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The long and storied history of the white van speaker scam

Discount speakers scamYou 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 to you. At this point, your instincts should tell you that nothing good could come from the situation. But then the extremely friendly guy behind the wheel tells you its your lucky day and that he’s about to hook you up with a sweet deal. Suddenly, you can’t help but look. 

If you’ve been suckered by this scam, we feel for you. But the fact is: With today’s technology being what it is, you no longer have any excuse for being had.  You have a lengthy Wikipedia entry on the subject, dozens of caught-in-the-act videos on Youtube and a general cavalcade of consumers on forums, blogs, and watchdog sites, all ready to warn you about the infamous white van speaker scam.

Yet, right now, as you read this, someone, somewhere, is falling victim to it.

The white van speaker scam is a global phenomenon. According to Scam Shield it is currently active in 24 cities, 4 countries, and 3 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 who are ensnared by it.

Don’t mistake our meaning; we’re not blaming the consumer. It’s easy to be ignorant of such scams. But the most important weapon you have in this case is information. So pay close attention, lest you be roped in by the smarminess that is the white van speaker scam.

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 back-story. 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 if they show up with any inventory left, there will be hell to pay. They’ll show 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 be aggressive, charismatic, and accommodating. Have to run to the ATM to grab some extra cash? No problem, they’ll wait. Many people go for this act hook, line, and sinker, but if even you’re a bit skeptical, you’ll often 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. Piece of junk doesn’t begin to describe what you’ll be bringing home with you. Ever heard of Bang Audio, Mclaren Technologies, or Sonic Audio distributors? Of course  you haven’t – and it’s not because they’re exclusive, expensive brands. Many of these obscure outfits persist almost entirely on these kinds of scams, and will get licenses, obtain distribution rights, and even rent warehouses 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 often evoke those of established brands through titles that are only slightly different (Bang Audio = Bang & Olufsen)

You don’t have to be an audiophile to hear the difference when you fire these phonies up. There’s no complex engineering, testing or research behind these products, they’re merely hunks of plastic with the cheapest drivers the manufacturers can muster. Typically, they won’t even have a crossover network, meaning speakers that have no business producing bass are tasked with the deepest lows, and speakers that have no business producing treble are tasked with airy highs. 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. Head to Google and type in a company name or a description of a situation, then throw the word scam at the end of it and click search. If something is of dubious morality, legality, or value, the internet will be abuzz with buyer beware sentiment.
For this particular scam, the best resource of all is Youtube. There, you can actually see the scam in action, as those trying to get the word out – usually covertly – film the speaker salesmen and women as they go through their schtick. In one particularly entertaining clip entitled “White van speaker scam in action in Clearwater,” a vigilante confronts a speaker salesman in the midst of a pitch to another customer. The man calls the salesman out, and asks him bluntly “So you’re saying that’s a name-brand speaker?” “Yea.” Says the salesman, “it’s a Waldorf.” “Who’s Waldorf?” says the bemused cameraman. Who indeed.

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 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 the mastermind behind this morally bankrupt operation was Michael Joseph Amoroso. 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 and on another forum, this individual even posted the location of Amoroso’s house.

It’s unclear whether Amoroso continues to be involved with the scheme, but the venom behind the Ripoff Report entry and on blogs and forums elsewhere on the internet effectively demonstrates both the prevalence of the scam, and the anger of those affected.

Beyond Amoroso there is a veritable laundry list of companies that are complicit in this scam. Here’s a list of implicated brands and companies, compiled from various sources around the web:

  • Audiofile
  • Acoustic Monitor
  • Acoustic Response
  • Bach and Odin
  • Bang Audio
  • Denmark
  • Dogg Digital
  • Dahlton
  • Dynalab
  •  Grafdale
  •  Epiphany Audio
  • Mclaren Technologies
  • Omni Audio
  • Protecsound
  • Pro Dynamics
  • Paradyme
  • Paramount Audio Performance
  • PSD
  • Sonic Audio Distributors
  • Theater Research
  • Vanderbach Audio

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

Have you run across a white van speaker scam phony product name? Please leave it in the comments section below and we’ll update our list.