People occasionally ask if I, as a blind person, ever worry about someone stealing money from me. For example, when I’m at the store and collect change, that sort of thing.
I had an experience once, at a bar in Mexico, where the server kept moving the change over to one corner of the little tray he was using to bring out the cash. Somehow the little tray kept being offered to me with that corner facing away from me. Perhaps the server was hoping I would miss the money? It was an interesting experience, but even then, I could not say beyond a reasonable doubt that the server was trying to cheat me out of money.
Actually, much to my chagrin, the only people who have ever swindled me out of money have been other blind people.
I’m going to share the actual names of the persons involved in the two following stories. In my book, they lost their right to privacy the moment they committed their offense. Considering their behavior has not been legally punished, the best I can hope is that others will be forewarned before doing business with these individuals, but the takeaway from this post is less about the people and more about the nature of the scams.
The First Offense
The first blind person to steal money from me was Jahmal Lovato. Jahmal put up a Braille Sense U2 for sale. For my sighted peers, this is a refreshable Braille device somewhat similar to a tablet. Except, unlike a tablet you might pick up at Best Buy for a couple hundred bucks, the specialized market for such a device means manufacturers can charge almost $6,000. Naturally, blind people take to mailing lists and user forums in hopes of picking up one of these used devices for a significantly lower price.
I took up Jahmal up on his offer and paid more than $2,000 for the product. Almost six years later, I’m still waiting for the device. My calls and emails went unanswered.
Five years later Jahmal resurfaced, as I knew he would. The blindness community is not large. He tried selling items on a list I am subscribed to, and I published a cautionary post about his past activity.
Here was Jahmal’s public reply. If you care to read it in its original text, you can do so on this list’s archive:
Hey there, There was a time in my life, as a teenager, bad decisions were made. I did not do business in an honorable way at that time, greed and desperate measures due to Other life situations were also at play then as well. Since then, I became a Christian, and have gotten life straightened out. This happened years ago at a time where I was not mature, and unwilling to see that. I hope this response helps.”
Two things bothered me about this response:
First, there was no apology. I appreciated his acknowledgement of the theft. However, without an apology, I have to question the sincerity of his remorse.
Second, claiming Christianity as a redeeming quality is a slap to Christianity and a weak defense. That would imply there are no crooked Christians, but most importantly, it implies desperate circumstances justify thievery.
Fast forward to this month. Kliphton Miller and his spouse, Shari, posted a Mantis Q40 for sale to a mailing list I am subscribed to. This is basically a Bluetooth keyboard with a refreshable Braille display attached. The product normally retails for $2,495. They were selling it for $2,000.
Again, I took them up on the offer. Several weeks later, I’m still waiting for the box.
Kliphton and Shari Miller exhibited a certain premeditation that makes their offense all the more disappointing.
Shortly after submitting payment, he sent me a UPS tracking code that turned out to be invalid. When I emailed to get the right number, I discovered their email had been deactivated. In fact, their custom domain, SturItUp.com, was switched off. I texted them, and of course, my messages generated sent failure notifications.
I could be wrong, but folks, I think I got swindled, again!
The interesting thing about Kliphton Miller is that I’m pretty sure he is the same Kliphton Miller Frontier Airlines denied boarding to him and his then 18-month granddaughter on account of being blind back in 2017. According to the airline, Kliphton posed a liability. One would have hoped the injustice of the experience would have made him a little more conscious of treating people with respect. Alas, the lesson seems to have been lost on this character.
I’ve learned Kliphton Miller is a contributor to the Tech Juggernaut Podcast. In fact, someone expressed surprise at his behavior considering how put together he sounds on the show. I can only hope the producer will see Kliphton’s actions as unbecoming of a program dedicated, ironically enough, to technology.
Last week I wrote about a few of my dumbest financial mistakes. The mistake I intentionally excluded, so as to give it proper attention, was my failure to use a credit card to pay for both of these transactions. That error was completely on me.
In both cases, I knew better than to use what essentially amounted to cash, a debit card with PayPal in the case of Jahmal and a Zelle transfer in the case of Kliphton. With Jahmal I did not want to pay the extra credit card fee. With Kliphton, he said he only accepted Zelle and Apple Pay, neither of which allows for credit card transactions. I went ahead with a Zelle transaction anyway, because despite my bravado, I am an easygoing person, give people the benefit of the doubt, and generally want to believe people are good at heart, especially when dealing with a fellow blind person.
Dave Ramsey says we should never use credit cards. I disagree and previously made a case against this notion. Had I used a credit card, I could have disputed the transaction and am pretty confident I would have gotten my money back.
Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that people cannot always be trusted. I occasionally sell electronics on similar forums and have never had a complaint about my customer service or the quality of the products I have sold. I treat buyers the same way I would want to be treated. This is good business sense and basic human decency. It saddens me to be reminded there are people, even among marginalized communities, who appear to possess neither.
Would I ever buy from another blind person again?
Yes. Once I got past my moment of frustration, I remembered the number of honest people outweighs the number of crooked ones. I understand the vulnerabilities that come with enrolling in various payment platforms in order to accommodate people’s preferences, but whereas before I would have made exceptions for people who were not in a position to accept credit cards, I will no longer make exceptions, except friends, and even then, we had better be damn good ones.
If you use a debit card to purchase something, and if the transaction goes sideways for whatever reason, it will be difficult to reclaim your funds. In the case of Jahmal, I completed a police report. I went to court and got an order for the money to be repaid with interest. Of course, I needed to figure out where he lived, so I tracked down his personal address, his church, and his mother. I noted with some amusement that he subsequently obtained a guide dog for which he held a fundraiser to be able to provide for it.
Around this time I received an unexpected settlement from the Law School Admissions Council. The amount was almost the same as what had been stolen from me, so rather than hunt Jahmal down with all the fervor of a bloodhound, I decided to let the matter rest and let karma run its course. I felt then and still feel now that God took note of the incident and did His part to make things right.
Kliphton and Shari, on the other hand? I have not decided. I have grown rather comfortable navigating the legal system. That, coupled with quiet calculation, could make for an interesting combination, but hey, who knows, maybe the box will turn up after all, or the money will be sent back in a show of genuine remorse. Anything is possible.
Never assume you will never be the victim of a scam. Criminals get more sophisticated by the day, and while I would not credit Jahmal or Kliphton with sophistication, the simplicity of their schemes makes them all the more troublesome.
- Always use credit cards as a way of protecting your purchases.
- Do not buy anything from anyone you think feels suspicious.
- If you lose cash in a debit transaction, report it to your bank and the payment platform.
- File a police report.
- If you lost cash in a bad deal, You “may” get some relief through small claims court.
- Most importantly, use a credit card and avoid this mess altogether.
What’s your take on the situation? Would you recommend any other steps if you are victimized? I look forward to your comments.