The Day I Got Scammed in a Walmart Parking Lot

I will never look at one of these the same...

I will never look at one of these the same…

Today, I’m want to share an embarrassing story. To do so, I must unlock the vault in the back of my mind to which I’ve filed this shameful experience. It was cool and cloudy September day in 2009 when I was still attending college as an ambitious Junior. One of my best friends and I had just finished classes for the day in the early afternoon and needed to go stock up on some house supplies.  At the time, we had just started a new semester and were living in a rather large, but old and unflattering house in the small town that bordered our campus. I had three other roommates, and we were very pumped for the new school year – we were turning 21 AND living off campus, how much better could it get!?

As I said, we had finished class early that day and headed to the local shopping center about 15 minutes away. Located at this plaza is a collection of your common stores: TJ Maxx, Walmart, a jeweler, an Asian restaurant, an Italian restaurant, a grocery store, Radio Shack, etc. – you get the picture. So I pulled into the Walmart parking lot because we had to buy some paper towels, cups, garbage bags, and all the other fine furnishings of a college house. We both got out of the car and start heading toward the entrance when my buddy said that he wanted to run into Holiday Hair to get his bi-weekly buzz cut. Of course, I said “fine” and continued my walk toward the front sliding door of Walmart. That’s when things got interesting…

As I approached the door, I heard a young man’s voice kindly say “Hey!” behind me as I strolled through the parking lot. I turned around and saw a couple of college-age guys driving in new white minivan.  The driver proceeded to ask me if I was interested in buying a surround sound system that they needed to get rid of. Immediately, I started thinking about how awesome this might be in our newly occupied living space. However, being feeling skeptical, I figured they were up to no good and said “No, I’m okay.”

Being the cunning businessmen that they were, they pulled the van into the open space about 15 in front of me, directly in my path to the entrance of the store. Again, they engaged me with some more lines like “just take a look” and “we’ll give you a great price because we need to get rid of it today.” Being the weak-willed person I was at the time, I said “alright, but I don’t have any money, I’m a broke college kid.”

I walked up to the plain white Kia Minivan and they slung open the side door. Inside sat 3 boxes with carbon copy paper invoices attached. I would be lying if I tried to quote them but their story went something like this. It was the last day of their summer job installing home theater systems. They were out to make their final installations when one of their clients, a local doctor, cancelled on them. Since their boss was upset with the excess inventory, he asked them to try to sell the leftover systems. In the moment, this sounded logical and believable to me. I then asked to them to open up a box, which they gladly did. Inside sat a brand new speaker system that looked pretty darn fancy. It had a receiver/bass unit and 5 remote speakers. At this point, I was slightly more interested and they knew it. However, deep down I knew that there was probably only a slim chance I’d actually buy this thing and bring it home.

The Hook

The next step, however, was what got me hooked! They pulled out a catalog filled with home theater systems, and somewhere in the middle of the book was the one that they had in the van – $895 retail price! This is when my heart really started racing. Of course, I asked the price they wanted and they said they needed at least $500. Not only was this too high but I still wasn’t keen on an expensive system in a college off campus house.

However, after some more chatter, I low-balled with a much lower offer. After some story sharing and kind words, they were well on their way to buttering me up. With a little more negotiation, I was convinced that $250 was a great deal for this system. SMH now.

Of course, I didn’t have $250 in my wallet – but just down at the other end of the parking lot sat a branch of the my bank. These guys were “so nice” that they followed me down to the bank so I could withdraw the cash to complete the transaction. And just like that, in a matter of 15 minutes, I was $250 poorer and one system richer.

After about 10 minutes of standing by my car with this behemoth of a box, my buddy walked out from his haircut. When he made it over to my car, I explained the story. In the process of telling him what happened, I started to get a funny feeling about the whole thing. I could quickly feel regret and uneasiness sweep over my body. But I couldn’t get over the “fact” that it was an $895 system. It said so in the catalog – I got a great deal! (or so I thought)

We ended up finishing our errands and heading back toward campus. In the car, he called up his girlfriend to look up the brand of the system on her computer (this was before we were fancy enough to have smartphones). From the tone of this voice, I knew that the news was not good. All I heard was “White Van Scam.” I knew I was doomed.

Turned out that this is a CLASSIC scam job done all over the country. Not only was the system a piece of junk but the packaging slip, the story, and the catalog were all phony.  I FELL FOR IT! Of course, my roommates couldn’t get enough of this, and I didn’t stop hearing about it until graduation when we all went our separate ways. But whenever we get back together, it’s always retold with tears of laughter.

So what’s the point of sharing this story besides publicly displaying my stupidity? Well, I guess if something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. This is a timeless lesson that people repeat time and time again and I just want to confirm that in most cases, it’s valid. However, the more important lesson that I learned was that it’s so critical to take a step back when making big decisions – especially when it’s with your money! It’s so easy to get caught up in the emotion of a new and shiny object. But we must remember that rational and logical thinking will always prevail over emotion when it comes to our money.

A Hard Lesson Learned

I hope this story provides an example (a very embarrassing one at that!) of the “vacuums” out there to suck up your money – legally or illegally. Always think through the situation thoroughly before parting with ANY of your cash, no matter how good or intelligent of a decision it might feel in the moment. Beware the scammers out there, they usually aren’t as obvious as you might think!

Have you ever been scammed or know someone who was? What was the error they made when parting with their money?


  1. says

    Ah sorry to hear about this. Sometimes it can be easy to fall for a scam like this if it’s the right situation, and obviously just moving into a house made you more likely to buy a sound system. I hope stuff like this happens less and less with smart phones now that people can look things up before parting with cash.

    • Justin says

      Thanks, I was certainly pretty close to fitting the profile of the “perfect victim” for this one. The funny thing was that about 2 years later, I was at a different shopping complex and ANOTHER white van drove by asking me a similar question. It was definitely a different crew, and they were much less persuasive. I believe I made a smart-ass comment back but was kicking my self afterwards because it would have been great to go along with it and secretly call the cops or something. And I agree that smart phones could be a great defense and deterrent!

    • Justin says

      Thanks, Fig. I look back on it now and consider it a good story – something to laugh about. My hope is that getting scammed early in life will save me from something worse down the road!

  2. says

    Oh man, I am well aware of this scam. Some guys tried to do this to me when I was in college. Unfortunately for them, I owned an electronics e-commerce company. I knew what good systems were. I took them to task and told them that if they wanted me to buy it, I would gladly take it off their hands for $5, because that is how much it is worth. Needless to say, they didn’t take it and I called the cops. I knew of the scam and the cops got them in the same parking lot. Idiots.

    • Justin says

      That magazine scam seems to go on everywhere. With more people reading their magazines on devices, maybe it will slowly go away…?

  3. says

    Trust me, you’re not the only person who’s ever been scammed, but I’m sorry to hear about your experience. Thank you for sharing it, though. It gives the rest of us an important warning about these kind of scams. I think I may blog about my own experience getting scammed recently. So thanks for the inspiration!

    • Justin says

      Thanks, Olga. I’m happy that someone else might benefit from my experience. In a strange sense, I’m not too upset this happened because it helped me to become more suspect of “too good to be true” deals. I hope that the earlier you get scammed in life, the greater the number of times you will be prepared for it in the future. I’m looking forward to reading about your own experiences. Thanks for stopping by!

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