Students scammed in textbook scheme

Ashley Seaton

The newest Internet scam aimed at vulnerable college students is a website and online database called “Touch Textbooks,” which claims to offer over 3 million textbook titles available for download after a one time membership fee of $49.95.

The site is self-proclaimed “verified by Visa” and “safe and secure.” There are even reviews listed on blogs and other consumer websites claiming the legitimacy of Touch Textbooks, but do not be fooled.

“This site has nothing except Touch Textbook material, so it’s not ‘unbiased,'” said Steffen Schmidt, university professor of political science, regarding a review site titled “Unbiased Touch Textbook Review.” “This is a way for people to feel like there is a real discussion going on. It is obviously them posting. You can’t rely on any of this.”

Schmidt also teaches a class titled “Electronic Democracy” which discusses issues of Internet piracy and identity theft.

Touch Textbooks is a second generation site from other known phishing sites like MyPadMedia, probably located in Russia, Ukraine or China. Touch Textbooks is big, international and far away, so little can be done about it.

Schmidt said, “The U.S. is so far behind in trying to prevent Internet crime and scams. Every day people fall for stuff. We are in a terrible position as a country and not doing what we need to do to protect consumers from fraud. This is an organization running a scam that keeps changing their name. It is unclear if they are stealing credit card information or just not giving you what they say they will.”

Once the membership is purchased, the supposed online textbooks are actually PDF files, and the 3 million titles dwindle down to just 70,000. Through the process, the site either violates international copyright law or identity theft.

Many students might wonder why anyone would fall for such a scam. But with increasing college expenses and textbook prices, students will look anywhere for a good deal.

“I spent over $800 on my textbooks last semester after buying them from the Iowa State bookstore,” said Janessa Thomas, freshman in genetics. “Next semester I will probably look for better deals on Amazon or other online sources. I understand that there are scam sites out there, but for cheaper prices, it’s definitely worth the extra research.”

John Wierson, program coordinator at the University Book Store said that while textbooks can be a financial burden, the bookstore is doing everything it can to provide students reliable service while keeping costs down.

“We ourselves have a price compare on our website so we are very transparent,” Wierson said. “With all the different options now, such as e-books, rentals, students typically spend around $500 per semester, but with rental someone is able to cut that down to $300 per semester.”

Wierson said the average textbook cost for 2010-11 was $63.99 per unit, and 2011-12 is currently $60.89 per unit.

While cost is going down due to rentals, e-books and loose leafs, $60.89 for one textbook is still more expensive than Touch Textbooks with their claim of 3 million online titles for $49.95, and for a poor college student this can be tempting.

“If it looks too good to be true and someone is telling you it will only be $50 dollars for 3 million textbooks, ask yourself, ‘How can this be so?’ Be careful with your credit card,” Schmidt said.