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The long and storied history of the white van speaker scam

You walk out of Home Depot with a new faucet for that bathroom project you’ve been putting off, and as you head to your car, two guys in a windowless van roll up. At this point, your instincts should tell you that nothing good could come of the situation, but then the friendly guy behind the wheel tells you he’s got the deal of the century for you. Suddenly, you can’t help but take a closer look at what might be a potential steal to be had.

We feel for you if you’ve fallen for the scam, but the fact is, you no longer have any excuse with today’s technology being what it is. You have a lengthy Wikipedia entry on the subject and dozens of caught-in-the-act videos on YouTube at your disposal, not to mention a general cavalcade of consumers on forums, blogs, and watchdog sites, all ready to warn you about what’s become known as the white van speaker scam. Yet, as you read this, someone, somewhere, is falling victim to the hoax.

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The white van speaker scam is a global phenomenon. According to Scam Shield, the scam is currently active in 24 cities, four countries, and three continents. It subsists because of the avarice of those who conceived of it, the cunning of those who sell it, and, most of all, the ignorance of those it ensnares. Fortunately, a little information can go a long way in helping you see the scam for what it truly is.

How it Works

The white van speaker scam is simple in its execution. Salesman are hired to peddle inferior, faux-name-brand speakers from a van or SUV, or just about any vehicle with a cargo area. The speaker equipment is cheap, shoddy, and generally un-sellable via traditional channels. To work around that fact, the scammer employs a fictitious backstory. They’ll tell you that they requested too many units and haven’t been able to unload them all, that they’re on their way back to the warehouse and there will be hell to pay if they show up with any inventory left. They’ll present you brochures, Web addresses, business cards, and box tops, all of which will seem to point to the fact that this is your lucky day and you’ll be getting an incredibly expensive speaker at a once-in-a-lifetime discount. The salesperson will likely be aggressive, charismatic, and accommodating. For instance, do have to run to the ATM to grab some extra cash? No problem, they’ll wait. Even if even you’re a bit skeptical, you might justify the purchase by saying to yourself, “it’s such a cheap price, how bad could these speakers be?”

Seriously, they are that bad

Think Michael Jackson circa 1987. Ever heard of Bang Audio, Paradyme, or Klausen Audio? Of course you haven’t — and it’s not because they’re exclusive, expensive brands. Many of these obscure outfits exist just for the sake of these kinds of scams, often obtaining licenses and distribution rights in effort to create a veneer of legitimacy. Even their names are designed to make you think you’ve heard of them before, as they names often evoke already established brands such as Bang & Olufsen.

However, you don’t have to be an audiophile to hear the difference. There’s no complex engineering, testing, or research behind these products as they’re merely hunks of plastic with the cheapest drivers the manufacturers can muster. Typically, they won’t even sport a crossover network, meaning speakers that really have no business producing bass or treble are tasked with producing the deepest lows and airy highs. Just imagine Mariah Carey as a baritone, or Bryn Terfel as a soprano, and you’ll start to understand.

Watch it in action

If you’re worried about being scammed, or you don’t know if you’ve been scammed, the Internet is the best resource you have available. Simply Google the company name, or a description of the situation, and tack on the word “scam” at the end before searching. If something is of dubious morality, legality, or value, the Internet will most certainly be abuzz with buyer beware sentiment.
YouTube is the best resource of all for this type of scam, one that allows you to see precisely how the shtick unfolds in real-world circumstances. Below is such an example.

So, is this illegal?

Unscrupulous? Immoral? Illegitimate? Yes. Illegal? Unfortunately, no. The companies involved will be sure to cover their hinds by paying their taxes and acquiring licenses and distribution rights, so it’s rare that you’ll be able to nail them on those fronts. Furthermore, the swindlers selling their speakers are almost always independent contractors. Since they’re not employed by the company, the company isn’t liable for any kind of false advertising the salespeople may engage in. You could choose to bring legal action against a particular salesperson, but once they pull out of the parking lot, it’s going to be very difficult to track them down. Even if you do find them, any case you bring is basically going to be your word against theirs, and if you do recover damages, the requisite time, energy, and court costs will probably exceed the value of what you recoup.

Who is behind this?

There were multiple reports from 2009 that ousted Michael Joseph Amoroso as the mastermind behind the morally bankrupt operation. An entry on Ripoff Report — made by a swindled scamee — claims to have ferreted out the master scammer with the help of a private detective. The same individual even posted the location of Amoroso’s house on another forum.

It’s unclear whether Amoroso continues to be involved with the scheme, but the venom behind the Ripoff Report entry and elsewhere on the Internet effectively demonstrates both the prevalence of the scam and the anger of those affected. However, beyond Amoroso, there is a veritable laundry list of companies that are complicit in this scam. Below is a list of implicated brands and companies, compiled from various sources around the Web.

Acoustic Response Series 707 Acoustic Response Series 707 Acoustic Image 3311 / 3312
Acoustic Lab Technology Acoustic Monitor Acoustic 3311 / 3312 Studio Monitor
Acoustic Response Advanced Sound Technologies AST X2 1055 Audiofile 583LR, Audiofile 835LR, Audiofile THX 6.1
Audio Tech Bach and Odin Bang Audio
Commercial Media Dahlton KV 1500. Dahlton KV 2500 TI Speakers, Dahlton AV 5.1 THX DanWave DW-6, DanWave DW-606, DanWave DW-607, DanWave DW-608, Dan Wave DW-1000
Deutsch Akustik Denmark Loud Speaker E830LR Digital Audio DHT 5.1, Digital Audio SL-3810, Digital Audio DA 2000SL / 2000CS, Digital Audio 2000, Digital Audio 2002. Digital Audio 2012 7.1, Digital Audio Professional Speaker Systems SL-3810, Digital Audio Skyline 900-SL, Digital Audio SL-3910 Speakers, Digital Audio 2003 DA 5.1 Pro-Series III
Digital Dogg Audio Digital Pro Audio, Digital Pro Audio SL-T 2.8 Digital Research 5.1 Pro Series, Digital Research DA 5.1 Pro Series III, Digital Research DR-1000, Digital Research DR-2810, Digital Research DR-1610, Digital Research DR-1611
Dogg Digital, Digital Dogg Audio Dynalab Eclipse 3D Projectors
Epiphany Audio speakers Epic Sound 7.1 Elite Audio, Elite Audio EA-505, Elite Audio EA-608, Elite Audio EA-1620, Elite Audio EA-7012
Fleetwood Audio Genesis Media Labs G-6.1 Digital Series Genesis Media Labs models G-505, G-506, G-507, G-508, G-608, G-609, G-610, G-1260, G-1420, G-1620, G-1630, G-2810, G-2815, R-2810, G-2840, G-2850, G-2870, G-2875, G-2880, G-2885, G-2950, G-2960, G-6030, G-6035, G-6040, G-7012, IM-67 IM-66 IM-4 IM-3 IM-2 G-611 G-610, G-608 G-505 G-7012 G-508 G-506 G-6030 G-6.1, G-2860 G-2810 G-2800 G-1620 G-Z3 G-9812
Grafdale Hauffman akustik Hauffman akustik
Icon MediaLab Innovative Sound Digital Pro Audio Jurgensen audio
Karlsen Speakers & Audio products Kirsch K3, Kirsch K10, Kirsch K602, Kirsch Prodigy K803, Kirsch K2080, kirschloudspeakers Klausen Audio
Lansen Acoustics Lansen Acoustics Linear Phase studio monitors
matrixaudioconcepts Marc Vincent Speakers & Amplifiers Matrix Audio Concepts
Matrix MX-1300 MX1300 MX1300S MX-1100 MX-1200 MX-404 MX-550 MX-6160 MX-404 MX-505T MX-550 MX-605S MX-605T MX-6160T MX1300 MX1300S Mclaren Technologies Millenium, MTS-2006p, MTS-2208, MTS-2328, MTS-2300, MTS-2605, MTS-3100, MTS-3200, MTS-4200, MTS DR-5200
MTS speakers Oskar E650 surround sound system / LED Projector Olin Ross OR860, OR-880, OR1020
Omni Audio PSD (2.8) PTS PT-5500S, DA 5.1 Pro Series III SHOCK 5.1, PT-5000S, DR-1000, DR-8000,DA2000SL, MI4000A/B   AD-1200SL, SL-900 DR-2810, SL-800 DR-1620 (Towers), AD-700SL DR-1610 (Towers), PT-5500, DR8600, PDA-2012, PTS (Precision Transducer Systems), PTS woofers
Palermo VA6.1, Palermo VA 6.1 Paradyme Paramount Audio Performance
Pro Audio Pro Dynamics Pro Platinium Series, Pro Dynamics PD-9600 Proline Acoustic
Protecsound PT-5000 digital surround sound system speakers Rothdale Samurai 518
Skyline AD-900SL Skyline Digital Denmark 800 or 900 “series” Sonab
Sonic Audio Distributors Studio Tech (Pro Poly Series) Theater Innovations (Ti 5100), TI-440MR TI~440MR, TI-440R TI~440R, TI-440M TI~440M, TI-5100 TI~5100, TI-5150T TI~5150T, TI~1250 TI-1250, TI~1255 TI-1255, TI~1300 TI-1300, TI~1650 TI-1650, TI~1655 TI-1655, TI-4000, TI~6000SD TI-6000SD, TI~6100 TI-6100, TI~1750 TI-6200
Theater-innovations Theater logic home cinema Theater Logic L5ti, Theater Logic L6, Theater Logic L8TI 5.1, Theater Logic T 2400, Theater Logic T 2450
TR Theater Research Theater Research TR-1410 Digital Sound Speakers Theater Research DS-6.1, TR-12, TR-501, TR-502, TR-504, TR-505, TR-602, TR-603, TR-604, TR-605, TR-606, TR-607, TR-900, TR-1100, TR-1101, TR-1120, TR-1400, TR-1610, TR-1611, TR-1620, TR-1621, TR-2380, TR-2810 TR 504 TR 505 TR 6030 TR 2930 TR 2940 TR 1420 TR 2830 TR 2840 TR 2850 TR 2860 TR 1100-1101 TR 1610-1611 TR 1620-1621 TR 2810 TR-2811 TR 12 TR-2630 TR-2631 TR-2900 DS 6.1 TR 501 TR 502 TR 503 TR 602 TR 603 TR 604 TR 605 TR 6020 TR 6120 TR 7010 TR 8000 TR-8200 TR 606 TR 607 TR 504 TR 505 TR 6030 TR-3015 TR-3215 TR-0412 TR-9500 TR-9700,TR-5210 Professional Home Theater, TR-5160, TR-6000, TR-6020, TR-6030, TR-6100 Digital Sound/5.1 Home Cinema, TR-6120, TR-7010, TR-8010, TR-8810, Theater Research Pro Series III Professional Home
Ultra Digital Labs Vanderbach Audio

The depth of this unconscionable scheme is astounding. Sellers issue receipts with incorrect or non-existent addresses, and furthermore, vans and other vehicles are registered so as not be traced to distributors or salespeople. Everyone involved with this operation knows what it is and it’s a scam through and through, but fortunately, the information is more ubiquitous with the prevalence of smartphones and tablets. In this digital age, let technology be the lens with which you look before you leap.

Update 8-25-2015 by Brendan Hesse: Expanded list of known fake brands and updated article for relevancy.

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