One of the most visited posts on Mighty Bargain Hunter is my post on seven ways to conquer Chuck E. Cheese. It was hit up on The Consumerist a few years ago. And just a week ago it was hit up again, but this time by the Frugal Reddit.
The point that's been the center of discussion is my suggestion that you can save money by buying Chuck E. Cheese tokens from eBay at a discount to what you can get them for at Chuck E. Cheese proper. After writing that, I realized that I had stuck my hand into a hornet's nest. I didn't think there was anything wrong with this, but buying secondhand tokens from eBay could be interpreted as stealing no less than four different ways:
- The tokens weigh the same as genuine Chuck E. Cheese (CEC) tokens, but aren't; they're generic. This I can see as being stealing, since CEC was never paid for them. If they had the mouse on them, then I would have a warm fuzzy that they were in the CEC system at one point. (I clarified the wording in my original post to address this.)
- The tokens were bought at one CEC restaurant, but spent at another. In other words, the concern is that CEC #1 got the money, but CEC #2 suffered the wear and tear and paid out the prizes while getting nothing for the tokens. I don't think this is a problem. I've seen no evidence that CEC tokens can't be used at any location, nor must they be used on the day of purchase. Additionally, all of the restaurants are either corporately owned, or franchised. Corporate CEC got paid for the tokens that ended up in my hands at retail, and the tokens were not yet used for entertainment at CEC. (There's a hole in this argument that I'll discuss shortly.)
- The tokens were counterfeit. In other words, they look like real CEC tokens, but aren't. Imitation CEC tokens, if you will. I couldn't find any evidence for this, either, and it wouldn't seem to be economically worthwhile to do this, anyway.
- The tokens were stolen from a CEC restaurant, and sold on eBay for whatever they'd go for. This is how CEC might not have been paid for the tokens. I must admit that this is a risk. I can see several ways that people could legally get their hands on a lot of tokens — consignment auctions, estate auctions, bankruptcies, pawn shops, and private collectors — but that doesn't rule out the possibility that some employee who was closing one night took the five-finger discount on a bucketful of tokens.
If you bought stolen goods, how could you tell? And what would happen?
It's this last point that was brought up on the Frugal Reddit discussion (after I popped my head in). And after doing some searching around on the consequences of buying stolen goods, there is risk, even if they're bought on good faith and nothing about the transaction (or price) seems suspicious. I'm not a lawyer, but it seems that at the very least I could lose the goods without payment if the rightful owner finds them and wants them back. Worst case, I could have legal problems if it seems like I should have sensed that the goods were stolen. Best case, I'm out the money and merchandise, and it's up to me to press charges on the guy who sold it to me if I want to recoup my losses.
Places like eBay have a lot of checks in place, and most transactions are legitimate, but nothing is perfect. There is a chance — perhaps a small one, but a chance nonetheless — that something I buy could be stolen, contrary to every other “signal” that suggests that the sale will be smooth.
This isn't just an issue with CEC tokens. It's an issue with anything. Anything can be black market or gray market. Anything has this risk.
Three tips to offset the risk
- Use common sense. For the 4,768th time: “If it looks too good to be true, then it probably is.” If the deal smells the slightest bit shady, run. Common sense and intuition are valuable.
- Do due diligence. If the sale smells OK, ask for documentation. Does the item have a user's manual? Does the seller have a receipt? Are you buying the item from a business? And so forth.
- Get it in writing. Get some kind of receipt or record when you buy something. If what you got is stolen, it looks bad if you don't have any record that you bought it. You might even be viewed as the thief!
These suggestions won't eliminate the risk, but they will offset some of the risk associated with buying second hand.