

One of my own stupid lessons: as young suburban hippies, a friend and I often went down to Chicago's Old Town. One time, we had cash and a mission: to score. We ran into a guy at one of the head shops, he said meet him behind this other store in a few minutes and he'd sell us a pound of Jamaican pot for 90 bucks.

So, the deal was made. We got it home, tried smoking it, but couldn't get much of a buzz from it. I believe we sold a bag to more knowledgeable friend, who soon informed us that it was 100% pure catnip.

The funniest part is that the place where we met the guy for the big transaction was behind a pet shop.
posted by groundhog at 6:17 AM on November 19, 2001 [1 favorite]

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