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   Inside Out - East: Monday October 25, 2004

CAR PARK PEDDLERS

Nick Lawrence with watch
Nick Lawrence is on the trail of the car park peddlers

Welcome to the underground world of the car park peddlers - a multi-million pound operation based on garage forecourts and service stations. Inside Out's Nick Lawrence investigates the business spreading up and down the country.

You've probably seen them yourself, parked in an expensive car at a motorway service station.

They offer you what they say are expensive designer watches at a knock-down price. But what are they really selling?

It's an underhand operation, with traders peddling cheap goods designed to net a considerable profit.

The organisation is selling watches such as "Claude Valentini" timepieces, supposedly worth hundreds of pounds in the shops.

But you won't find any shops stocking Claude Valentini and the watches are worth nowhere near as much as they claim.

So Inside Out went on location to a local service station on the M1 to find out what is really going on.

One "salesman" beckons our reporter over to his car, trying to flog a watch supposedly worth £225 for just £50.

He supports his sales pitch by displaying an advert for the watch in a prestige car magazine.

Claude Valentini watch in display case
Cheap watches are often peddled at a high price

But the watches are being offered at well below the advertised price.

And the excuse? It's a display sample that he's keen to offload onto our reporter for a fraction of the "retail" cost.

It's a well-rehearsed sales pitch, but Nick Lawrence won't be fooled.

The search begins

Having handed over his money, he's off on the hunt for clues - the first being the address on the bag his watch was handed over in.

Nick goes to 302 Regent Street in search of the shop.

He's surprised to find that it doesn't exist, and the address leads to a fourth floor office which does nothing more than simply forward mail.

But now he's here, Nick's off to find a legitimate jeweller who can offer his expert opinion on the bargain purchase.

jeweller examining watch
Cheap components won't fool the experts

And the expert's verdict?

"This is a basic quartz movement which I see day in, day out, the type of thing which would have been made up for a few pence.

"It is nothing special at all but it would work perfectly well.

"I've just noticed a price tag - recommended £400 - that's a bit of a joke really. This watch is worth between £30 and £50.

"I think the whole thing is a con as far as the customer is concerned."

The hard sell

Our research found over 23,000 results for Claude Valentini on the internet, many of which have been designed as a sales tool to make customers think they are getting an expensive brand at a knock down price.

These sites makes it appear that Valentini watches are worth hundreds of pounds - and even offer customers the chance to purchase the tools needed to become one of the company's "agents".

Something about the scheme must be working - the company has a turnover of well over £1m.

Bryan Lewin
“In my view these people are committing offences of incitement and conspiracy”
Bryan Lewin, Northamptonshire Trading Standards

Bryan Lewin, of Northamptonshire Trading Standards, told us, "The people at the front end are potentially committing offences under the Consumer Protection Act and the Theft Act."

And even though the company has been investigated before, it doesn't seem to have stopped the traders in their tracks.

Fortunately we're one step ahead - Nick has managed to track down company boss Peter Wilkerson to an address in Clacton.

Unable to get a response from Mr Wilkerson via letter, Nick pays him a personal visit.

It appears he is unwilling to answer any questions regarding his business.

Knocking on his door at an address in Clacton, Nick finds it shut firmly in his face.

So we return to the service station for a chat with a Claude Valentini "representative".

"Your questions need to be headed to Peter - he's the head, I'm not even the tail!

"We all have to eat, we all have families," he says.

"There is an element of not being totally honest but that is Peter's concern."

But it's not just Peter's concern, it's the concern of the consumer, and while the investigation continues it seems the moral of the story is - if you want a watch worth £400 you'll have to pay £400.

See also ...

Inside Out: East
More great stories

On the rest of Inside Out
Dodgy dealers

On bbc.co.uk
BBC - Support for You - Counterfeit Goods

On the rest of the web
Trading Standards

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Anon
Just bought one of these from a person in a very flash BMW, wearing a BMW forecourt jacket, stating that there were suppoed to give them out to customers who bought a new car and had forgot. Said to be worth £380 wanted £60, thought it must be a scam but got him down to £35. Will have to wait and see if it carries on working. Feel slightliy stupid as I knew I was being ripped off and the story was unlikely, but it does look like a nice watch and if it is still working after a week, who knows. Silly me!

Gordon Peake
I bought two in my local pub. One ladies electronic keeps perfect time.The automatic (mechanical)for myself stopped after a few days. Does anyone out there know if the return address is valid ie will the warrantee be honoured or should I get repaired by another party. I knew it was a scam but I didn't pay much.

Mark Thompson
I was stupid enough to buy a claude valentini watch from a salesman in a car park in Reading. The salesman produced a catalogue consisting of all the watches and said they were cheap because his manager of the shop in regeant street over ordered. I have now discovered there is no shop in regeant street and the bag is also fake. I feel taken advantage of and the worst thing is that the person i bought it for doesnt even like it. This has led me into deep depression, i feel so stupid, why did they do this to me???

John Ladd
I've had Claude Valentini watches, I bought a pair as gifts. My brother and his wife were very pleased with them! I'm certain they're not worth as much as the price tag - but when you buy your "Tag" or "Rolex" in the jeweller's, do you really think it's worth as much as they're asking? My brother's Claude Valentini watch recently stopped and a new battery did no good, and he filled out the warranty card and sent it back, and received a brand new watch from the company.

Anon.
Just bought one of them from a gentleman on the Slough Trading Estate. He was sitting in an expensive looking Mercedes and claiming that he was selling them all above board. He gave a very good sales pitch and convinced me to hand over £80. I feel a right idiot having now read this article. I just hope that you do no find yourself in the same position as me. I haven't got that kind of money to throw around so I feel well and truly stung. Good luck to the rest of you avoiding the clutches of these dodgy dealers!

Mel and Dave
These watches are selling on eBay - you buy 3 for £20 and they say that it has an RRP of £650 approximately in total. Glad we done our research first!

Mick O'donnell
I have bought 4 or 5 of these watches on the internet and have been delighted with the quality of the timepieces and the prices 30- 50. Should your real target be seiko, gucci etc who probably have far bigger real margins and get the same quartz movemments which are now universal and mostly originate in china. Are watchdog in the pay of the large old money boys who have been exposed for the real cost of currently making watches. Claude valentini have proved great watches can be cheap. I can point you to thousands of happy buyers... Please try to be fair I dont like pushy sales methods but dont devalue a good product

Dom Parmee
I saw this scam happening last December at Fleet in Hampshire at the services on the M3, to make it worse the peddler was parked in a disabled space. It was exactly the same as you showed on the television, but he said that he was on his way back from a trade show in London, I eventually managed to get him down to £20 before saying 'no' and walking off. A few days later at a service station at Chiswell near St. Albans I got called over to a car again as I was going to pay for petrol; I told the people in the car that I had seen this scam before and they got very irritated and asked me where I had seen it, so I told them, I think that they had get the feeling that someone else was on their 'patch'. I told the service station staff and they did not seem bothered that their customers were getting ripped off by this scam.



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