Big Screen Tv In The Back Of The Truck Scam
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Basic Information

People shopping for pirated software, illegal pornographic images, bootleg music, drugs, firearms or other forbidden or controlled goods may be legally hindered from reporting swindles to the police. A classic example is the "big screen TV in back of the truck" scam, a form of goldbricking.

In this confidence game, the TV is touted as "hot" (stolen), so it will be sold for a very low price. The TV is in fact defective or broken, and may even have bricks inside its otherwise gutted case to give it weight. When it is plugged in, of course, it does not work. The buyer has no legal recourse without admitting to the police that he or she attempted purchase of stolen goods.

Designer goods can also be sold like this - the hawker has one pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes and several boxes of very similar off label Manhole Blank counterfeits - he then sells the latter, misrepresenting them as the former at a price far below what the real thing would sell for but more than the counterfeits are worth1. Since many jurisdictions will also punish the buying of counterfeit goods the client has little (legal) recourse - and the seller the potential defence in law that he sold an off-label copy rather than a counterfeit with no intention to deceive.

This is amongst the many delightful hazards of shopping on the black (or even grey) market.

Sources

Most of the above text came from wikipedia:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_confidence_tricks

Game and Story Use

  • While TVs and Vans are fairly modern, this idea can be applied to other settings easily enough.
    • Jewelry, or bolts of expensive-looking cloth might "fall off the wagon" in medieval times.
      • In fact, this can be even easier in medieval times - anything sold outside the relevant guild monopoly is effectively contraband, so the buyer has no recourse whatsoever (short of "getting medieval" with the vendor) if it turns out to be defective.
    • Even designer fraud is possible in the pre-modern era - a significant number of the mysterious Ulfbert swords seem to be contemporary fakes made of sub-standard materials.
      • This one may have real-world precedent: people may well have tried to pass off inferior steel as Damaskus. Which has the advantage that someone whose sword broke in the middle of a fight is less likely to be in a state to come after you than someone who discovered their shoes were a cheap knock-off.
    • Magic items that prove cursed or illusory might be hawked in alleyways, with the understanding that they were "stolen from the Prince's treasury".
    • Illegal or restricted death-rays might be sold out of the back of an orbital shuttle. Upon use in a combat situation, the PCs discover the "death ray" is more of "annoying pain ray" or possibly just a very fancy (and oversized) laser pointer.
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