The Hart of the Issue: “Wheelin’ but not Dealing”

By John M. Hart, III, Esq. 

Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday are the “power three” shopping days that kick off the holiday shopping spree, or at least in our household.  I have a hardline rule of not preparing for Christmas, not even uttering a word about it, until Thanksgiving has come and gone, despite every effort our commercial society tries to force it upon me. 

I refuse to listen to Bing Crosby sing the classics until after Thanksgiving.  I don’t like “watering down” Thanksgiving, as I believe it’s a strong enough holiday to stand on its own.  Thanksgiving has always been a favorite holiday of mine, but it certainly does act as a proper conduit to kick off the holiday season.  To me, Thanksgiving signifies the end of Autumn.  But then a very busy weekend comes after Turkey Day because it means taking down fall decorations, packing them away, retrieving Christmas decorations, unboxing, and putting them up to make the perfect holiday décor throughout the house.  

And while I’m playing the storage room shuffle, it always makes for the ideal time to tidy up the joint since half of our totes in the storage room are comprised of Fall and Christmas decorations alone. But if these “holiday chores” weren’t enough for this busy weekend, we have to be cognizant of the amazing deals that are at play.  The gloves come off midnight on Friday, and no, I’m not standing in line somewhere to get a good price on a TV, or a bloody nose from an elbow that may come with it–but I am staying up late after a full day of turkey-eating to get those midnight deals.  

Shopping for family, friends, co-workers, business associates, etc., is paramount from Black Friday on, and there are many channels which I tap for gifts.  With the various areas to shop come different methods of transacting business, and it can be beneficial to know what you’re dealing with and more importantly, who you’re dealing with when you find that perfect gift for someone.

There’s the traditional form of shopping in retail stores, which serves a purpose beyond just getting a gift.  It’s still an event, something to look forward to doing with your family, something to do on an otherwise mundane weekday after work. Plus, it makes a great setting for people-watching and gives you an excuse to eat out at a local restaurant. 

Then there’s online shopping which… let’s face it, takes the fun out of it but is just so darn simple and convenient.  I can relax in my recliner, watch Die Hard (one of my favorite Christmas movies, and don’t try telling me it’s not a Christmas movie) and shop on my phone or tablet ordering virtually everything I need and have it delivered right to my doorstep–usually for free. It’s just very difficult to avoid online shopping these days.  But some items I need might require a bit more looking.  Some items might need to comply with my budget!  And that’s when I turn to online to shop locally.      

I used to love perusing through the Paper Shop when that was a big thing.  Then came a game changer known as Craigslist.  And when that first came out, it was fantastic, until the scams poured through and made it unbearable. Often, when a deal seemed too good to be true, it was.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ll still check it out from time to time, but it’s no longer my go-to when looking for local items. 

Shortly after Craigslist came phone apps or in-app features.  Let-Go and Facebook Marketplace started tapping into the used market scene and it was a new and convenient way to shop.  Now we’re at a place where not only can we view the profile of the individual selling an item to ensure they’re legit, but we can even see their ratings based on their past transactions and even rate them after doing business with them ourselves. 

The local online shopping has certainly come a long way from the days where we’d read through newsprint ads and kid ourselves into thinking that the one-line description of an item was flawless and a great deal, to nowadays where we are more familiar with what we’re attempting to buy before even physically seeing it. But we still must transact with people in person, and with that comes potential issues.

I’m sure some of you, if not many, have heard horror stories of deals gone wrong.  Perhaps some stories are exaggerated, but I do recall back when I was working at the District Attorney’s Office here in Lackawanna County, prosecuting a case where one of these transactions escalated quickly. This particular case was a perfect example of the phrase unclean hands.  

From my loose recollection, it involved an individual who was looking to buy some form of jewelry on Let-Go or FB Marketplace.  When the buyer and seller met up, the buyer snatched the item and high-tailed it to his vehicle with no intention of paying for it.  But the buyer chose the wrong seller to swindle.  The seller quickly pursued after the buyer in his own vehicle, following him for miles until the buyer got out of his car to get away on foot. The seller was “packing” and pulled out a gun and pointed it at the buyer.  He then phoned in to the police to have the buyer taken into custody and kept the business end of his handgun on the buyer until law enforcement arrived.  

Was this an appropriate response… some people might think so, while most didn’t.  I’m not here to offer legal advice, and nothing in my articles shall be construed as such. Common sense tells me not to go seeking trouble.  If my life isn’t at risk, I’d steer clear from escalating a situation. 

These stories shouldn’t deter you from shopping online for local items. These types of people have always been around and will always be there.  I’ve heard the same kind of stories from people selling items on Craigslist, only to have their dirt bike taken for a “test drive” around the block, never to be seen again, to even someone trying to sell a car face-to-face at a flea market.  The seller agreed to throw in a spare set of wheels with mounted tires.  The buyer agreed to buy the car and took the wheels right then and there claiming he’d return for the car and sign a bill of sale.  Only he never came back.  Instead, he just made out with nice new wheels for the great price of free.    

Fortunately, there are measures everyone can take to attempt to avoid these potentially dangerous encounters. Just months ago, the Dunmore Borough created a “safe transfer zone” in front of the Dunmore Police Station.  This helps lessen the stress that can come with online local purchases.  The area is under video surveillance, typically has numerous people around, and is right next to the local police station should any issues arise.  It’s a wonderful feature that this great Borough has to offer.  

Additionally, when dealing with local online transactions, make sure to do your due diligence with the seller.  These new apps may allow you to do a bit more thorough vetting, but scams are still out there.  Be sure to avoid any form of cash apps prior to meeting the person and seeing the item. Cash is still king, but it is understandable that some people simply don’t deal with it these days.  Venmo, Apple Pay, Google Pay, PayPal, etc. are all great options, but avoid sending any money until the product is in hand.

There are many other ways to shop for things you might need for the holidays and there will always be someone trying to pull a fast one somewhere.  Just be careful and cautious when shopping.  Remember to apply common sense and please avoid the temptation of doing all of your shopping online! Trust me I understand the appeal. There are several Die Hard movies that I have to watch during this holiday season, and it would certainly be easier to get my shopping out of the way at the same time, but we cannot forget our traditions.  

Go to stores, shop local, shop online-local, grab a bite to eat while you’re out and about, or simply “people-watch” while you’re buying a pair of socks as a stocking stuffer.  And if any legal issues happen to fall upon you during a holiday transaction, give us a call. 

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