A Michigan man has been arrested in one of the more amazing book fraud operations we have ever seen. Geoffrey Mark Hays Talsma, 36, of Portage, Michigan, allegedly “borrowed” 14,000 books, valued at $1.5 million, but instead of returning them he sold the books. What is even more amazing is he borrowed all the books from one place without their catching on to the fact he wasn't returning them. Perhaps better security measures are needed.
The victim was the behemoth Amazon, or more specifically, Amazon Rentals, a textbook rental service. According to the indictment, Talsma rented the textbooks with no intention of either returning them or paying the buyout price to keep them. Instead, he sold them to local textbook sellers or over the internet. Now Amazon is not so naive as to rent 14,000 books to anyone without any being returned. They have a 15 book limit. So, Talsma would create new fake accounts. Considering the volume of books, he enlisted the help of three others, Gregory Mark Gleesing, age 43, Lovedeep Singh Dhanoa, 25, both from Portage, and Paul Steven Larson, 32, of Kalamazoo, all also named in the indictment. On other occasions, Talsma allegedly claimed he never received his shipments or was setting them off against items that could not be returned, such as those which are inflammable.
Talsma also had a scheme to evade Amazon's security requirement for return of the textbooks. He had to provide a credit card number to secure payment of the buyout price if the books were not returned. He would buy MyVanilla Visa cards which did not identify the holder. He would then leave only a small or zero amount of money on those cards. When Amazon went to recover the costs, there was virtually nothing there to pay them.
According to the FBI, “If convicted, Talsma faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years for each of the mail and wire fraud offenses; a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years for interstate transportation of stolen property; and a maximum term of imprisonment of 5 years for making false statements to the FBI. Additionally, if convicted of the aggravated identity theft charges, Talsma will serve a maximum term of imprisonment of four years consecutive to any sentence imposed for the other criminal offenses. Restitution and forfeiture of certain assets obtained with the proceeds of the scheme may also be ordered as a result of a conviction.”