You have just received the largest order your small publishing company has ever seen, and you are excited. But this may not be the good news you think it is. In fact, you are about to get scammed. Almost every small publisher gets some version of this shipping scam tried on them. Here is how it works.
You get an email saying that someone wants to buy a large number of books, usually 50 or more. The email says that the books are for a school or a library in a foreign country, or they are being purchased by a major corporation. They want to give you warm fuzzy feelings–not only are you selling a bunch of books, they are going to be used to educate poor children in an African school!
If you reply, they will tell you that they need to ship the books via a specific shipper. They will send you a check or money order for the cost of the books, plus money to pay the shipper. Once you cash the check, you are to wire money to their shipper to cover the cost of shipping the books to them.
In some cases they will simply send a check or money order for much more than the cost of the books plus shipping, and ask you to wire any excess funds to them.
What happens in either case is that, after you have wired money and shipped the books, you find out that the check or money order was fraudulent. You are out both the value of the books you shipped and the money you wired to the scammer, often thousands of dollars.
How can you protect yourself from these scams?
Never wire money to someone you do not know, for any reason. It is always a scam.
Do not rely on the fact that the checks “look good.” Scammers are expert forgers and can create checks, money orders and other documents that appear to be genuine. Your bank may be able to verify whether they are genuine by contacting the organization that supposedly issued them.
Do not assume that because your bank gave you money for the checks that the checks are valid and have cleared. Banks are legally required to release funds within a few days, and it may take weeks to discover that the checks are forgeries. Money orders or cashiers checks are not “safe.” They can be forged, too.
Be suspicious when a customer specifies that you use a particular shipper. Be extra suspicious when the shipping costs are estimated to be thousands of dollars to ship a carton of books.
Do not get so excited by the prospect of a large order that you fail to exercise caution. When you receive one of these orders, the wisest course of action is probably to delete the email and move on. However, if you want to proceed, watch for the danger signs listed in this article. And never wire money to someone you do not know.