Possible Scam Alert: Paul Jackson Institute

From today’s edition of the Shelf Awareness newsletter:

Scam alert: Rhoda Wolff, general manager at Schuler Books & Music, Lansing, Mich., reported that an order she received via e-mail had the earmarks of a potential scam. The letter, to the attention of store owner/store manager from Paul Jackson, begins, “WE ARE PAUL JACKSON INSTITUTE WE DO WANT TO PLACE AN ORDER FOR 50 COPIES OF EACH OF THE TWO BOOKS LISTED BELOW.” The two books were Barack Obama’s Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope.

According to Wolff, “When I attempted to get a phone number, address, or any further information, the e-mail said he was in meetings all day and would only communicate via e-mail. When I googled Paul Jackson Institute, there were no exact matches. This closely resembles another scam we dealt with a few years ago in which our stores were contacted by phone through an operator that was speaking on behalf of someone who was hearing impaired. I just thought it would be great if you could let other bookstores know that we suspect that this is some sort of scam, and to be aware.”

This also reminds me of the infamous Author Identity ordering scam that targeted booksellers in 2007.


  1. I work in Internet retail, and I see this kind of thing happening all the time in my industry. Usually, they are trying to get merchandise that they can resell, and pay for it with something that doesn’t cost them very much – a stolen credit card is the most common, but a forged cashier’s check could be another possibility.

    On one occasion I saw a scammer trying to arrange for shipping with a fake shipping company – I’m not entirely sure how that would have worked. My guess is they would have sent some sort of fake payment and then had us send a real payment to their fake shipping company.

    This happens often enough that we have a standard scammer response policy – not just to avoid us losing money, but to mislead them enough that they don’t get useable information about how to improve their methods.

  2. The one lucky thing about these scams is that the verbiage is nearly identical – and vastly different from a legit order. in our case, I’m suspicious of anything that comes directly to us, since our distributor handles all the PO’s and fulfills our orders.

    We used to get the “kids in college who had formed a campus review site for their newspaper” emails asking for freebie copies of our new releases and backlist. Yeah, uh huh. Unless they have a legit webpage and contact info where you can call the campus to verify, I just delete them.

    Clever bastids.

  3. We sometimes get similar emails at GUD. We replied the first time, to someone asking if we shipped to Australia, but the sender never got back in touch–maybe they realised we were too small a magazine to bother with! Now we’ve learnt to spot them, mostly.

  4. The CraigsList version of this scam is that the books cost $500 (let’s say, for the sake of simplifying the math). The scammer sends you a check for $1000, then emails you to say “Oh no! My (partner/assistant/Uncle Bob/whatever) accidentally sent you too much money! Could you be so kind as to deposit that check and send me back the difference when you ship the books?” Only later do you find out that the check was 100% vulcanized rubber, and now you’re on the hook to your bank. The books are incidental; the scammer just wants the difference back, preferrably as cash or a money order that you can’t stop payment on.

    — Jim

  5. Thanks for explaining, Erin. I couldn’t quite figure it out either.

    My mom lives in NYC, on the Upper West Side. One area of Broadway is always lined with people selling books. Many are selling used books, but often there are really dodgy-looking people selling just-pubbed books that are obviously brand new. Now we know how they get them!

  6. Hm…I guess I didn’t finish the story. So the scammer has 100 books that he didn’t pay for and that a lot of people want to buy, and he can sell them for a fraction of the price on the internet or on the street, and he makes a whole pile of money. Ta-da!

  7. Oh! I know the answer to this one. My boyfriend worked for a couple years at one of those places the post mentions where they place relay calls for deaf people, and the scammers loved using their service so he learned all about this stuff.

    They’re ordering a lot of copies of a popular book, and they’ll pay you with a stolen credit card or with a fake money order. The credit card company actually takes the hit when the identity theft victim realizes they’ve had a hundred Obama books charged to their account.

  8. It might be necessary to find someone who actually followed thru on a scam of this nature to get a clear explanation.

    However, I think what it would lead to would be that the scam would lead into the recipient having to pay someone in order to get the funds for the sale moving. Like the Nigerian Scam, you’re supposed to pay for the chance that you’ll get something far greater in return.

    (OT Note: My verification word is admiesto… Now I’m going to have to use that word in something.)

  9. I can see the red-flags that might make this a scam. What I can’t see is how The Paul Jackson Institute (or whoever it might be) would benefit. Obama’s books are published by mainstream publishers. How would a third party make money off of them?

  10. Victoria,

    I think this is a new variation on a Nigerian scam for booksellers that hit me a couple years ago when I was selling books off a web site.

    The scammer pretended to be ordering 50 copies of one of my titles for a school. Since the book wasn’t one that any school would have ordered, I ignored it. I received several different versions of this via email over the years.

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