Christmas morning is a time for family togetherness, enjoying the delighted faces of children, and surprising loved ones with thoughtful gifts. Unfortunately, wrapping gifts and putting them under the tree until the recipient opens the box means risking a retail hazard: boxes of expensive electronics that contain notepads, bricks, picture frames, or mirrors. This is disturbingly common, and happened to a family in Massachusetts this Christmas.
Imagine the scene: their 9-year-old son had only asked for a PS4 for Christmas, and his parents bought him one that included an Uncharted bundle at Target. After they took some pictures of the delighted boy, he opened the box and found… a wooden block cut precisely to fit the PS4 box, and what TV station WFXT (warning: auto-play video at that link) describes as a “profane message” written on the block with a black marker. Nice.
If you aren’t familiar with the box of crap scam, here’s how it works: a not-very-nice person buys an electronics item, like a PS4 or an iPad, then removes the actual gadget and replaces it with something that weighs about the same. This could be bathroom tiles, rocks, or a piece of wood, as happened here.
The scammer then returns the item to the store for a refund, counting on the clerk to not check inside the box. If no one checks the package before putting the item back on the shelf, it will be sold to another unsuspecting customer. When that person returns to the store, they’ll be accused of trying to scam the retailer, and often the stores don’t believe the customer, refusing to exchange the box of crap for a real item.
The parents discussed their problem with a manager, and Target gave them a different PS4 bundle, a copy of Uncharted, and a $100 gift card for their trouble. It doesn’t make up for not being able to be able to play with his gift on Christmas morning, but that does help.
The family in Massachusetts used a tactic that we didn’t think of back in 2008 when we put together a guide for consumers who find themselves in this situation: they returned the wooden block with a TV news crew standing by. It’s not clear whether the crew was already there to do a story about after-Christmas returns or whether the family had called the local TV station, but it probably didn’t hurt their case. Stores often suddenly believe victims once a local media outlet becomes involved in the situation.
One way to avoid this is to open the box before you leave the store and make sure that the right item is in there. Will the gift recipient be happy to receive an already-opened PlayStation? Maybe not, but it’s an awful lot better than opening a box full of wood. For a game console, you can also do some of the basic setup work of connecting it to your home WiFi network and downloading upgrades, saving the recipient valuable play time when they open it.
Family opens fake, wooden PS4 Christmas morning [WFXT] (Thanks, Tim!)
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