5 of the Biggest Textbook Scams and Schemes Ever
It's bad enough that the prices of textbooks these days border on the scandalous. Making it worse is knowing that for every single uber-expensive textbook sold, there are unscrupulous people and institutions behind it, running what could only be scams foisted upon a captive market of students that have little or no choice but to buy what they've been required to in order to survive a single semester. Here are 5 of those scams that have made, or still are making the lives of students even more miserable.
1. Custom Textbook Scam
What could be worse than a textbook company selling exorbitantly-priced textbooks to students? A school helping them do it, to their very own students. That is exactly the deal some schools have with textbook companies via the "custom textbook" ploy.
Here's how it works: The textbook company takes a certain textbook, like the one pictured to the left, then "customize" it for a certain school. By "customize" we mean splashing the name of the school right across the top of the front cover, a few dozen pages inside describing that school's program for that particular textbook's subject, and a notice on the back that reads: "This book may not be bought or sold used." Other than that, there's not much difference between the customized version and the regular one sold outside the campus. Oh, there's that little matter of the custom textbook having double the price tag of the regular version, but it's all the same, right? Check out this WSJ report to see how the cover of Diana Hacker's A Writer's Reference looks like after the customization process.
2. Textbook Review Scam
Some textbook publishing companies go straight to the ones who actually require the students to use certain textbooks: the professors themselves. Textbook company North West Publishing did just that with Middle Tennessee State University history professor Jim Williams, when they offered him $2,500 to "review" one of its textbooks. As it turned out, they were asking Williams to do more than just say what he thinks about the book, which is priced at $70 at the campus bookstore. They were actually asking him to require his students to buy it, or he could forget about the money. And he's not the only one who got this kind of an indecent proposal. More on this story here.
3. Los Angeles Unified School District Textbook Scam
In 2007, Matthias Vheru, a former Los Angeles Unified School District official, was arrested for allegedly issuing nearly $4 million in unauthorized textbook orders for a title he wrote.
Yes folks, he's accused of using his position as a supervisor of the District's Central Office Mathematics Department to buy $3.7 million worth of his own Algebra book for use in District classrooms. Can't blame him, really. After all, the 20 percent cut stated in his deal with the publishing company netted him nearly $1 million in royalties and fees. Click here for more details on this case.
4. The Book Buyback Scam
Sure, many college bookstores would argue that buying a used book for half its original price tag is not a scam, but just a proper way of doing business, the operative word here being "used" and therefore has a depreciated value attached to it. Tell that to the millions of college students around the country who have sold barely-used textbooks to school bookstores and got paid as low as 10-15% of their books' original cost for their efforts.
5. Purdue University Student's Fraudulent Textbook Selling Scheme at Half.com
Nicholas Baptist, a former Purdue University student, allegedly opened 384 fake bank accounts for non-existent employees and used them to open 568 Half.com seller accounts, where buyers sent in over $5.3 million dollars as payment for textbooks they've "purchased". He then allegedly wired the money to accounts he held in Singapore and Malaysia. A Malaysian national, Baptist has been charged with 12 counts of wire fraud. He has since been believed to have returned to his home country. DOJ details of this case here.
This article on textbook prices exposes some of the other reasons textbook costs are high and what you can do about it.
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