Avoid Being Ripped Off by Unscrupulous Piano Dealers

Posted: March 12, 2012 in Piano, Piano Maintenance, Refinishing

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It is unfortunate that a few piano retailers are unscrupulous. The thought may not have occurred to you, but our entire legal system is written based on the unethical or criminal activities of just a few people.

It only takes one person to rob a store to motivate legislators to enact laws against such acts. It only takes one murder, one assault, one unfair insider trading deal, to motivate victims to initiate protections. In my town, a few years ago, young kids were stealing gas from local gas stations. The police learned (from the small number of violators who were caught), that the parent had given the youth cash to “fill it up”.  The young driver went to the gas station, filled up the tank, and then left the nozzle lying on the ground. (Until the muzzle is returned to the pump, the monitor system inside the store shows the pump is still being operated. No alarm sounds.) When no one was watching, the youth drove off with a full tank of gas and $60 in his pocket.

It is the responsibility of the store to police such crimes. The cost of hiring a full-time security officer must exceed the cost of lost gasoline because gas stations do not hire security officers. Instead, they call the local police department. An officer responds. That costs the community money. The local government decided that the best way to decrease “drive offs” was by requiring all citizens to pay for gas before it is pumped. This reduced the number of thefts. It also limited the freedom of each honest citizen. Before you can buy gas, you must first prove you are not a criminal.

One bad apple spoils the whole bunch.

So when I write about unscrupulous piano dealers, keep in mind that the misdeeds of one dealer are not a conviction of all dealers.

Scam: Down Payments for Rebuilding Pianos

It is expensive to rebuild a piano. Estimates range from $9,000 – $15,000. A rebuild can take upwards to one year to complete. The piano dealer will require 50% down in order to buy parts and acquire cash to pay for labor. After you authorize the work and make the payment, you have no assurance that the money will go towards the rebuilding of your piano.

In fact, there was a dealer in Dallas who would sell rebuilding jobs, gather the cash down payment, and use the money to pay current debts, like rent and salaries. The work on the piano was delayed. After three months, the customer would return to the store only to find that no work had been started. After six months, the same report was gained.  When the customer complained, the dealer would gain the sympathy of the customer using a barrage of excuses, and often times, would secure even more money from the customer.

Upon reading that last statement, you might be thinking, “Why in the world would anyone give that guy more money?” Well, if you are asking that question, then you have no appreciation for how persuasive some piano dealers can be, or how gullible piano customers can be.  If the customer had paid, let’s say $6,000, she has few options. Consider the cost of hiring an attorney and suing in small claims court. That adds an eighteen month delay. The piano would be finished by then, but the monies paid to the attorney would be lost.

The piano industry is not regulated by a state or federal agency, so there is no one to appeal to when a dealer does not deliver services as agreed.  If the rebuild work has started (which is often the case), then the piano has been disassembled and is not in returnable condition. Faced with those options, and while sitting in the dealer’s office listening to a very persuasive salesman, the customer soon leaves the store with empty assurances and no guarantee that the work will be done as agreed.

Actions You Can Take to Avoid this Scam

You can avoid getting ripped off by using common sense. Use a credit card to make the down payment, one which offers consumer protection.  Never use cash from a checking account to pay for a large purchase.

At the time of the purchase, require the dealer to sign a contract specifying the terms of your agreement. This agreement will clearly state that if the work is not done as agreed, a full refund will be due to the customer. Be very specific in the agreement. If the dealer balks at this requirement, you are in the wrong store.

Get references from the dealer and contact them. Check with the Better Business Bureau. Go to the County Clerk in your city and research all court cases that may have been filed against that store AND the owner. (This is very easy to do although you must make a trip to the courthouse to make the request.)

Most people will read this report and think, “You would have to be pretty stupid to get ripped off this way.” That is probably true. I imagine that people who have been ripped off this way fell pretty stupid, and they are ashamed or embarrassed to let people know they were duped. That works in the favor of the unscrupulous dealer.  A more forgiving analysis would account for the fact that customers really do not suspect that a dealer is lying to them, until it is too late.

Regulatory Remedies

If state legislators would pass legislation which protected consumers, the occurrence of this kind of scam would be decreased.  If the law required piano dealers to hold the down payment funds in escrow until the job was completed, then any abuse could be more easily traced. To my knowledge, no such law exists, so the only remedy available to the customer is to be very careful about whom you select to rebuild your piano. It is highly suspect that reputable piano dealers have not pressed for this legislation. Such controls present a potential inconvenience to reputable dealers, and was the case of the gasoline theft retold above, honest people do not like to be inconvenienced by laws intended to thwart the actions of a few miscreants.

You are on your own. Be careful.

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