Here Be Dragons: Navigating the Terra Incognita of International Book Sales

- by Renee Roberts



I sought out and read fraud-advisory notices posted by other booksellers on sites like ABE, Amazon, eBay, Antiqbooks, and elsewhere, trying to learn from their experiences, and discovered that I was hardly alone. Not only is international credit card fraud fairly common, but there are several individuals who do engage in this practice professionally, using numerous aliases, stolen credit cards, and different addresses. Rather than give up on selling abroad, however, I’ve taken a few common-sense precautions that at least minimize our exposure.

We don’t accept third party credit cards; we only ship to the name and address of the credit card holder. Since international credit cards do not have address verification, if there is any question, we contact our merchant account provider, who can give us the credit card holder’s address by telephone. We do this routinely with larger orders.

We won’t ship books anywhere our insurance company will not insure them — countries with less than a 70% successful delivery rate. This includes obvious trouble spots like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Angola, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Congo, Slovenia, Sudan, Syria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Rwanda, Yemen, and also some more surprising destinations like Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Seychelles, India and Cuba. We insure all books going to Italy, because apparently the Italian postal workers occasionally dump their mail into the nearest ditch when they’re having a labor dispute.

Escalating orders accompanied by a combination of intense price negotiation with a demand for Express Mail delivery raise immediate red flags. Every package we send has its full value declared. Whenever possible, we use tracking.

When in doubt, we don’t take credit cards at all, but ask for Western Union money orders or bank cheques. We know these can be forged, but we will wait for them to clear (and then check with the bank to be sure) before shipping. And we read the postings of other booksellers on the group sites, hoping that our collective experience will minimize the danger of fraud. It is really embarrassing to be ripped off, but it can happen to anybody.

Despite my experience, I still very much enjoy doing business with overseas customers. There is no substitute for the discussion about Fernand Leger in the Australian outback, the thank-you note from Hong Kong for the Thor Heyerdahl children’s book with the dustjacket I had meticulously pieced together, the gentleman from England sending a book on the British Raj, heavy with romance, to his lover in New York City. We still cross continents and cultures daily. We just try to do it a little more sensibly and safely.

Renée Magriel Roberts can be reached at