Shoppers are being warned by Croydon’s trading standards team that they should not hand over cash at pop-up auctions in the belief they are buying high-end goods.
The alert has been issued after rogue traders set up shop in a short-lease unit in North End last month and promised bargain deals for high end electronics goods.
On show alongside signs saying that there would be no cash refunds were price lists of consumer electronics and electrical goods – including kettles, digital cameras, laptop computers, sat navs, headphones and games consoles – all at heavily discounted prices.
Lured by what appeared to be too-good-to-be-true bargains, a large number of unsuspecting shoppers gathered and once allowed inside the shop and the doors shut behind them, were shown a sealed bag that, they were told, could contain an iPhone or an iPad.
Having handed over as much as £100 – or, in some cases, more – they were given the bag at the end of the sale only to find it contained very cheap unbranded electronic items, perfume, watches and the like, but not the hoped-for leading brand-name smartphone or tablet.
The scammers disappeared with the money as soon as the sale ended, refusing all refunds.
Trading standards and police officers attended following complaints and reports of disturbances.
The scammers were identified and ejected from the premises, and the landlord contacted to prevent re-entry.
The same scammers had been found operating in Reading a week earlier.
Councillor Mark Watson, cabinet member for safety and justice, said that shoppers had a duty to themselves not to be taken in by the outlandish promises made by traders setting up what turned out to be a sort of mock auction.
He said: “We haven’t seen these for a few years, and today’s younger consumers may not be that aware of the way they operate, or the inevitable pitfalls.
“In this instance, many of the complaints were around the fact that they felt that, as it was held in a high-street shop premises and a price list was displayed, it was a genuine business and had to sell the listed items for the price shown – I’m afraid that isn’t the case.
“The no cash refunds signs really should have rung warning bells, if the too good to be true prices didn’t.
“Consumers need to protect themselves first and foremost in these hard economic times, and be aware that all that glitters is not gold.
“The expectation that the council or the police will be able to get their money back once they willingly throw it at these rogues to grab a bargain is not a reality.
“Once it goes, it’ll probably never be seen again.”