back to article Amazon textbook rental service scammed for $1.5m

A 36-year-old man from Portage, Michigan, was arrested on Thursday for allegedly renting thousands of textbooks from Amazon and selling them rather than returning them. Andrew Birge, US Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, said Geoffrey Mark Hays Talsma has been indicted on charges of mail and wire fraud, …

  1. Winkypop Silver badge
    Coat

    If the alleged perp’ is convicted

    Don’t assign him to the prison library!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: If the alleged perp’ is convicted

      Meanwhile charging over $170 for a textbook goes un-punished

      1. EricB123 Bronze badge

        Re: If the alleged perp’ is convicted

        The lack up upvotes is scary.

  2. jamesdagger

    In law

    This is a textbook case

    1. AndyMTB

      Re: In law

      They're certainly throwing the book at him.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Book him, Danno!

  4. heyrick Silver badge

    What's going on at Amazon that it took "losing" fourteen thousand textbooks in a smallish geographical area (without getting payment back) before alarm bells started to ring?

    Is everybody scamming them, thus making this fail to be a statistical anomaly?

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      That's a very good question.

      I'd've thought that, after losing 500, somebody would be taking a closer look at what was going on.

      It would appear that this activity was likely drowned under the hundreds of thousands of daily deliveries and also, that Amazon has been automated to the point that the whole thing administers itself.

      Amazon needs to revisit the concept of activity alarms.

    2. Timbo Bronze badge

      Some time back a friend of mine (who is a trusted reviewer for products sold on Amazon) received a "free of charge" Blu-Ray disc of some film to review.

      But they contacted Amazon to say that they couldn't do the review as they did not have a compatible player on which to view it.

      So Amazon sent them (free of charge) a Blu-Ray player (quite a good one in fact) so they could do the review. And they could keep the player afterwards.

      Ultimately, this is the problem with Amazon - so have gotten SO BIG, that seemingly quite low value items (maybe tens of $$, even upto maybe a couple of hundred $$) can easily go "missing" or be given away, and it makes little or no difference to their bottom line.

      Of course, the odd occasion this happens is just one of those things...but a perpetrator who keeps "going back to the well", is eventually going to be found out.

      So, he/they will have the book thrown at him/them ;-)

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        "seemingly quite low value items (maybe tens of $$, even upto maybe a couple of hundred $$) can easily go "missing" or be given away, and it makes little or no difference to their bottom line."

        Yes, they're a bit casual about stuff like that. I ordered a, er, very well-priced - the price of one bottle - 3-pack of spirits a while ago. Only one bottle turned up. I contacted customer services, they apologised, refunded my payment, let me keep the bottle delivered so far as compensation/goodwill, and told me to order again to get 3 bottles like I 'should'. So I did, and they delivered just one again. Contacted customer services again, same answer. Eventually I ended up with 3 bottles worth 50 quid each, a refund, and £10 credit 'for the inconvenience'.

        I think it's a cost of having good customer service. Either you have some fairly empowered, intelligent, highly-paid people making decisions, or you have low-paid people allowed to give refunds without really understanding the problems, or you have shit customer service.

        1. heyrick Silver badge

          "or you have low-paid people allowed to give refunds without really understanding the problems"

          This. On one order, I got myself a kit of electronic parts (about €30) and my mother some bamboo crochet hooks (about €3).

          After a while I contacted them to point out that the crochet hooks never arrived. They refunded...the €30. Okay, thanks, but did anybody actually read the message and the item it was linked to, or did some drone just open the order and hit refund on the most expensive item?

          (makes me wonder, does this count as a black mark against the company selling the components? their stuff came in a couple of days, it had nothing to do with them!)

          1. MiguelC Silver badge

            A friend bought two Nexus 6 phones, one for himself and the other one on behalf of a friend.

            After playing a bit with it he didn't like it that much so, under standard Amazon policy, he returned his. Amazon refunded him for both.

            He was a happy customer

        2. hoola Silver badge

          What I think needs further investigation is whether Amazon took the hit on the refunds and you keeping the bottles of whether the cost was just debited back to the supplier.

          Unfortunately the way companies like Amazon and the big supermarkets work is to ensure that the costs are dumped onto the supplier chain. This works because the supplier is between a rock and a hard place, either they sell through Amazon or the supermarkets or go out of business.

      2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Of course, the odd occasion this happens is just one of those things...but a perpetrator who keeps "going back to the well", is eventually going to be found out."

        There are probably cleverer scam artists doing it, but they know to change products and tactics frequently and thus minimise the chances of being caught. ie going to a different well instead of the same one every day.

        1. Terry 6 Silver badge

          You do often hear about scammers etc. who keep doing it. And it's hard not to think that eventually they were always going to get caught, but if they'd stopped while they were ahead they'd maybe not have ended up in prison.

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. General Purpose Silver badge

            To be fair, the halting problem is famously undecidable.

      3. fredesmite2

        blue- are chep...you can find them fod $19.

      4. JimboSmith Silver badge

        I ordered a 1U rack shelf from Amazon a while ago during lockdown because they could deliver where the place I normally use was closed. Took a few days to arrive but when it did the shelf was damaged. It looked as if the thing had been dropped from height onto a hard surface as the front was crumpled. I cannot imagine how that was missed before it was packed as all the packaging was perfect.

        Instigated a return with pictures and they said it was obviously a manufacturing fault or defect. Please send the item back to this address and we'll refund you and cover £15 of postage. I looked at the address and it was in Eastern Europe postage dwarfed the cost of the shelf and their £15. Called their customer service and the girl looked at the order for me, I said if I'm going to be out of pocket no point in returning it. She said she agreed and that she'd check with her supervisor. He said we'll refund you don't send it back either bin it or donate it to charity. I did the latter. I also said if you're going to have items dispatched and sold by Amazon from so far away maybe you should make it clearer.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He probably should have kept some of those books. If he gets convicted, he'll have a lot of time on his hands.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "lying to the FBI"

    Go Directly To Jail ...

    Whether other charges are proved or not, with this he's going to serve time.

    1. oiseau Silver badge
      WTF?

      Re: "lying to the FBI"

      Whether other charges are proved or not ...

      So ...

      If lying to the FBI earns you a fiver doing porridge ...

      How much should the Orange DH© get for lying (proven mutiple times) to the electorate?

      50? 100?

      O.

      1. Disgusted Of Tunbridge Wells Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "lying to the FBI"

        The people downvoting you aren't (necessarily) Trump fans. They just think you're a weapon for bringing up something so off topic.

      2. MiguelC Silver badge
        Facepalm

        Re: "lying to the FBI"

        Show us a politician that doesn't lie....

      3. Jon 37

        Re: "lying to the FBI"

        Lying to the electorate is not a crime. (Maybe it should be, but no politician is going to support that).

        Lying to the FBI is a crime.

  7. mark l 2 Silver badge

    It goes to show you the difference between how the UK and US treat these types of crimes. As wow! up to 20 years for each mail and wire fraud charge. The maximum sentence from fraud in the UK is 10 years, but they usually only throw that at people who have committed the most serious frauds, such as against lots of individuals or abusing their position, rather than against a business that make $1.5m in a less than an hour. To be looking at 20 years in jail you would have to be committing armed robbery or other violent or sexual offences, not stealing to some books from a billion dollar corporation.

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Don't forget US prisoners, particularly in privately run prisons have to work, making sentences longer makes good business sense having a well experienced captive work force.

      Capitalism at its best.

      1. Dave314159ggggdffsdds Silver badge

        "US prisoners, particularly in privately run prisons have to work"

        That's not quite true. Some states force prisoners to work, but in others it's a voluntary option and reasonably well compensated* to encourage takeup.

        *Compensation includes days off the sentence and other privileges, not just money.

        And in some states it's mandatory, but the compensation is time off the sentence rather than money, I think.

        Since it's in the US, apparently the main objection is from competing businesses who object to the cheap labour their competitors benefit from :/

        1. Cederic Silver badge

          However.. "Lawyers for Attorney General Kamala Harris had argued in court that if forced to release these inmates early, prisons would lose an important labor pool."

          -- https://www.latimes.com/local/political/la-me-ff-federal-judges-order-state-to-release-more-prisoners-20141114-story.html

          Maybe things have changed since 2014.

      2. lnLog

        The one remaining place where slavery is still legal in the USA

        https://constitution.congress.gov/constitution/amendment-13/

    2. heyrick Silver badge

      Twenty years for stealing some books, five to twenty (depending on state) for felony hit and run. Hmm...

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Life is cheap, but hit a corporations profits? It;s the eChair for him! (and not one with wheels)

    3. CAPS LOCK

      ...and yet, Joe Orton and Ken Halliwell 'defaced' some library books and got...

      ....six moths inside. Rumour has it the so called defaced books are now a prized possession of Islington library...

  8. Quotes

    ...and in just three minutes Amazon recovered all their losses

  9. W.S.Gosset Silver badge

    Portage...

    That took me back. It's the French banks' term for the implied cost of carry, or internal funding charge, crossed out against each trade's raw P&L to get a benchmark nett. Had to expand a system of mine to allow including paired notional figures. So I just put hooks everywhere and added it as an instance.

    Nothing at all to do with textbooks.

    1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: Portage...

      It's also the term for transporting stuff, including the boats themselves, between one navigable river system and another. It covers both the act and the place where it happens so is the likely origin of the place name.

      1. Steve Aubrey
        IT Angle

        Re: Portage...

        "portage" is also the package manager for Gentoo Linux, providing a very tenuous IT angle.

  10. Ken Moorhouse Silver badge

    Amazon need to focus a bit more on...

    ...their bookkeeping.

    1. fredesmite2

      Re: Amazon need to focus a bit more on...

      Company's revenue amounted to more than $386 billion U.S. dollars for 2020 , $20B profit.

      fraud is calulated in ... and other consumers pay for it.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Talsma would call Amazon's customer service department

    I must say, they worked damn hard to earn that 1.5 million!

    1. Wilco

      Re: Talsma would call Amazon's customer service department

      You have a point - quite a boring and fiddly job, and well paid, but not fabulously so.

      Of course they didn't make 1.5 million - that was the retail value of the books, not what they sold them for. I doubt they could sell their ill gotten gains at more than half price, so they perhaps made 750,000 USD.

      If we guesstimate that it took 15 mins per book to order it, re-sell it and ship it, they would have had to spend 3500 hours buying and selling books.

      Therefore their hourly rate for their criminal enterprise is ~ USD 215 per hour, or about GBP 155 per hour. Very nice - about GBP 300K per year as a full time job. Maybe the primary perp was smart enough to hire a minimum wage patsy or two for the grunt work, to increase his reward/effort ratio. Even so it doesn't seem enough to risk your liberty over, given the near certainty of being caught eventually.

  12. martinusher Silver badge

    The real scandal behind the scandal

    The scam that really beats all -- and the reason why text books are rented rather than purchased -- is that its a captive market that has no choice other than to buy the product. You have to have the textbook to take the course so asking $60--$100 or more for a book is the rule. Most textbooks are worth nothing like this but its a captive market -- you have to have such and such a book and it has to be the specified edition -- but as the market is captive its milked for all its worth. This leads to a lively trade in used books and book rental, often facilitated by the school library/bookshop, and obviously opportunities for fraud.

    1. skeptical i

      Re: The real scandal behind the scandal

      Yes. This was the second thing that got my attention ("HOW much for that book?!?"). I read somewhere that some professors write their own text books, giving them a nice extra revenue stream. One professor I had was keenly aware of the price of books and went out of her way to use books that were less expensive and available outside the Uni's bookstore (another racket), and also to have the print shop assemble booklets of photocopied chapters from other texts and then sell the booklets for the cost of the copies and coily-bindy thingies.

      One imagines students calling the police after a break-in and saying "no, they didn't take the smartphones or large-screen teevee, they just took all our textbooks".

    2. GlenP Silver badge

      Re: The real scandal behind the scandal

      You have to have the textbook to take the course

      Been there, nearly 40 years ago we were told we *had* to have a particular textbook for a course. I don't think I referred to it once in the whole year, we assumed the professor concerned was getting a cut of the profits.

  13. fredesmite2

    white collar crime ... 200 hrs of community work

    not a single day in prison

    any takers ???

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cost of textbooks

    Specialist fiction costs more than general fiction... look at the cost of a decent SF or Horror novel compared to the trash that normally fills supermarket book shelves. Some of that is down to the smaller audience meaning more per unit to recover the cost or production but most of it is the publishers know they have you by the proverbial short and curlies - you want to read the stuff, you will pay.

    It's the same with textbooks, audience-wise - but you also need to factor in that if you want to write a decent textbook that will sell, you need to know the subject - which normally means an expensive education. It also explains why so many climate experts, and armchair tacticians are to be found on facebook...

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