I-Team: Hidden cameras show stereo salesmen stretching the truth

Experts question quality, price of stereos sold

TAMPA - They stop you in the parking lot at the mall or a gas station, claiming they are offering the deal of a lifetime. But some say they are ripping people off.

The I-Team discovered a group of salesmen offering stereos worth nearly $4,000 for 90% off.  We went undercover to find out if the deal was really worth it.

Gulf Stream Audio operates out of a warehouse on Falkenburg Rd. in Brandon.  Over the course of several weeks, we saw workers there follow the same routine.  Around 10am, they would load up into several vans and solicit strangers in the parking lots of malls, gas stations, and restaurants across Tampa Bay.

Customers told us they all got the same pitch.  The salesmen claim someone screwed up at the warehouse and gave them two extra home stereo systems.  They hoped to make a quick buck selling them, but they had to do it fast.

Investigator Michael George went undercover using hidden cameras, parking at a nearby gas station, and it wasn't long before they solicited him, too.

The salesmen confirmed everything customers had told us.  He claimed they had 15 minutes to sell two top-of-the-line stereos.  When asked, they said the stereo systems were American-made, and a well-known brand called B&O. The sticker price on the box was $3,700, but he said he was willing to sell them to George for $500.

The salesman wouldn't take no for an answer, until George rolled his car window up on him.

But we did witness some people who did buy into the sales pitch. Kevin Johnson bought a stereo for $400 cash. When we spoke with him afterwards, he told us the salesmen convinced him with the brand name, B&O. Johnson admitted he didn't know much about stereos, but he had heard of the name B&O.

"So you heard B&O, and you thought…" asked Michael George.

"Yeah, name brand," Johnson said.

There's just one problem. Three audio experts told us B&O stands for Bang & Olufsen, a well-known brand. The stereos sold by the salespeople are called "Bach & Odin". The salesmen claimed it was American made, but a sticker on the box says, "Made In China."

We showed the stereo Kevin purchased to an audio expert, George Liu.

"When you called me, I said, "Oh my God, they've gotten to Florida," Liu said.

Liu says he's heard this sales pitch before, and he doesn't believe the product is worth $3,700.

"This may be a hundred dollars worth of parts in here, and they probably spent more money on the packaging than on the actual product," Liu said.

I took the stereo to Liu's business, Audio Vision South in Tampa, where we opened it up and tested it. The system played music fine, but Liu said the quality of the audio shows its a cheap, knock-off product.

"It is muddy, it is not distinct, it lacks clarity," Liu said.

We contacted three audio stores and they all told us the brand isn't recognized, and wouldn't be worth more than $100 to $200. Kevin Johnson paid twice that much.

"What I thought was a good deal, now I feel like I'm getting ripped off," Johnson said.

We decided to go to Gulf Stream Audio to get Kevin some answers. Manager Rakesh Patel agreed to speak with us.

"We're heard them tell a bunch of people, 'Hey, I've got two extra to sell.'

"They told me that," said investigator Michael George.

"I don't know what they're saying when they're out there. They're not employees of ours, so I don't know what they're actually telling people," Patel said.

Patel claims the salespeople are independent contractors, but he admitted he gives them a bonus if they buy enough stereos from him.

"So they're getting money from you, but they're not your employees?" asked George.

"No, they get a rebate for buying X amount of volume. It depends on the volume," Patel said.

I asked him if it was really worth the $3,700 printed on the box.

"You would have to talk to the manufacturer about that.  We don't manufacture the product," Patel said.

We tried. Bach & Odin doesn't have a phone number or address anywhere on their website. They didn't respond to our e-mails. Patel maintains he's just a wholesaler and isn't responsible for the product or what the salespeople are doing.

"So all the things they're doing, you have no idea what they're doing?" George asked.

"I don't have any control, no. I don't know about that," Patel said.

If you're wondering how Gulf Stream Audio stays in business, it's because, according to police, they're not doing anything illegal. It's a case of buyer beware.

Patel told George he does instruct salespeople to give all customers a receipt.  However, Kevin Johnson told he no one gave him a receipt or any documentation.

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