Are you being forced into paying more for student textbooks?: Internet Scambusters #873
As students are returning to college, some of them could end up paying more than necessary because of a deal between publishers and colleges.
Is it a scam or just a shrewd, though dubious, business practice? In this week's issue, we'll tell you what the experts say.
We also have a new warning for ex-students about the scandalous behavior of firms claiming they can help reschedule loan repayments.
Let's get started...
Colleges and Textbook Publishers Accused of Scamming Students
As students have been returning to college these past few weeks, some of them have now discovered they're victims of a longstanding scheme involving textbooks.
It's one of those scams that are not strictly illegal. The scam works inside the confines of the law but still involves potentially ripping off unsuspecting victims.
Buying used textbooks is a popular way for financially hard-pressed students and their families. But now they're being told they need to pay more for updates or special editions of their required reading.
Investigators claim textbook publishers are forcing students either to buy new versions or to pay for access to additional texts that supposedly supplement earlier editions of the books.
Allegedly, colleges and their professors get tied up with publishers and arrange for these supposed access fees to be built into main tuition fees, so paying for them is unavoidable.
In many instances, the students have no way of opting out of this arrangement. Some claim they don't need the extra textbooks but have no way of recovering the money they've already paid.
Recently, the online news and video site Vice.com reported on what it described as a corrupt system, which it says is seriously hurting students.
It quoted Kaitlyn Vitez, head of the Public Interest Research Group's affordable higher education campaign, as saying the marketplace for used textbooks is "broken."
"Normally, a supplier sets cost and consumers decide if they're willing to pay it," she explains. "In the textbook market, five companies -- soon to be fewer -- set the price and convince the professor to adopt the product, and the student who is going to be the purchaser of the materials has to pay whatever the publisher says.
"These publishers are abusing their place in the marketplace and taking advantage of students."
The cost of textbooks has rocketed in recent years, increasing more than eightfold since 1978, according to Atlantic magazine.
Another publication, the Wall Street Journal, says publishers recently started producing custom books for individual colleges. Generally, the only difference in the books is their inclusion of the college logo, but the college earns a small royalty for each one sold.
"A student probably wouldn't realize that the material was essentially the same minus the logo," Vice says, "and fewer students would buy books second-hand..."
These custom books allegedly net publishers more than $420 million a year.
More recently, publishers have started to move toward a fully digital model, in which students pay for e-book versions, which, of course, have no resale value.
And, while it's illegal for professors to take bribes from the publishers to play their game, Vice says, publishers get around this by paying for conference trips, book reviews, and other legal activities.
If you're a potential victim of this process, there may not be a lot you can do about it beyond finding out if your college is participating in this type of deal and telling the college you want to opt out.
Equally, you should check whether any custom version of the textbook you're being asked to buy offers anything new beyond earlier editions.
Longer term, the situation might change. A federal lawsuit challenging these arrangements has been launched by a used textbook dealer. You can read the full Vice report: People Are Finally Fighting Back Against the College Textbook Industry 'Scam'.
Student Loan Scam
Meanwhile, fresh warnings have been issued about student loan scams, tricks that promise to wipe out or reduce loan debt -- for a fee.
This past July, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claimed one alleged scammer had bilked $23 million out of victims by falsely promising to pay down loans or lower monthly payments.
In this case, the FTC also claims the firm tricked people into submitting their loan repayments to them instead of the lender. The money, allegedly, never found its way to the legitimate source.
What's more, many of these borrowers went months, sometimes years, before learning their student loans weren't being repaid.
The FTC says "the defendants made people give their federal student aid IDs, or other personal information, to enroll in the debt relief program. They used that information to change borrowers' contact information on U.S. Department of Education websites, which limited the borrowers' contact with their federal loan servicers."
Even if a debt relief program was legit, the fact is that there is nothing any company can do to reduce student debt that you can't already do yourself for free. Plus, it's actually illegal to charge an upfront fee for this kind of service.
The FTC has posted a video on how to avoid debt student debt relief scams.
You can also find more information about student loan scams at
Alert of the Week
Is your digital camera a potential hacking target? At a recent security conference, hacking experts showed how they could break into cameras using Wi-Fi and install ransomware, effectively locking up photos stored on the camera.
Make sure the firmware on your camera is up to date (check with the manufacturer's website) and switch off any Wi-Fi connectivity in your camera when not in use.
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!