Most of us consider ourselves pretty street-smart. We're wary of scams and con artists. Few of us really think we're gonna win that sidewalk three-card monte game, or will give out ATM passwords or credit card numbers over the phone to someone posing as a “bank examiner.” However, the audio industry is rife with self-interest to all degrees, and lately, audio scams have been on the rise.
Besides obvious crimes (such as credit card fraud), one popular scam is obtaining free gear. Targeted mainly at smaller, high-end manufacturers (but occasionally hitting larger companies), the scamster calls up a manufacturer and asks for some loaner equipment. There are several variations on this: One fellow called several companies from a ficticious audio magazine, saying they were just about to go into production on their first issue and needed some gear for a cover shoot. He went on to say that they already had gear from several prominent audio suppliers, but somehow company “XYZ” (your chief competitor) didn't deliver the gear in time. The scamster went on to say he was so upset with XYZ “flaking out” that he calls for your gear instead and needs it sent overnight. Mindful of this wonderful “cover” opportunity — and, of course, a chance to outdo a rival — the manufacturer sends the gear out, and it is never to be seen again.
Sometimes, people simply call manufacturers saying they need products to review in well-known magazines. In such cases, a quick call from the manufacturer to the magazine's staff can verify such claims. A somewhat more creative approach came from a person who claimed he was assembling gear to be spotlighted in a textbook on audio production. His M.O. was fairly slick — even going so far as to send a detailed book outline, making his scam appear more legitimate. Several manufacturers fell for that one.
If all else fails, the tried-and-true “steal-it-from-a-tradeshow-booth” method is fairly effective, especially at a show like AES, where anyone can walk in off the street, plunk down a couple bucks for an exhibits-only pass and leave with a coat full of microphones. AES has never required walk-up registrants to show proof of ID, so just fill in a phony name and no one's the wiser.
Studios are also on the hit list, and this goes well beyond the thieving bandmember who tosses a direct box into a gig bag on the way out of a session. Studios need to be vigilant, particularly about bookings from unknown people who may call requesting a late-night session when an engineer or studio owner is working alone. There have been numerous incidents — including a murder a few years back — where the intent was to rob the studio, and both larger facilities and project rooms are at risk.
The studio can be a fun, creative environment where the last thing we need to think about is getting ripped off. However, a little precaution — a serial number list, some extra locks, an alarm and maybe even a little common sense — pays off. Mix maintains an online Stolen Equipment Registry list , but, as always, an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of crime.