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A Book Request Odyssey

February 22, 2023

From time to time, I receive book purchase requests from faculty in my liaison departments. These are often straightforward affairs, but a recent request turned out to be anything but ordinary. In early February, me and a colleague in our acquisitions department received an email via a Yahoo account from Dr. Samantha Schmidt, who stated that she was a new DAAD Post-Doctoral Fellow at Pitt. For those of you unfamiliar with the program, the DAAD is an organization that facilitates academic exchange between US and German universities. I have worked with DAAD fellows in our history department, so I’d heard of the organization before. Dr. Schmidt was writing to ask that we purchase eight titles from a particular vendor in Germany. This vendor, who I will call Dr. Jones, was copied on the message and Dr. Schmidt described him as having “really cheap prices.” It was unusual for a faculty member to request titles from a particular vendor, but I chalked this oddity up to possible cultural/organizational differences.

After discussing this request with several acquisitions colleagues over multiple emails, we decided we would pursue the purchases, but via our standard avenues and not the suggested vendor. My email to Dr. Schmidt and Dr. Jones informing them of our decision was met with immediate blowback from them both. Dr. Schmidt said that “it is not frank to buy books from other vendor, as I received the offers from him. He is a nice person, whom I met at many international conferences…” After receiving these messages, I was now wary of getting off on the wrong foot with Dr. Schmidt, so I asked our head of Technical Services to offer her opinion. She pointed out that it was odd that Dr. Schmidt didn’t have a Pitt email address and that her initial message was a sales pitch for Mr. Smith. I had previously asked Dr. Schmidt for her Pitt email, but she said she was still in the process of receiving one. This was admittedly odd, but not alarmingly so. Another colleague noted that Samantha Schmidt didn’t show up in any kind of Google search nor was she listed on the DAAD website. Dr. Schmidt also didn’t show up in our Pitt directory search.

Seeing all of these facts put together led me to the “crazy thought” that Samantha Schmidt didn’t actually exist and that she was a fiction created by Mr. Smith to sell some books. I thought that was an awful lot of work to set up a con just to sell a few books, so I still wasn’t entirely convinced that Samantha wasn’t real lest I offend her. I happened to mention this saga to a coworker and she said, “did you receive an email from Dr. Schmidt?” I said, “yes, how did you know about that?!” It turns out that Mark Robison at Notre Dame posted on the ACRL University Libraries Section listserv that he received a message from Dr. Schmidt with the exact same characteristics. It had taken him and his colleagues a bit to realize what was going on, so he was warning other libraries. He had a follow-up post in which several other libraries had gotten the same message. My “crazy thought” turned out to be quite sane; this whole thing was a sophisticated con. I admire the complexity, specificity, and audacity of this scam, but I still feel like an idiot for buying it for a second. No harm since we didn’t purchase any titles, but I wasted a lot of my (and colleagues’) time on this, so it’s still disappointing. I thought I was immune from scams, but apparently even I can be taken in. I’m glad I reached out to colleagues about this and I encourage you to do the same if you have any doubts. Caveat emptor!

One Comment leave one →
  1. smartin592 permalink
    March 15, 2023 7:24 pm

    WOW! That is a lot of work for eight books! Thanks for sharing your experience so we can all be more aware of this scam.

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