What’s Going On: Speakers, a parking lot, and a rube

Publisher’s Note: This week, my column is being “hijacked” by a longtime friend, Aaron Popp.

Mr. Popp was born and raised on the mean streets of St. Louis (actually, a much more-friendly suburb) and still lives there today. He’s smart, creative and generally speaking a really good guy. Considering all of that, one would expect he would be “street savvy,” but as this story printed below would indicate, he’s not. While the story is funny (and well written) I’m publishing it also because it contains a cautionary tale all of us could benefit from hearing.

Enjoy, and thanks AP for letting me publish this.

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At about 7 p.m. I’m walking out of the grocery store and two guys in a roofing company pickup truck drive up from the Home Depot lot. It’s a new Ford pickup, clean, with company name/number detailed on the truck. Passenger seat guy says “Hey, Clutch!” (because I’m wearing a Clutch t-shirt) and I say “hey!” thinking he also likes the band. The guy then says: “You want to buy a home theater system?”

I’m immediately confused

I say: “uhhh … what?”

Roofing guy hops out of the truck and into the truck bed. Sitting there are four brand new, unopened 5.1 surround sound home theater systems. I’ve never heard of the brand (SoundByte Audio), but then again, I don’t know anything about home theater systems.

He says: “Don’t worry, they’re not stolen…we were doing some work for the golf tournament last week and they messed up the order – so now we have these four systems and we’re trying to get rid of them.”

Me: “How much?”

Guy: “I was thinking maybe 4?” (as in $400.) He points to a spot on the box stating “MSRP $2399.00”

Me: “Ehhhh, I could maybe do a hundred bucks…”

Okay, let me stop here and explain that at this point, I COMPLETELY REALIZE this could be a scam. I don’t recognize the company that makes this speaker system, but the boxes are legitimately brand-new. I’m actually thinking these things probably are stolen, but I could possibly turn around and sell this system for $200, and make a little cash (don’t judge me).

Guy says: “Could you maybe do two at $100 each, one for me and one for my buddy?”

I say: “Nah, I could really only use one.”

Guy says: “Alright man, whatever you can offer over a hundred is cool.”

I say: “$150?” and the guy takes one of the systems out and asks me where I’m parked. I show him, and he carries it over to my car. On the way, we make some small talk, exchange names (his name is Robby), and he says he’s seen Clutch a few times…he seems like an okay dude and I’m thinking this is less and less of a scam (you know, because I’m GULLIBLE). After it’s in my car, we both go into the store so I can use the ATM. I get out $140 and add a $10 from my wallet. We go back out into the parking lot, I hand him $150 cash, he counts it and shakes my hand.

“Thanks, Aaron – I appreciate it.”

“No problem, Robby. Good luck selling your other ones.”

So I drive home thinking “well, worst case scenario is this box is full of bricks (it’s heavy) and I just lost $150. But the better case scenario is I can turn around and sell this thing for maybe $200 and make a quick $50.”

I get home, go straight to Google and look up SoundByte Audio SA-66.

The first thing that comes up: “SoundByte Audio SA-66 SCAM”

Long story short, I fell victim to a scam (sometimes called the White Van Scam). According to the internet, guys like Robby will sell “high quality” audio & video equipment out of their van (or in this case roofing truck) in Home Depot parking lots, and marks like me pay money for a product from a company that doesn’t exist. Yes, that’s right, there is no such company as SoundByte Audio.

The bad news is I’m now out $150 because I’m a gullible, over-trusting rube.

The good news is that, according to the Internet, this sound system “technically” works; just not very well. I could hook it up right now and have really poor 5.1 Dolby Surround HD sound (these scams have very poor-quality speakers and generally aren’t worth the plastic they’re made out of).

So, lesson learned: I will never, ever again buy a home theater system from the back of a guy’s pickup truck in a Home Depot parking lot. That being said … anybody want to buy a home theater system?

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