on the cheap and sleazy side (www.cheapandsleazy.net)
Doing it eBay (or "I Wouldn't Do That if I Were You!")
So many stories of folks getting ripped off while trying to buy a steno machine on eBay ...! Don't become a statistic. If you're looking for a steno machine and you're thinking about going the eBay way, do yourself a favor and read this article first!
Things to Watch Out for When Buying on eBay
So. You're looking for a good used steno machine ... where do you go? If you're internet-savvy, you get on the web, and you will eventually find your way to eBay.
You (being an internet-savvy starving student and all) go to the eBay search window, and you type in "stenograph" or "court reporting," or both ... then you start looking at the auctions.
Since you're a student, you're probably short of cash, so the writer has to be cheap, right? And of course, you know that you want to get the most writer you can get with the little bit of $$$ you have, so you're looking for a nice, low price.
You look through the three pages of auctions, and select all the ones that say "Buy it NOW!!!", and look them over.
You hit PAYDIRT!!! It's a Stentura 400 SRT, and it's being sold by someone in some small town where they roll the streets up at 10:00 PM every night, and it's hardly ever been used. Best of all, it's well within your budget (you being an internet-savvy starving student and all).
This is a NO BRAINER, you think, and hit the Buy it Now button ... and you win!
Here, there should be a happy ending, where the writer arrives at your house, you test it, and it works just like advertised ... but if you take a closer look at the title ... yeah, that's it -- the bit that says, "I Wouldn't Do That if I Were You," then you just know that there is no happy ending in this hypothetical buy.
The reality of this hypothetical buy is this: You paid by check, the check was cashed, you never received any tracking numbers to track your package, and worse, the writer never arrived!
I guess that would explain the lack of tracking numbers, huh?
Okay, confession time.
Something like this actually happened to one of my fellow students. I hate to see my friends ripped off like this. If I could, I would post a link to the bad auction so you could see what a bad auction looks like -- and even better, who this seller is (or was; more about that later) so you will not suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous ... um, so you won't suffer a loss like my friend has.
Hey, when you're a starving student, a thousand bucks is a lot to lose.
Heck, even if you're a working reporter, a thousand bucks is a lot to lose.
Even Bill Gates would think a thousand dollars is -- oh wait; who am I kidding? Bill Gates probably has his finances set up so that when he blinks his eyes, he makes about $10,000.
But hey -- you're not Bill Gates, so chances are that a thousand dollar loss would not be something you'd want to repeat often ... so let's just take a look at how to minimize your chances of being ripped off on eBay.
A Tale of Three Auctions
(Yeah, I know it should be "Two" Auctions to keep in line with the book ... but that's one auction too few, so ....)
We have on offer three auctions, all for a writer you want at a price you can afford. While the items are similar, each auction has a difference that should wave BIG RED FLAGS of warning at you.
Auction Number One has nice looking pictures of the writer of your dreams, a good description of the writer and all that comes with it, and a good feedback rating.
Auction Number Two also has nice looking pictures of the writer and its accompanying bits and pieces (except for that one picture with the finger in it; what was this guy thinking when he posted that?), and a description that could be described as vague, at best, which reads something like this:
DUDE --! Blah blah blah Stentura 400 SRT blah blah! Su-WEET!! Blah blah blah!
... with lots of arrows pointing to various pictures on the page. The seller also has excellent feedback ratings.
Auction Number Three has a so-so writeup (jeez, that guy could use an English refresher course!), amazing feedback scores, as well as nice pictures. Hey, this seller even has his own eBay store.
So. Which one of these writers do you buy?
Can't decide, huh? Well, let's take a closer look at these auctions.
Take a look at the comments left in the feedback. Auction Number One 's feedback comments include a few negatives, but overall, no problems there. BUT ... a closer look at those feedback comments reveal the positive ones were all posted on the same day, within minutes of each other!
Yes, this is a RED FLAG!!
Auction Number Two has all positive comments, and there are no "temporal anomalies" like those in Auction Number One.
Auction Number Three's feedback is amazing ... all positives, and he's a power seller (that is, he's sold more than 250 items).
So. Which to choose? I'm sure you all know that Auction Number One is O-U-T out, simply based on the "temporal anomalies," right?
That leaves Auctions Two and Three ... but since we can't decide, a closer look is in order ...!
Auction Number Two (despite the Aston Kutcher-speak in the description) looks good, and so does Auction Number Three ... so what do we check to cull the bad offer?
Why, the method of payment, of course ...!
Our Ashton Kutcher wannabe wants you to pay by check. While this sounds good (you can always stop payment on the check, right?) trust me when I tell you it is not. Trying to stop payment on a check that has been cashed is a lot like locking the barn door after the monster has broken in and eaten your children (you all did see Saturday the 14th, right?).
So that leaves Auction Number Three. So the guy's writing skills could use a bit of work ... but his feedback is all good, and he has over 250 sales ...! ... but what about payment?
Good deal, he accepts Pay Pal!
In case you don't know, PayPal is the best way to pay on eBay -- or anywhere else on the internet. If your purchase doesn't arrive, you can complain to both PayPal and the company behind your credit card, and the credit card company is more likely to refund your money. Hopefully.
"Hey --! Starving Student, Remember? No Credit Card!!"
Not a problem ...! If you have a bank account and a debit card, the card may be backed by one of the big credit card companies -- or at least have their logo on it. If it does, you're all set. Just don't spend what's not in your account, and you'll be fine.
"Okay, I Got It ...! So I Buy it Now, Right?"
Not quite. Remember, the seller of Auction Number Three has his own eBay store ... you might want to take a look at it.
To do that, scroll up to the link which reads "Check out my eBay store!!", or words to that effect, and shift-click it (you do know that shift-clicking opens the link in a new window (or tab, depending on which browser you're using), right? If not, you might want to review my Fear Computers No More sometime; search for "new window" if you're in a rush).
Okay, so the new window is open. Check out all the items this seller is selling. Are they mostly related to court reporting? Are there multiple writers? If so, this person may just have an actual physical store s/he sells out of ... and if so, that store may have a website. See if you can find a link to that website in either one of the listings on the seller's eBay page, or on the page for your soon-to-be writer.
If you find such a link, shift-click it (opens the store's website in a new window, right?). Look around. Do you see the writer you're getting ready to buy? If so, can you get it cheaper at the physical store? ... and more importantly, does the physical store also accept PayPal?
If all of these are true, buy the same writer from the physical store (and use PayPal to pay for it). Why? Well, it's cheaper for one ... and in an auction situation where there is no Buy It Now price, this is a way to get the same writer for a much better price than the auction would bring.
So. Easy-peazy, this eBay stuff, right?
"But ... I Have a Question!!"
Good ...! If you have a question about anything you see on eBay, there's this really handy link that says "Ask seller a question." This link comes in handy when the seller's claims don't ring true.
Case in point:
A few months ago, I discovered my Apple Clamshell iBook's (circa 2000 or so) battery would only last for 15 minutes. I also quickly discovered a new one would run me about $150 ... while a replacement Apple Clamshell iBook would run me $300 ... so off to eBay I went in search of a new battery.
That's right: Within seconds, I found a battery for $50. The description said something like "... when charged, battery indicator reads two hours."
Sounds good, right?
At the time I was seeking to replace my ailing battery, which, when charged, indicated a full two hour charge ... but still only lasted for 15 minutes. So naturally, I Asked a Question():
"Um, Mr. eBay Seller Dude? Does the battery actually last for 2 hours when the laptop is running off it, or ...?"
I never received an answer to my question ... so I paid the $150 for a new battery.
Before buying an item on eBay, your item must meet these requirements:
If you follow those simple rules, your experience of buying a writer on eBay will be much easier.
Thus far, the only sellers with steno stuff on eBay that have a physical store are these:
To be sure, there are other vendors that don't have an eBay presence that you can buy from (see my article "Writers and Software and Laptops -- Oh, My!" for these), but if you insist on using eBay, then you're limited to the sellers listed herein that you should buy from and feel 100 percent safe.
A Phisher's Tale
Interestingly, I got an e-mail that appeared to be from eBay that I saved and believe would be an instructive example for everyone. Take a close look at the graphic below.
Do you see what's wrong with this picture?
Aside from the fact that my eBay account is just fine, thankyouverymuch, take a look at the status bar at the bottom of the picture.
As you may know from being an internet-savvy, starving student, if you hold your mouse over a link in a browser window, the URL (that's Uniform Resource Locator, in case you're wondering ... or more simply, the web site address) will show up in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window..
If you look closely at the address in the message and compare it with the address in the status line, you'll (hopefully) notice that the line in the message says "signin.ebay.com" initially ... but in the status bar, it says "e-bay-customers.info".
Yes, that's right: That's very different.
Basically what's going on here is somebody is trying to get me to click on the link in that e-mail and provide my eBay login information (including my password), and possibly my Visa card information.
What would they do with this information?
Well, one thing they could do is offer items for sale under my name, accept the money, and then just not deliver the merchandise purchased. Any negative feedback would come to me (and no, I don't sell anything on eBay as yet), while the actual miscreant gets away scott-free.
No, I did not click on the link ...!
Such legitimate-looking e-mails arrive in mailboxes all over the world every day. They look (in most instances) like the real thing, and some people will actually click on those links, fill out the information and are actually surprised when they have problems with their various accounts (imagine that!).
You may receive these e-mails from your ISP (that's Internet Service Provider, in case you're wondering), usually saying "there's a problem with your account, and won't you please log in *here* and "update" your account information (and don't forget to include your Visa number, mmkay?)." I've also received these from banks (one of which I actually had an account with at one time or another, and with whom I'm not exactly on good terms, if you know what I mean) and PayPal.
This deceptive method of gaining access to your account information is called "phishing" ... and, as you might guess, you should just say No if you get one ... and, now that you know how to check the Status bar when you mouse over a link in a suspicious e-mail, your chances of getting caught in the "phising" net have gone down dramatically.
Should you decide to sell something on eBay, please be sure not to emulate this seller:
And on that note, this piece is done ...!