Common Scams

I read and learn about scams frequently. The terrible thing about a great scam is that it’s adaptable to almost any market or format. Court reporting’s a got a wide range of people in it, from technological masterminds to the folks that only deal with the bare minimum that they need to know to do their job. This’ll be mostly for the latter! Here are a few common scams you may run across.

  1. The check cashing scam. In American payments and banking, many of us still use checks. Always know where your check is coming from and get your guard up if the check is in the wrong amount. To very quickly run through this scam, someone will send you a check, usually “overpay” by hundreds or thousands of dollars, and then ask for some money back. In our banking system, the bank must release the money to you in one or two days, so most people look at their account and believe the check has cleared. So let’s say you get a $1,000 check. You deposit it and the bank lets you withdraw this instantly. The payer says “whoops, I overpaid, please wire me back $500.” No problem. You send the $500. It can take several weeks for the bank to discover the check is fraudulent. When they do, they deduct $1,000 from your account, and probably add a bounced check fee. So now you have an account that is negative $500, and you’re on the hook for it! This is not like credit theft where the bank must reimburse theft that isn’t your fault, and thousands upon thousands of dollars are lost through this common scam. For court reporters that deal with checks, you are a huge target for this scam.
  2. The infected computer scam. All of a sudden your computer locks up or starts making noise. “Alert. Alert. Your computer is infected. Call Microsoft immediately.” The way this scam goes is someone has gotten a piece of malware on your computer OR they have tricked you into thinking that there is malware on your computer through a popup. Their goal is to get you to call the number and pay them some money to “fix” your computer. The major problem with this is that they are not Microsoft. They usually get you to give them access to your PC through remote PC services, and once they have that kind of access they may steal more information, mess up your PC more, or fix your problem. You’re basically at their mercy. To avoid that, your best bet is usually to NOT CALL, save your work, close all the windows on the computer, and try to restart the computer. CTRL + ALT + DELETE can help you bring up the task manager window on most Windows computers. You can view all the “processes” running on your computer. There’s a lot of stuff there you won’t recognize. In my experience, viruses are usually poorly named, like bwejrj.exe. Once you get the “bad” process done, you can go to the “startup” tab, find it, and disable it there to make sure it doesn’t start when Windows starts. Once the virus is disabled in this manner, you can generally run your antivirus and your computer without worrying too much about it. If it’s not running and never set to run, it’s like it doesn’t exist. On older computers, you should use your search bar to find “msconfig.exe.” This is where the startup tab is on older computers. If you’re not good with computers and you’re using msconfig.exe, only use the “services” and “startup” tab. Don’t touch the other tabs. A family member once had a virus that closed all windows on the computer. By opening the task manager and tapping the delete key, I was able to kill the process (even though it kept closing task manager.) I’m firmly convinced that most malware is programmed poorly and that this trick will help you out. It’s much better than giving your money away to scammers. I’ll leave some screenshots for people that need to visualize it. Our computers are really important for our work, so having this basic knowledge up your sleeve is good.
  3. The fake program scam. This is something we are seeing in gaming, and it’s probably only a matter of time before some scammer tries it on our software. Generally, these types of scams have to do with promising you that an application that is not made for your phone can be run on your phone, or unlocking some special feature in your software. So imagine a world where somebody comes out and says you can get CAT on your phone or you can unlock this super special feature if you just answer some survey questions. Wow! CAT software is so expensive and this feature sounds great. They might even send you a video of them doing it! Generally, the video is faked. What they are trying to do is get you to answer surveys or give up personal information so that they can sell that. Your time is wasted, they make money off your time, and you get nothing. If you’re really not sure, contact your manufacturer. Even if their logo is terrible, the chance they’re helping your scammer is basically nothing.
  4. Gift cards and email scams. To break this one down, I’m going to explain that there are programs that “crawl” the internet looking for e-mails. Once they find an e-mail, automated messages can be sent out by the thousands from thousands of different e-mail addresses. So, for example, when you have something like the NCRA or NYSCRA board, our e-mails are public. We want members to have our e-mails. We want reporters in our state or field to be able to contact us. That’s just how it goes. We can try to put the [at] instead of the @ in our e-mail to throw off the crawler programs, but at the end of the day, scammers have access to our names. If you post your e-mail address publicly, these programs will similarly have access to your e-mail. You may get a fake e-mail that says it’s from your associations, or your association president. The biggest red flag with this scam is that it asks for money or a gift card. Gift cards are basically untraceable and once you send a gift card code to a scammer, that money’s gone. The best way to shield yourself is to never ever give gift card codes over e-mail. If you want to donate a gift card for an association event, it should be done by mail or in person at sanctioned and publicized events. I can’t stress enough that no volunteer board member is going to be asking you for gift cards over an e-mail with no context or clear reason, so do yourself a favor and hit delete. Please note there are variations of this scam where the scammer tries to tell you your friend or loved one is in prison and needs those gift cards immediately. Don’t let them toy with you. You’re smarter than that.
  5. The subscription or spoof scam. Months ago someone wrote to me and stated “I never signed up for your blog, but I’m getting e-mails from it! Did XYZ Corporation sell my e-mail to you?!” No. This is a different type of scam in that it’s not so much money that’s at stake, but reputation. Someone can go to a subscription site and stick your e-mail in the box. They might be doing this with the intention to harass or annoy you, or they may be doing it with the intention to sour your feelings about the other party by getting you hit with unsolicited e-mails. There’s also a variant of this scam where the party may send you nasty e-mails pretending to be someone else, or post on an internet forum or subreddit pretending to be someone else. They can even use masking or spoofing to make it look like it’s coming from the person’s actual e-mail! So, if you’re getting bombarded by an unwanted subscription, take some time out to look for the unsubscribe link in the e-mail, most honest subscriptions have them. If you have any doubts about the authenticity of an e-mail, instead of replying directly, you can compose a new e-mail to the person. For example, let’s say you get an e-mail tomorrow from ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, but it’s saying horrible, nasty, hateful things. That’s very outside my character unless I’m having a nervous breakdown or deeply emotional moment. If you hit reply, you may send an e-mail back to the scammer who can continue to mess with you in my name. If you compose a brand new e-mail to ChristopherDay227@gmail.com, you’ll get me, at which point I can hopefully clear the whole thing up. Same thing goes for cellphones. Someone can make it look like they’re calling from my number very easily, but they can’t receive my calls without some serious hacking. This kind of thing is prevalent. I use myself as an example here, but it can happen to anyone. They can pretend to be your boss, your union president, your agency. The good news is you can outsmart them pretty easily.

The good news for court reporters is that the average scammer’s livelihood depends on scamming as many people as possible. This often means that scams are not often tailored to our specific profession, and that can help raise red flags and identify scams. That said, knowing reporters who have fallen for these, and knowing we can prevent that, I feel it’s important to speak up and beat back the scammers. Reporters are, on average, getting older, and many of these scammers attempt to prey upon older people who may lead very busy lives and are not able to read about these scams. Many of our recruits are younger people who are often unaware of the myriad ways that people can try to take advantage of them. Divided, it might be easy enough for them to fool one or two people. Together, we can outsmart all of ’em.

How Organizations & Associations Work

Our lives are built on perception. The perception that someone must do more, or that someone does too much, or that someone is doing something wrongly or rightly can be very powerful. Perceptions can change outcomes. We see it in social movements. We see it in the Pygmalion effect. Think of the power of your own opinion. If you do not like a store, you do not shop there, and that store effectively loses the money it would have made off of you. Some voice that opinion, some vote silently with their wallet, and others buy away. All of these contribute to the reality of that store’s situation. While you read, continue to keep in mind the power of your opinion.

When I was younger, I viewed associations, unions, and groups of people, collectives, as inherently powerful. In that perception, I also expected them to be wise and knowing. “They should be able to fix this. They should be able to fix that. They should know what to do.” Perhaps others believe as I once did, that the association and members work together to create things. Perhaps some believe the members support a group and therefore the group should be able to do everything by itself. There is probably not a simple graphic to perfectly illustrate how everything works. Again, though, there is one overarching truth, the power of your opinion.

Think of something in your life that you wanted and you now have. Did it magically appear in your lap? It’s likely that there were steps you had to take to get what you wanted. It’s likely that there were “vehicles” you drove to get there. Maybe the “vehicle” to something you bought with money was a good job. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to a good relationship was a dating service, or a night at a bar, or walking down the street in a squid hat. Maybe the “vehicle” you drove to being a successful person was forming good habits, strengthening weaknesses, or playing off strengths. In the context of this discussion, associations, unions, and organizations are all vehicles to get where we want to go.

One jab that large organizations and corporations get is their usually slower reaction. This has to do with organizational structure. When a group is formed with one decision maker or very few decision makers, that group can respond to things at the will of that sole decision maker. A great example is this blog. Not a single person needs to be consulted before something is posted. However, in order to ensure that budgets are spent wisely, many organizations are built up from a board structure. The nonprofit “sector” runs heavily off of volunteer boards. A board of directors is typically a group of people that oversee the management of the entity. Think of them as the manager’s boss. In the case of our stenographic associations, these tend to be professionals from our stenographic community. Larger associations can afford to pay a management team under the board’s direction to deal with legal obligations, filings, and member questions. Even in larger organizations, the team may be very large, with an executive director and many people under him or her, or it may be a very small one-warrior management team. Smaller organizations may have a board that has to devote their own time to doing these things and act as both board and management. Ultimately, think of a board of directors as a group of people coming together to vote on the best way to direct an organization and its funding.

How do you fit in? Maybe you’re not a board member. Maybe you have no desire to be a board member. Maybe you’re “just” a member. You don’t control management, so where does a guy like me come off telling you your opinion has power?  In the association and union structure of an organization, the members give the board and management power and resources to act. Very often there is a constitution and/or bylaws that dictate how someone can run for a board position, how someone can propose an amendment to the constitution and bylaws, or how someone can participate with management and the board as a volunteer. Any member can contribute a great deal to the organization as a whole. If members dislike the way something is being run in an association structure, they have the power to replace the board by running against them. If members do not feel the mission of an organization is being accurately carried out by management, they have the power to submit changes. Association management generally has a duty to follow the law of their country and the bylaws of an organization. This all amounts to a great deal of power being given to members of large organizations. The importance of the association structure is in its ability to be “owned” by the members. Again, for example, let’s say that you log onto the Stenonymous Facebook group and you want to post an article about birds. Let’s say I say “I would prefer not to have posts like this on my group.” There’s no mechanism for you to take over and make it okay to post about birds. In an association structure, if the members want posts about birds, there’s a mechanism to override management and post about birds.

How can one enhance their pull as a member? In many organizational structures, there are groups of volunteer members dedicated to a task handed down by the board and/or management. These are often called committees and/or subcommittees. Committees do not have a direct vote in what the association does or what the board decides, but they are charged with giving input and/or creating things that can be used by the association for its mission. Committee work also helps teach members to work together constructively in a team so that if they ever do decide to run for board membership, they are used to working cohesively with others that may have very different opinions on the “right thing to do.”

Now we get down to the greatest power members have. We are the boots on the ground. We see what is occurring in our workplaces, out in the streets, and on our social media. I’ve been a proud union member of two different unions in the last 5 years. Occasionally, when I hear or see something strange, I’ll let a union person know, or I’ll ask a union person a question. Why? It’s not about getting people in trouble. It’s not about being more friendly with my union leader. It’s not about being a busybody or a know-it-all. It’s not about scoring points at the workplace. It’s about realizing that these management and director teams are human beings. They are not omnipotent giant floating brains.  Often, they have not heard about what we are sharing with them, or they have not thought about it in the way we have presented. Imagine you are now John or Jane Doe, CEO of Your Corporation. Your boots on the ground are your employees and your customers. If someone’s lying about your company behind your back, do you expect your boots on the ground to mention it to you? We are a community. Like any community, we each have great power in protecting and growing the community.

Over the last decade, I have seen something startling in the way that we view our leaders, and sometimes how our leaders view us. For a time, I know people in power were dismissive.  I have friends and colleagues whose concerns and opinions fell on deaf ears, whether that was management or board members. Those friends and colleagues voted with their wallet and they backed away from the association structure. Those deaf ears are long gone or have gone on to support associations that work against our community’s best interest, and yet still there is a pervasive attitude of “what have you done for me lately?” There is a disowning of the community’s triumphs when they come from people who aren’t in our tribe. There is a strong push towards factionalism. This divides our house. This forces us to spend time and energy fighting each other. With the inherent power of members of a community described, and the reasons for an association structure described, it’s my hope that we’ll spend less time beating up on our allies and their organizational structures. There has been a great push to platform each other in recent months. This pandemic showed us that unity is achievable. So if there’s somebody out there that doesn’t get it; if there’s someone that has no clue how powerful they are or why certain things operate the way they do, it’s up to us all to let them know, and in that order. You got this, now go get it.

State Associations With Mentoring

Quick news blast. I contacted pretty much every court reporting association in the world this week and got together a list of associations with mentoring. Some have not gotten back to me yet, so this is a work in progress.

This’ll be made available at the student webinar hosted by Joshua Edwards and NYSCRA Sunday. If you are a student that has not yet RSVP’d, do so now! Connecting with working reporters is invaluable and every effort we make for students is an investment in the future of court reporting.

Us and Them

While regular fans of my work may believe that the them of this story are a company, the digitals, or rock bottom rates, tonight is different. A great writer already addressed the topic of the adversary in the mirror. Mission accomplished. No more them to talk about. Right?

Incorrect. There’s a growing discontent out there. People are upset with our associations. People see the falling rates, the fantastic need for better training across the country, and all the challenges we face in producing the record. People are upset that things too often do not go our way. Some days, despite our best efforts, it seems we are fighting a losing battle. There’s actually another side to this, too. The leaders of associations — the people who are often donating time and money for the greater good — not only face criticism, but also the harsh reality that many, many people find it easier to critique than to help build something greater.

Summarized:

STENOGRAPHERS: Why are you not doing X?

ASSOCIATIONS: Why are you not helping with X?

What does this do? It makes it us and them. Maybe it even makes it us against them. There are, and will always be, personality conflicts and personal squabbles that prevent progress. Can’t help that.

  • But what we can help is how we look at this from a long term, high level of thinking and strategy. To that end, I would like to offer a few assorted suggestions.
  • If you are an association leader, try keeping a log of what you’re doing. Note what is working. Note what has been tried. Note what didn’t work and why it didn’t work. One of our major problems today is that we’ve had decades of leaders and there does not seem to be a good guide on how to lead. Keep lists of ideas and suggestions from members so that even an idea that is untenable today can be examined someday in the future.
  • If you are a stenographer who has complaints, bring them up. Be polite, be professional, be honest. The more developed your idea is, the easier it is to work with. If it is a very developed idea and shot down, you can even seek private funding or commence the idea privately. As an example, a mentor believed that associations should take a more active role in education. I largely agree. Where we disagree is that I believe it is on the proposers to create a program to share with the association, whereas I believe the mentor thinks the association should do it.
  • Telling other people they should do more is unwise. First, you’re alienating the person you are telling to do more. Their first reaction is going to be to consider not doing anything more because their work is clearly unappreciated. Second, their opinion of you is dropping through the floor, and your ability to work together in the future is damned. I do believe in my heart that we can always do better, but I always try to acknowledge that we are all human and can only do so much.
  • What makes a leader? Followers. That’s it. That’s all you need. What keeps followers? Engagement on their level. Everyone has different tolerance levels for engagement. Find out what your followers like to do and then include them at their own comfort level. Hey, Mr. Reporter, you like drawing and design? Would you like to help us create an attractive flyer? Hey, Ms. Reporter, you like science and statistics? Would you help us design a program to track historic price data? Frankly, it doesn’t even have to be purely voluntary. If a small stipend is the difference between a yes and a no, consider paying out to increase the intellectual property of the association and its value to members.
  • Similarly, everyone may now see the inherent power they have as followers. If you have stuff you are willing to do, let your leaders know. It will make it more probable that you will get to take on or design something you’re passionate in.
  • Finally, see some validity in the id and the ego. There is who we are, and who we want to be. You’ve got to respect both. If you know a reporter wants to be a leader, but is not a good leader, but a good writer, then perhaps have them lead a writing project.

Associations face a lot of brain drain. They’re run by volunteers. Many aren’t making any money directly or indirectly off their leadership position. Imagine you are a stenographer that works all day, transcribes for 2 hours a night, goes home, and then sacrifices the little free time you have to jump on a conference call or respond to association emails. It’s not so much that people in power don’t want to fix everything, but the effort behind it is tremendous. Then add the fact that it can be very easy to burn out or become bitter, and perform less-than-optimally as a leader.

This is where you come in. It matters precious little if you are a leader, or a follower, or masquerading as either. It matters very much what you do and how you act. Realize that there are always improvements to be made, and that your inaction, action, words, or silence will change outcomes for all of us.

NCRA: Our Money’s On Stenographers

There’s been a huge spike in stenographer association activity across the country. FCRA got part of the Florida legislature to consider a bill to create a court reporter registry, MCRA put out a town hall meeting about digital recording, but thanks to the crippling weather conditions around, that got canceled for now. MCRA also announced the CSR exam — free for members! CalDRA, as described a few posts ago, threw together a war chest and started producing pro steno stickers and flyers. VCRA got in on the war call and also began producing pro steno flyers. Sorry to anyone I missed — write to us all in the comments below — but the bottom line is associations have really put their mouth where our money is and began advocating full blast for stenography.

That brings us to today. We don’t speak for NCRA here on Stenonymous, but we’ll give you the facts and the inferences we draw from them. NCRA just announced unequivocally that whatever funding the corporate sponsorship program brought — it’s not worth the appearance of bias to membership. Your membership and participation is worth more to this board and body than corporate dollars. Your time, your talent, your questions, and your concerns are valid. They ended the corporate partnership program. That’s a big move.

No offense meant to the companies that are all about steno. We know that you are out there and you do a lot for us. We want you to keep plugging away and advocating for steno. We want you at our conventions. But NCRA was having a serious public relations nightmare. Some partners, like Veritext, were pushing so hard on the digital reporting, that it became completely incompatible with NCRA’s core mission of the stenographer.

If you think this is the right path, it’s time to consider renewing membership, writing them, and telling them what would make your experience even better. There are many thousands of us, and as I have shown mathematically in the past, just a fraction of the field in any market could shift the playing field from zero association activity to full-scale lobbying campaign to raise awareness about steno and/or get legislators to enact sensible law regarding the record.

It’s all there in yellow and black. This is your NCRA. What do we do with things we care about? We maintain them. We improve them. And when necessary, we fight for them.

Already there are tons of people interacting with NCRA. Got to see a great article by Rich Germosen that talked all about how he had posted up the men of court reporting, and how others could see that, see that it was a wonderful profession for men and women, and jump into the field. There’s really something special about the staff of NCRA and the JCR, so if you’re outspoken or just need to be heard, make a submission today!

Alternatively, if you’re the quiet type, feel free to write in to Stenonymous. We’re not afraid of a little work, and we’ll compile your suggestions and send it to NCRA ourselves. You’re worth the effort, and your ideas just might confirm what the board’s already thinking and spur real action and progress on top of what we are already seeing.

We’re talking. They’re listening. And they’re more willing than ever to speak for us. So let this be a shout out to everybody who’s on the fence: We need you!

NCRA and NYSCRA: For Stenographers

It is with a great deal of enjoyment that I share what happened this weekend. NCRA sent out an email blast that it was suspending its corporate partner solicitations. Some of its fabulous directors took to Facebook to share the message as well. I think this is great on a lot of levels. They’re paying attention to our preferred social media space. They’re paying attention to the fact that some of our corporate partners are not being very partnery. They’re reaffirming that they are us.

We all together support the stenographic modality of transcription and record making. NCRA sounds serious about a transformation, and we hope it continues on its current course towards educating the public that this a viable and vibrant career choice and that stenographic reporting is among the best speech-to-text “applications” around. Compared to the NVRA, which doesn’t bother to write back when I ask questions, NCRA’s responsiveness and commitment to its members and potential members is refreshing. I hope that responsiveness continues. I hope that any members that have smart suggestions for changes to the corporate partnership program write in to NCRA today. Out of the many thousands of us, I am sure there are smart and acceptable solutions to be had.

Now I’ll turn to NYSCRA, who also put out a statement reaffirming their commitment to stenography. Let’s face the facts: NYSCRA is an association by stenographers for stenographers. Up until recently, only working stenographers could hold office or vote. We recently held a vote to allow retired stenographers and amazing stenographic educators like Karen Santucci to have officer and voting privileges. The results of such vote were not yet announced, but make no mistake that I was right there voting yes with many of you. NYSCRA is not being coy or dishonest about what they’re saying. They do give entities that donate recognition for donating. Years ago I helped sponsor the breakfast in a Long Island meeting, and my name was right alongside the other sponsors as I recall. I had no control over the breakfast, the event, or anything like that. Sponsors do not control NYSCRA.

Consider this a call for all to get more involved. And don’t believe what you hear. You can get involved in event the smallest of ways. Taking the time to write a suggestion is involvement. Taking the time to attend a meeting is involvement. Even taking some time out to discuss an issue with a colleague and work through the pros, cons, and challenges of an idea can be involvement. Some would have you believe that you must be donating, volunteering, hosting, and traveling to be involved. For those that have the time and energy, we are grateful. But the time things really shine is when a member like you takes up one issue, any issue that you truly believe is important to steno, and makes the associations aware that it can be on their radar. It’s when real members like you step up and propose solutions to the problems we face.

Some look at a question and say: If it was important, someone would’ve answered it already. All I have to ask is: What would make your profession better?