Montana Toyota Off-road owner Don Wolff and a University of Montana student were sitting at an Ole’s gas station on Friday, Sept. 3, wrapping up negotiations on a Toyota pickup truck when two con artists in a white van blew the deal to bits.
“They were definitely good cons,” says Wolff.
One, with a mullet, pushed a set of four speakers: The speakers were worth $1,000 each, he said; they were extras from an installation; he and his partner wanted to get rid of them for cheap; they were just a couple of delivery guys trying to make an extra buck.
The UM student, who wishes to remain anonymous, bit.
“I was planning on selling them on eBay and making a killing,” he says.
Instead, the woofer pushers made the killing. Twenty minutes later, the student was out $1,000, with a “shoddily made” set of speakers to show for it, and not enough money left on hand to close the deal on the Toyota pickup.
The story the student and Wolff tell is a by-the-book rendition of the international White Van Speaker Scam, featured on 60 Minutes and a website near you.
Neither man had heard of the scam before one fell victim. Wolff, though, suspected something was awry.
“I knew the guy was full of it,” he says. At the time, he believed the speakers were stolen. He should have known they were fake, he says. In hindsight, the flashy boxes should have tipped him off.
“They had a big retail price printed on ’em like a box of Fruit Loops would.”
Jeff Comstock in the Better Business Bureau’s Spokane office recognized the scam.
“The closest we’ve seen it is in Portland,” says Comstock. But similar frauds are ubiquitous.
“We see this sort of thing, sidewalk scams, constantly,” he says.
He doesn’t have any earthshaking advice.
“Obviously,” he says, “if it sounds too good to be true, it is.”
The UM student feels embarrassed that he was had. He had suspected the whole time.
“How I fell for it,” he says, “I’m still trying to figure out.”