ANGRY shoppers surrounded a town centre store to demand their money back after being caught out at a speed auction.
Bargain hunters turned up at the empty shop in Southend High Street hoping to get their hands on the latest gadgets and other gifts at knockdown prices.
But after being locked in the shop to buy the goods, they then tried to storm back in after finding laptops and games console boxes were full of books and bricks, while mobile phones were replaced with aftershave bottles full of water.
The shop was quickly closed and an unofficial bouncer prevented people from getting back in when they tried to complain.
Lailla Byford, 19, was working at Harry B’s Barbers, in Clifftown Road, and saw the drama unfold. She said: “From the outside, it looked ridiculous. They just had laminated signs of a picture of a laptop.
“It was rowdy. It calmed down sometime after 4pm and then some balding Asian man in his forties casually walked out.
“There were about six people involved in the operation.
“It was crazy. We thought we saw them afterwards laughing as they came out and got in a van. It’s daylight robbery.”
The deals were being struck sporadically throughout Saturday from about 11am until 4pm.
Witnesses claimed crowds of about 50 people tried to barge through the shop door and even climbed over a gate at the back of the premises to get their money back.
The few who were given refunds were allegedly paid in fake notes.
Lailla’s mum, Jo Byford, 44, who runs the barbers, said: “One of the guys in the shop even spoke to my other half in the pub and said they were going to come back on the Sunday, but Southend ‘wasn’t the place’ to do the deals.
“He blatantly admitted it was a scam. He said there was a thin line with Trading Standards and they were right up to the line.
“These people are blatantly stealing.
It doesn’t look good for a street that’s trying to trade.”
A police spokesman said officers had attended after exchanges became heated. They passed on the complaints to Trading Standards.
A spokesman said those who had been mis-sold items should report it through the Citizens Advice consumer helpline on 03454 040506.
WHAT THEY SAID ON FACEBOOK
Readers who went on to the Echo’s Facebook page felt many shoppers deserved what they got.
SHARON SHARI DAVIS: If you’re going to try to get goods at dodgy prices, you’re going to get dodgy goods.
DEBBIE SPENCER: The police were there and the street rangers where warning people not to go in because it was a scam. An X Box for £25, that tells a story straight away.
PHOENIX TARJUN: The street rangers spent over two hours and spoke to hundreds of people to warn them of the scam this shop was running. If people didn’t take the advice, it’s not the police or street rangers’ fault.
SAM HALLEY: Bet they are laughing all the way to the bank now! Just shows the freeholders of these empty shops don’t care who they rent to and what they get up to, as long as the shops are not empty.
The newly-formed council needs to step in here and quickly!
DEBBIE SPENCER: I can’t believe people fell for this. I passed there a couple of times and it was packed out. As they say, if it's too good to be true!
BECKY MACLOUGHLIN: I saw people queuing out of the door.
JOHN HAMILTON: It’s not hard to part fools from their money, especially when the law stands by watching. The shops are allowed to steal from us and it’s a Trading Standards issue, yet if we tried stealing the same stuff we would be dragged out in handcuffs