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Steve Brooks
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Northern California - United States
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Profile of Steve Brooks
I recently read a thread here on the Café where members were discussing the idea that folks who are purchasing merchandise from other Café members in our trading area, are often times not receiving the items they paid for in good faith. This is an interesting and valid topic, so I thought I might add a few thoughts of my own. Smile

First, it goes without saying that I encourage everyone to carefully read our policies regarding Magic Transactions of any kind.

Naturally, I highly suggest you carefully evaluate any offers and not send money/merchandise to these advertisers unless you are certain you know with whom you are dealing with and you know all the terms and conditions of any offers.

And finally, Caveat emptor-let the buyer beware.

Having said that, while snail mail does have problems from time to time, the odds of a parcel not arriving are extremely rare. In almost all cases, it is usually the fault of the sender. Scenarios can and often do include:

  • Illegible writing: Hard to deliver a package when you can't read the information properly
  • The wrong postal codes: This happens more often than you might think
  • Insufficient postage: Again, this happens quite frequently and is the fault of the sender
  • Inproper address label etiquette: Example - packages going to Canada must have the address information written in ALL CAPS, else the package is not delievered and it ends up in a bin someplace in Canada - seriously!
  • Address is written incorrectly: Easy to do when you live in the United States and are sending something to Europe and are not really sure if the address is written correctly because addresses in Europe are indeed done very differently than here in the states - still, the fault remains with the sender, unless of course the buyer sent improper information or what was sent is not very easily read
  • Customs paperwork not filled out properly: This is only important when sending items to foreign countries. If using a flat envelope, customs may not even be necessary - again, this responsibility falls to the sender/ seller
  • Poor packaging: The package is not packed and/or secured properly, resulting in the contents falling out, becoming damaged in transit, etc. Again, this is the senders responsibility
  • Shipping insurance: This would appear to be a no brainer, but is too often overlooked. If you are the seller, include the cost of insurance with the shipping total. If the buyer complains or refuses, find another buyer. If you are the purchaser and insurance is not being offered by the seller, insist that the item be insured and offer to include the extra small amount to make this a reality. If the seller refuses, find another seller

In addition, when sending packages overseas, take into account that you are now dealing with the postal authorites in foreign countries. Sadly, not all postal systems are as efficient or trust-worthy as what we have here in America. Once the package leaves the United States and enters a foreign land, the item is now at the mercy of individuals who may not be as reliable as you might think.

When sending merchandise, countries that I have personally encountered problems with include Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong and a few countries in Africa (Nigeria specifically) and South America as well. Often times the postal authorities in some of these countries are low paid employees and are corrupt, resulting in packages containing merchandise of any perceived value mysteriously vanishing.

The frustrating part is - if you are sending something to one of these countries (let's use Hong Kong as an example), the idea of making sure someone signs for the item, tracking it etc is very expensive and is still not a guarantee that your item will arrive in one piece, if at all!

Having said all of that, your own good common sense is probably the best course of action. When considering making a purchase or trade, keep the following in mind:

  • Are you dealing with an adult or a twelve year old?
  • If the offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Try looking to see if the seller has other items listed. If so, how long have those items been posted?
  • How long has the seller been a member of our little community? I've seen people join (usually teenagers), and ten minutes later they are sending me a private message asking me; "Where is the buy & sell area?"
    Geez, they have two posts to their credit and they are already looking to sell stuff. Hmmm... For myself, that sends a red flag up right away, and it should for anyone else as well. At the very least you know they have never bothered to read our Rules & Policies

I would recommend purchasing items only from folks who have been members here for quite sometime. If you are selling to someone, the same advice applies here. Take a moment to read the profile of a member you have never dealt with and check out the posts that they have made on the board recently. Most times, reading the postings of other people will reveal enough to know whether or not the person you are dealing with is a serious member (in which case a transaction has a good chance of being successful) or a young kid (who probably means well, but may or may not be reliable), or an Internet Troll who is likely to take the money and run - literally!

Another area of concern is of course pirated and bootlegged items. This has been a growing problem in the magic industry and shows no real sign of slowing down anytime soon. Though the idea of receiving bootlegged merchandise can happen with almost anything sold in magicdom, DVDs and Ebooks are at the top of the foodchain as it were.

But, how can you tell the difference between a pirated item from the genuine article? Well, there are no easy answers. Truthfully, sometimes it is almost impossible. However, the good news is the fact that most pirated items are produced by greedy amateurs and there are obvious "tells" to their inferior efforts.

Professional publishers (e.g, L&L Publishing, Bob Kohler Magic, The Magic Bakery. etc) have their DVds professionally pressed - NOT burned. This method of manufacture produces the best quality disc, but is also very expensive, due to the large number of discs which must be made at any one given time. In addition, the labels are silk screened or actually printed on the disc - never a sticker.

The majority of pirated (copied) DVDs are burned by idiots using their home computers as a mini production factory. The quality is not guaranteed (nor is compatibility with your DVD player), and the chances are the image will deteriorate in a very short time (pressed discs should last your lifetime). You can recognize a burned disc very easily - look at the play side (opposite the label), if the disc looks purple, blue or green in color, it has been burned. Professionally made discs are mirror-like in appearance. If you are still not quite sure, look at a movie disc you've purchased (e.g, Star Wars, Titanic, etc) recently, the play side should look the same.

Likewise, most pirated discs use labels which are stuck to the discs, as they can be cheaply made with any color printer. I should point out that there are a few (very few) legitimate DVDs produced by creators who do not have the financial means of professionally producing their discs, so they must resort to cheaper methods such as home-burning. However, these discs are in the minority. If you're not sure, contact the creator or publisher.

What about Ebooks and/or downloads? well, that's pretty simple really. If a creator (e.g, Lee Asher) has an Ebook or download for sale, it will only be available on their website or a direct mailing from them personally - NOT from someone on The Magic Café. If someone other than the creator or publisher offers to sell or trade you an Ebook or download, you can bet it has been stolen and is an unauthorized copy - period.

Though not as popular, lecture notes are another victim of the low-lifes of our magic community. Mainly because the majority of lecture notes are printed and bound in places like Kinko's by the author to begin with. Thus, copies which are produced the same way are hard to distinguish from the original article. The basic rule of thumb is to know your source.

In the end, the best thing you can do is study the situation carefully. If you notice the seller lists only DVDs (especially within days of a title being released), be extremely cautious about purchasing too quickly. There is a serious trend amongst a great many thiefs to buy an original, make a copy for themselves, then send you the original, usually minus any special props that might have come with the original discs. Others make copies that they send out, but keep the original. This gives them the ability to make multiple sales and still have the original copy to proudly display for friends. Very sad and pathetic, but all very true.
The worse sort (short of foreign companies bootlegging thousands of discs) are those that download an illegal copy of a DVD from the Internet, then burn copies to sell to others. The only investment they have is their time and the cost of a blank disc - scandalous says I.

Sellers, I would advise you to be just as cautious when making transactions with someone over the Internet. If the buyer is sending you payment via check or money order, common sense dictates you do not ship the item until payment is received and the check has cleared the bank. If the buyer has a problem with those terms, chances are you will probably have trouble with the buyer. The best course of action is of course using a system such as PayPal, which usually insures instant payment.

Finally, whether selling or buying - check and double check all your information including item description, payment terms, addresses and the most important part of the equation - the person you are doing business with.

If you get burned, I don't want to hear you whining and complaining on the board. We are not Ebay and we are not an auction house, we are a magic discussion community. Remember, the decisions you make are your own and I sincerely hope you all make the right choices. Happy trading... Smile
"Always be you because nobody else can" - Steve Brooks
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