Roger Williams
Radio Corner
Swap Meets, E-Commerce
and Other Off-the-Wall Radio
and Electronic Trading
Recently, a scruffy looking fellow came into our store, in California, with some radio gear to sell. We were immediately on alert when the quality of the gear did not match that of the seller. We have no way of checking for stolen gear offered to us for sale. There is no local, regional or national access register for us to check. We do deal in used gear, from estate sales and other legitimate sources, and have been able to offer "good deals" to our customers. We normally go through the equipment, make any repairs necessary, and offer a limited warranty at resale.  

"Mr. Scruffy" set off bells and whistles. The value of the equipment was not more than $1500, but the man looked as though he couldn't rub two nickels together. It may have been unfair of us to judge him based on his appearance and grasp of the English language, but 25 years of experience told us it was a bad idea to purchase from him. 

We could have called the police, but in this litigious society we decided to pass on it, and allow him to leave. The man had no idea what his merchandise was, how it worked, or its value. Because of the equipment's questionable ownership, we would have compounded the situation by purchasing it for dirt-cheap and reselling it at a high profit.  

This brought about a discussion, in our store, of the many ways radio and electronic gear is sold today on other than the traditional retail market. 

Swap Meets

At an electronic swap meet the consumer is generally at the mercy of the seller. The consumer must trust the seller--who may be unknown in the community--to verify the quality and legitimacy of his merchandise. The buyer may purchase gear which is stolen or simply doesn't work. Unfortunately, there is no way to know if it is stolen, and no way of testing the gear at these meets. Many times, when purchasing high-level technical equipment such as two-way radios, computer equipment, GPS systems, radar detectors, etc., the buyer relies on the integrity of a "dealer" who has no storefront, and is unknown to him. The technology of ham radio, radar detectors, and other similar equipment changes rapidly, and the consumer may be purchasing pretty but totally unusable boxes.  
Not a week goes by without some purchaser bringing their newly found "deal" to have it checked out, only to be told it doesn't work, or the technological advances have rendered it useless. 

Our California store suffered a break-in several years ago. Soon after, I found my personal hand-held ham radio for sale at a local swap meet. Flea markets are a fast way for thieves to sell their ill-gotten goods. The receiptless culprit was arrested, but claimed he purchased the radio from another person, who was unknown, of course. 

I have a number of friends who go to swap meets. They are bright and knowledgeable people, and usually do well in these ventures because they confine their buying to equipment they know and can test. Still, they cannot verify whether or not the goods are "hot." 


When purchasing electronic gear at a swap meet, make sure you've done your research.  Know what you are looking for technically, and make certain you view the seller's current business license and resellers permit so that you have some recourse. Remember the  old saw: If the deal seems to good to be true--it is. There simply are no bargains when the sun is shining. 

Internet Purchases

The tremendous growth in computer technology has allowed the development of a number of Internet trading and sales networks. Recently, a local photographer proudly told me how he had sold a used Canon A2 camera for close to the retail price, new. He seemed to have no compunctions about his fraudulent sale to the unknowing buyer. Even worse--the seller was aware that the camera did not focus well and needed work. 

These new marketplaces leave themselves open to fraud. There is very little buyers can do to protect themselves from clever and unscrupulous sellers. The way most of the Internet auction systems work is to register a user name. There can be negative feedback developed about sellers who do not trade fairly. However, there is no charge for user name identification, and email addresses are free, and a seller may use any number of user names and addresses. 

Many sales come about through contacts made in Internet chat rooms. Obviously, there is no protection for private sales between people who meet in chat rooms. 

A number of auction systems operate on the Internet. At this time, there are over 2,500 ham radios, and almost 1,000 CB radios for sale in a single auction system. One seller has over 45 feedbacks, all positive, however his detailed ad sounds as though he is selling a personally used 10- year-old radio for around $450 (last bid), with a real value on equipment I recognize of $300 max. If this person has over 45 positive feedbacks listed on this one user name, he is running a business, and not selling personal equipment. In 50 years of amateur radio experience I have NEVER heard of a ham with 45 pieces of personal equipment for sale over a two month period. Perhaps he is an honest businessman taking advantage of an auction system to bring more return on his invested capital, however, it does not ring true when the facts are examined. 

In addition, a seller may develop user names and email addresses on more than one auction system. It is argued that e-commerce is one of the engines driving our robust economy, however when buying online: Caveat Emptor (Let the Buyer Beware)! 


Congress is looking at ways to regulate the Internet sales systems. Hopefully, they can do this in a manner that will not only preserve our constitutional rights, but leave our free enterprise system intact. 

The buyer must always view these sales with a jaundiced eye. If someone is selling many items described as personal, be careful. Check with a local radio or electronics dealer as to the real value of the equipment described. Attempt to get some sort of information on the seller--how many systems he advertises on, for instance. Use postal money orders for the purchase. Stick with simple items. Expect to be disappointed. I just saw a ham radio worth $950 on an auction site selling for $1250. The buyer will be disappointed and angry when he tells another ham of his wonderful purchase and finds out its true value. Of course, since the buyer thinks he is getting such a great deal, he will not alert his friends in the radio community--where he might learn what he is getting into--for fear they might  steal his "bargin." 

These nonconventional sales sound great, but the safest course may be to buy from a local retailer, and get a warranty from a known organization. As a retailer, I am tempted to go on these systems in the guise of a private seller in order to increase my revenues, however the ethics disturb me.  

Send any questions or comments to me at All input, especially from the amateur radio members of the media is welcomed.

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