Your Money: Sidewalk salesmen and parking lot peddlers

  • Follow Your Business

It is the weekend and you are dashing to complete a list of errands. As you pull into the parking lot of a neighborhood mall or store, you see some enticing signs for “high quality” equipment, furniture, jewelry or artwork that is displayed on the blacktop. The advertised prices are extremely low and worth checking out, you decide.

Think again, because you are about to get taken.

It is known as the “white van” or the “parking lot peddler” scam. People driving white vans or sport utility vehicles pull into a parking lot to display their wares. The packaging looks legitimate, the merchants will swear that the products are not stolen, and assure you that they can be returned if you are not completely satisfied. What they do not tell you is that they will be long gone by the time you discover the products are defective, not high quality, or counterfeit brands.

The salesperson’s “satisfaction guaranteed” or “return for full refund” claims are worthless.

It is best to exercise similar caution when evaluating goods displayed on card tables set up on busy sidewalks. The merchants will assure you that the purses are designer brands, the jewelry 24-carat gold and the watches top quality. While the prices may be attractive and the merchandise tempting, think about your recourse should you not be satisfied with your purchase.

Are you going to be able to track down that particular sidewalk vendor again?

If he is not there, do you know the name of their business and its physical location?

Were you provided with a business card with contact information or a sales receipt with a printed return and exchange policy?

Chances are, the answer to each of these questions is no.

At the very least, contact your Better Business Bureau and ask about the merchant and the manufacturer of the product before making a purchasing decision. The BBB may have a business review on the company with helpful information. You can also contact the city or county licensing department to see if the vendor is properly licensed.

BBBs also hear the heartbreaking stories of complainants after the fact. The stereo speakers do not work or cannot be configured properly. The furniture smells of chemicals and appears to be used rather than new. The jewelry has left a green mark on theskin. The purse is counterfeit and the stitching is coming loose at the seams.

Unfortunately, sidewalk vendors and parking lot peddlers travel quickly through town. They do not stay in any one place for very long before moving on. If you fall victim to a white van scam, contact your local police and Better Business Bureau. At the very least, your call can help warn others who may be tempted by the “great” deals.

REACH KELVIN COLLINS, THE PRESIDENT/CEO OF THE BETTER BUSINESS BUREAU OF CENTRAL GEORGIA AND THE CSRA INC., AT (800) 763-4222 OR WWW.BBB.ORG.

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