Mean People SuckThat was the title of an email I just got from a reader. (I know, I kind of cheated using that as my title to grab your attention – sorry. But it’s still kinda accurate!)

Apparently there’s this home theater scam going around, and she emailed Brad and I in hopes we’d pass it along to warn others. And because I know I’ve fallen for some dumb stuff myself over time – and probably will plenty of more times in the future – I figured it never hurts to remind everyone to be CAREFUL out there with your money!  Here’s what she wrote:

“I completely fell for a scam last week. I don’t fall for much because I have a Ph.D in bullshit (or that’s what my dad tells me). I was approached in a parking lot and this guys asked me if I wanted a surround system and they had an extra one. They told me it was worth about $4000 and they had a magazine and shirts… very slick. So, like a dummy, I let go of my money… $280.

Anyways, I called a friend of mine and he told me I got scammed… and asked if I opened the box in front of the guys before I bought, I said no. I got to the house and opened it everything was in there – cords, instruction book, etc, etc… Something told me to go online and google the product name Paramax and a whole bunch of stuff came out about “white van scam”. Lots of folks have been hit up… MA, CA, OR, GA, etc. Sometimes the equipment works and sometimes it doesn’t. I read another warning it may short out and cause a fire. So this crap is going in the garbage like ASAP! Let your readers know about this scam!!! Like to approach people at Wal-Mart (where I got hit up), Target, grocery stores, etc…”

Avoiding this may seem like common sense from where we’re sitting right now, but most of us HAVE or WILL get scammed at some point. And it sucks. BIG TIME. But you know what? We’re human. We fail at things but we also learn and evolve into smarter consumers. It’s all a part of the journey, if you will. So I commend the reader for divulging all of this and turning it into a warning. I’m not sure I’d have the balls to do it myself! haha…

There’s a lot we can take from this too:

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

Cliche, yes, but still damn accurate. I can recount at *least* 5 times in my life so far when I’ve come close to falling for these things. The largest when I was in NYC and approached to “try out” to be a model. It was all so glamorous man! They were flattering me, snapping pictures all over the place, and even said they could book me ASAP! As in, As Soon As I Paid! haha… yeah, to “make it” there I needed to drop $2 Grand on their photography before they could be my agent. And I only had 24 hours to make it happen ;)

Most deals don’t require you to make a decision ASAP.

When you’re rushed into a decision, back away. Scammers like to box you in and create this sense of urgency in hopes of knocking down your guard – don’t let them! If you’re feeling the pressure, take a quick time out and go call somebody. Anybody. An outside view of the situation is almost always clearer than what you think you’ve going on. It may be annoying to hear if you really WANT whatever that person’s selling you, but 9 times out of 10 it’s not worth the risk. Give yourself time to research, and understand it’s not appropriate to be pressured into buying things.

Greed will get you into trouble.

Whenever we try to get a lot MORE for a lot less, we’re in some form or another succumbing to greed. Maybe not in the sense of using coupons and getting great bargains (that’s just being smart!) , but more in the “get rich quick” kinda fashion. Except in these cases the scammers are getting rich quick instead of us! When at all possible, do your best to strip these emotions out of the transactions and see if they still truly make sense. If your conscious gives you the thumbs up – great! Go for it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more, you just gotta make sure the balances of give and take aren’t out of whack. And sometimes those “too good to be trues” dangling in front of you means someone’s about to get a raw deal – don’t let it be you!

So please, be careful my friends! Really think about what you’re getting into – especially if you’re about to spend larger than normal amounts of money all of a sudden. You don’t need to make decisions right there on the spot. Call up a friend or sleep on it. And if it’s not there in the morning, oh well! At least you still got that money in the bank ;)

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  1. Leslie March 23, 2010 at 8:29 AM

    I heard this same exact story a couple months back. That a relatively smart guy bought a stereo out of the back of a van then got home and learned it was a scam.

    I just don’t think that buying anything in a parking lot is a good idea.

  2. Brad March 23, 2010 at 8:50 AM

    My dad has always said: “If it’s too good to be true, then it probably isn’t true.”

    $280 on $4000 is a 93% discount. Even stores going out of business will not put items on a 93% discount…

  3. Lulu March 23, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    Seriously J? How old was this person. Everyone knows you don’t buy things out of the back of someone’s car/truck in a parking lot.

    And then to NOT open the box right there? Really? I am sorry I cannot feel sorry for this person..I open the box at Walmart right there…yes the cashier throws a fit but I need to make sure all parts are there in case I need to return it.

    Shakes head.

  4. Investing Newbie March 23, 2010 at 11:03 AM

    This is an extremely SMH type situation. How could you not buy electronics in a store? And if it is a home stereo system don’t you want a warranty to come with that at least? I don’t know I feel about her Ph D in B.S…it might be a little outdated.

    That said, my PhD in BS might be a bit more refined given that I live in NY and everyday someone’s cousin is trying to hustle me. I’ve just learned to ignore most “salespeople” out there…

  5. Heather March 23, 2010 at 11:15 AM

    That is just scary! I’m a 24 year old woman and if I was approached in a parking lot, I’d head right into the busy store or lock myself in my car and drive away. I don’t listen to ANYONE who approaches me in public. It’s too dangerous out there these days.

    One night, I was at Wal-Mart, had just finished shopping and was putting stuff in my car when a guy who couldn’t have been older than me came up behind me and scared the sh*t out of me. I think he just wanted money, but I hopped in my car and locked the door and told him NO. He took off after that, but that was a pretty scary incident. I called my parents and husband right away to let them know.

    These days, I don’t try to “load” my car, I just hop in the drivers seat and throw my purchases on the passenger seat. If you spend time loading your trunk or back seats, that’s when people will approach you. I don’t know, maybe I’m too cautious, but all scamming aside, that is how women are abducted these days. If a guy in a white van approached me, I’d scream like hell. This b*tch ain’t being abducted OR scammed!

  6. Lateef March 23, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    i’ve known about this scam from the 90’s. i used to work for a car rental company, these guys would faithfully rent a cargo van and load up stereo equipment. they’ll ride around the metro detroit area and sell the equipment. they told us it was overstock from the store, but come on son…….sell the stuff out of a rental van with no signage about your business? what repitable business does this? the scam is still good today as it was over 10 years ago. i was recently approached at a coin car wash and some folks were doing the same scam. buyer beware folks…hold onto your cash!

  7. Falling Into Favor March 23, 2010 at 1:52 PM

    I don’t like being approached by people trying to get me to buy things… Especially at gas stations!? Like, if I want the plasma tv I’ll go check one out at Best Buy (probably not because they are kinda pricey here!). Besides, it can’t fit in my tiny car. I avoid those people because I know a million people use Craigslist. If you truly have an item to sale, put it on there. I sold an entire apartment worth of furniture before I moved in my home in 3 days on Craigslist, lol.

  8. AceKen March 23, 2010 at 4:32 PM

    Regarding the last post, there are also numerous scams on Craigslist as well so be careful out there. Use your common sense and always say NO to Wire transfers. Please. You do not want to get involved in those Nigerian Scams. I’ve read some horrible stories.

  9. J. Money March 23, 2010 at 4:58 PM

    @Leslie – Not a bad mantra to live by ;)
    @Brad – Haha….love how you broke it down like that. 93% discount seems so much MORE sketchy!
    @Lulu – We all make mistakes sometimes :) Don’t have to feel bad for her though, at least it makes for a good blog post, eh?
    @Investing Newbie – Oh man, when I was living in NY I’d harassed allll the time! The worst was that all these people thought I was some drug dealer – I $hit you not. There must have been a dealer who looked like me cuz I’d get hit up every other day walking to or from work, it was nuts. Once right in front of my mom!!! haha…I felt like I was trying to cover something up that I don’t even do :)
    @Heather – Interesting, I like that idea of loading up your car….had never thought about it before in a safety way like that.
    @Lateef – Damn, they are surviving then! That’s nuts….I guess even if one or two get caught, there’s always more starting out every week.
    @Falling Into Favor – I LOVE those sell-offs on CL! Hit them up whenever I can :) you get so much stuff so cheap.
    @AceKen – The worst is when the older folks fall for this :( The concept of spam or scam-mail flies over some of their heads, it’s horrible. Hell has got to be overcrowded these days!

  10. Roger, the Amateur Financier March 23, 2010 at 5:05 PM

    Goodness, sounds like one heck of a scam. Although, as others have mentioned, there’s plenty about it that should have set off her ‘fraud alert’ early warning system. Here’s hoping that at least some good comes from this and other people don’t repeat her mistake.

  11. Mrs. Money March 23, 2010 at 6:06 PM

    Ugh- I hate to hear that!! :(

  12. Smarter Spend March 23, 2010 at 6:17 PM

    One of my friends got scammed the same way – he purchased 4 laptops for 300 a piece.

    All the boxes turned out to be full of bricks and nothing else.

  13. Christine March 23, 2010 at 6:35 PM

    Wow that really sucks! It can be easy to fall for something like that I bet if you were in that situation. Never know.

  14. BibleDebt March 23, 2010 at 7:43 PM

    Way to get our attention!

  15. MyFinancialObjectives March 23, 2010 at 9:14 PM

    Ouch that sucks! at least it was only $280! This happened to a few guys I work with a few weeks ago at a gas station. So skectchy though..randomly approached in a parking lot?

    About the Model, thing, I kinda had a similar experience many, MANY years ago…. Pictures, a call back, more pictures, a sample commercial, cameras, etc. Then all of a sudden, we want to sign you and it will cost YOU $2,000 please. HAH! Sorry thanks but no thanks!

  16. Ciawy March 24, 2010 at 12:48 AM

    Thanks so much for the warning. I’ve had “kinda” similar experience but I didn’t buy since I didn’t have money at that time. I was getting my gas and I was approached by this guy who said he’s got designer jeans, purses and jackets in his car. He wants to sell the items to me but would only take cash. I was tempted to check it out, but then, I didn’t have money at that time so I said- never mind!

  17. Emp March 24, 2010 at 1:12 PM

    This was only partly scam.
    There is a manufacturer of audio equipment called Paramax (i think it got bought out).
    The only scam part about this is that you can buy the same equipment from Amazon or ebay for $100 instead of $280.
    So relax… you just made a bad purchase :))

  18. Kevin March 25, 2010 at 3:42 PM

    Many years ago, it has to be almost 10 now, I was approached by someone with this scam. I was in a talkative mood and I did talk to them but I also had my guard up. So I also asked a bunch of questions. They “seemed” to have answers for everything. But it seemed really odd. I asked to see the speakers under the pretense of, “how do I know there are really speakers in those boxes?”

    They opened the box and let me see that top of the speaker but that was enough. I could tell just from looking at it that it was garbage. I had worked in a theater as a technician for several years and had seen hundreds of speakers and brands of quality and not-so quality speakers… and you could tell these were worse than any of those. I took a good look at it and turned to the guy, “I wouldn’t pay $30 for those speakers.”

    He started stammering and then said that I obviously didn’t know what I was talking about and he wouldn’t sell them to someone who didn’t know anything about audio equipment. LOL

    Then he went off looking for another mark.

  19. J. Money March 26, 2010 at 12:23 AM

    @Roger, the Amateur Financier – For sure :)
    @Mrs. Money – Imagine how many other times it happens every day that we don’t even hear about?
    @Smarter Spend – Ewwww that blows. Really bad :(
    @Christine – It’s true, you never know.
    @BibleDebt – I kinda feel bad about that still…one of these days I’ll get scammed and no one will believe me :) (knocks on wood)
    @MyFinancialObjectives – haha…it does feel good though at first, huh? :)
    @Ciawy – A time when not having money is a GOOD thing!
    @Emp – Unless it burns down her house ;)
    @Kevin – Haha…that’s impressive that you could tell they were shoddy just from lookin’ at them, I don’t think I’d have a clue.

  20. NightLongWinnie March 28, 2010 at 11:38 PM

    I would say never fall for these scams or even agree to them no matter how good they sound. Though people who were scammed did get a decent home theater system and all, it’s best to avoid this fully. Usually people who come out of nowhere and offer you a so-called cheaper price will know that something like this is high in demand and will offer you a good price, but to what consequence?

    There are so many teenagers that go around offering to sell cheap iPhones and popular smartphones in NYC. You would think they either are very good at finding bargain prices, or better yet, stole it from someone.

    It’s almost like me buying a perfectly good iPhone for $50, except it freezes every 10 hours or has a 20 minute battery life.. which I will have to spend to replace anyway.

    I would avoid it even if there’s a good chance you get a 100% working product, but why would you take that chance and lose money? Unless it’s really something you can fully test right on the spot and then pay, it’s never a good idea.

    1) You are not always sure whether it is used or not. Therefore, it can be faulty. And you cannot return it to the person, obviously, so you will be wasting money.

    2) If you do not have the website, nor know if it’s a good brand, you should stay away. Sometimes, these people can get so tricky that they would make a fake website just for you to look at and make you think it’s legit.

    3) Worse things can happen. In worse case scenarios, it could be stolen and someone would catch you helping these people who could’ve stole these. It could set your house on fire or cause injuries.