CAR PARK PEDDLERS
|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.
|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.
|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.
|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.