By Lukas I. Alpert
It’s a textbook case.
A group of men in Michigan have been charged with stealing $1.5 million in books from Amazon.com’s /zigman2/quotes/210331248/composite AMZN -1.38% textbook rental service and selling them for cash.
Prosecutors say the men, led by Geoffrey Mark Hays Talsma, 36, of Portage, Mich., allegedly rented thousands of books over a five years period with no intention of ever returning them.
Textbooks are notoriously expensive, so Amazon’s Textbook Rental Program allows students to rent books for a period of time for a fee far lower than the book’s purchase price. The program limits the number of books that can be rented by one person at any given time to 15. If a book is not returned, Amazon charges the full price to the borrower’s credit card.
To get around these rules, prosecutors allege that Talsma created numerous accounts in fake names and would use Amazon gift cards to pay the rental fee. He would then enter credit-card information from MyVanilla prepaid Visa cards /zigman2/quotes/203660239/composite V -0.99% that had little or no money on them as a backup payment method.
Talsma then allegedly had the books mailed to various postal addresses accessible to either him or several accomplices, prosecutors said. An indictment filed in federal court in the western district of Michigan charged Gregory Mark Gleesing , 43, Lovedeep Singh”Prince” Dhanoa, 25, of Portage, and Paul Steven Larson, 32, of Kalamazoo, Michigan, as co-conspirators.
Talsma is charged with mail and wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property, aggravated identity theft and lying to the FBI. If convicted he faces up to 40 years in prison.
Messages left with attorneys for Talsma, Dhanoa and Larson weren’t immediately returned. It wasn’t immediately clear if Gleesing had retained an attorney.
Some textbooks sell for over $228
According to the indictment, Talsma would allegedly sell the books to local bookstores or online. When he wouldn’t return the books by the specified date, Amazon would be unable to recoup the purchase price because the credit card on file would have insufficient funds available, court papers said.
In all, prosecutors say Talsma rented 14,000 books that were never returned. Among the books Talsma is accused of stealing include:
“Econometrics: a Practical Guide,” which sells new on Amazon for $143.99, but rents for $24.84 a semester
“Options, Futures and Other Derivatives,” which sells new on Amazon for $228.32, and rents for $76.54 a semester
“Business Statistics: a Decision-Making Approach,” which sells new on Amazon for $138.49 and rents for $24.98 a semester
Talsma also is accused of filing numerous refunds from Amazon for books he falsely claimed he never received.
In a statement, Amazon said this kind of fraud hurts everyone who uses its platform.
“Fraud undermines the trust of our customers, and jeopardizes the value and selection that entrepreneurs, authors, and publishers provide to millions of customers through our stores,” the company said. “We will continue to pursue all available measures to protect our customers and hold bad actors accountable.”