Avoiding Costly Fulfillment Headaches By Angela Hoy

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While some authors are very happy to let their publisher or an online bookstore do all their fulfillment, there are some entrepreneurs (like me) who insist on doing everything themselves. If you plan to do your own book fulfillment, there are some problems you will likely experience at one time or another from customers who are either malicious…or just downright not so bright. Watch out for these:

Fake Check Fax

Some people will fax you a copy of a check and say they absolutely MUST have the book yesterday and ask you to immediately mail or email the book to them. You’ll then realize, several days after the book was sent out, that no check will be forthcoming. A so-called business tried to pull this one on me just two weeks ago.

Foreign Funds

How often do you really scrutinize the information on a customer’s check? Foreign checks can look very similar to those issued in the U.S.. While our website, Booklocker.com, states we only accept U.S. funds, people still send us checks written from foreign bank accounts. When this happens, I email the customer, inform them of their mistake, and then shred their check. Your bank may charge you around $20 to collect from a foreign bank. If you don’t notice the check is foreign, the bank will process it for you, but you’ll then find the bank’s collection fee on your next bank statement.

Using Someone Else’s Credit Card

Whenever someone wants to order from us using someone else’s credit card, I always insist the cardholder complete the order form instead. Why? Because we’ve been burned by this scam before. Here’s how it works – Bob Smith places an order using his father’s credit card. A few weeks later, you receive a chargeback notice from your merchant service alerting you that Robert Smith, Sr., has refused the charge to his card. When you notify Bob Sr. that Bob Jr. used his card, he gets angry and asks you why you let his son charge something using a card that didn’t belong to him. Good luck collecting on that one. While you may ultimately be successful in getting the funds back, the charge is often too small to make that headache worth your while.

In another scenario, an author kept trying to place an order for her books using a friend’s credit card number. I refused the order and told her to have her friend place the order. After several angry emails from her (“Why don’t you trust me?!”), the friend did finally place the order and asked that the books be sent to him directly. I was happy to comply. A week later, after the books had been shipped, the friend contacted me to tell me the author had committed suicide (yes, this really did happen) and that he didn’t want the books and wanted his card credited for the entire order. While I sympathized with the author’s family, you can imagine what type of quandary this put us in. While this example is extreme, it illustrates just how hairy things can get when someone wants to use someone else’s money to buy from you.

Out and Out Credit Card Fraud

Most merchant services charge around $25 for chargebacks. What this means is when a crook gets ahold of Mary Jane’s credit card number and orders your book, you’ll be charged a chargeback fee (along with the amount of the initial charge) when Mary Jane discovers the fraud and issues a chargeback. If a fraudulent credit card number works on your system, the crook will then likely try to order more things from you, or may put the word out to others that your site is an easy target. You could accumulate hundreds or thousands of dollars in chargeback fees if your system is not set up to protect you from this type of scam. I know of one publisher in particular that went out of business after being the victim of online credit card thieves.

Don’t assume this is a rare crime and that it only happens when someone loses their credit card. Credit card thieves have software that creates and tests multitudes of numbers online, at unsuspecting websites, in an attempt to find one legitimate number. They then use that number until the credit card company figures out what’s going on and terminates the card number. Ultimately, it is the merchant’s financial responsibility when credit card fraud appears. You could wake up in the morning one day and have thousands of dollars in credit card fraud on your server. Taking credit cards online is a risk and you should take extensive, and expensive, steps to protect yourself. Talk to your merchant service and your website hosting service for their recommendations so you can sleep better at night, knowing your system is protecting you.

Wrong Address…Provided by the Customer

A frequent problem we see is books being returned because the customer provides the wrong shipping address on their order. If the customer provides an incorrect address and you pay to ship it to that address, and it is subsequently returned, you can ask the customer to pay you for the excess shipping charges that must be incurred to re-ship the product.

“Ship it UPS so I won’t have to pay customs brokerage/duty fees!” If a customer asks you to ship their book via UPS instead of the US Postal Service, in an attempt to get out of paying customs brokerage/duty fees on their end, beware that they may know something that you don’t and YOU may end up paying those fees on their behalf. If you will be billed later by UPS for these fees, be sure you know this and charge the customer an estimate for these fees up front. Otherwise, ship the products via the US Postal Service so you won’t have to pay these fees on behalf of your customer.

Lost Foreign Shipments

I probably don’t need to tell you that insuring foreign shipments can be incredibly expensive, sometimes doubling the price of a product or more! Customers usually don’t want to pay that much for your product, so you’re taking a risk whenever you ship a package over the border. We ship single-copy orders across the border, but we do not ship large orders overseas because we lost numerous large foreign shipments when we first started the business. One order in particular was for 100 books to Canada. Yeah, that hurt.

Demands Refund Only Minutes After Purchase

There seems to be a club of people online that order an electronic product, download it, and then send a demand for a refund only a few minutes later, claiming the product is inferior. You know there is no way they read your book that fast. What’s an author to do? What we did to stop this scam is to put a “no refunds” policy statement on our website which applies to all ebook orders.

“I Never Got It. Refund My Money!”

While it may cost a bit more, you should only ship products via a trackable method. It costs more to send one book via UPS than it does to send it Priority Mail. However, UPS tracks all packages and you have to pay extra to have the US Postal Service track your package. On the flip-side, UPS Ground takes longer than Priority Mail. We ship single books via Priority Mail and large orders via UPS. And then there are those customers who adamantly insist they never got the book, even though you can prove UPS delivered the product. If UPS did not obtain a signature, you’ll have to file a claim with UPS and either refund the customer’s money or ship them another product. If a customer demands a refund instead of a replacement product, they may very well have received the book and be trying to pull a scam.

“Gosh, I Didn’t Order That!”

This one always baffles me, but it happens quite frequently. This is when a customer completely forgets they ordered a book from you and refuses the shipment. Of course, they later remember the order once their credit card bill comes. They then email you asking you to re-send the book. We say sure, but only after they pay us for the extra shipping charges that will be incurred to reship the book. After all, we’re not the ones who forgot about the order! If you offer to pay these extra shipping charges on small orders, you will quickly realize you’ve lost money on that entire transaction.

Fake Check

Counterfeit checks are on the rise. It often takes several days for your bank to alert you that a check you deposited it bad. Your customers do not want to wait that long to receive their product. Accepting checks as payment is a risk, but a necessary one of you want to reach your full income potential on book sales.

“Can I Wire You the Money?”

I can’t emphasize this one enough. Do NOT give your account number and other banking details out to anyone! You may wake up one morning to find a zero balance in your account.

Intentional Underpayment

This is the one that really burns my hide. It happens far too often for it to be a coincidence. Companies (usually) and people (occasionally) will mail you a check for just slightly less than they really owe – usually a dollar or two. While I’m sure some companies think it’s too much trouble to hound the customer for the extra money and just go ahead and ship the book, we don’t. I fell for this scam several times early on and then got smart a few years ago. Just today, I received an order from a library distributor. The person placing the order has crossed off the shipping amount for the hardcover book and instead paid us the paperback shipping costs (more than $2 less). They knew it was a hardcover book and we had provided them with the correct total. I voided their check and mailed it back to them with a note. Some foreign customers will only send enough for domestic shipping costs even though the order form clearly states the foreign rate. Profit margins on books are slim and you can’t afford to be stiffed by a dollar or two here and there. Don’t let this happen to you. In the vast majority of cases, the company or individual follows up by mailing a check for the correct amount.

Returning Unreturnable Books

We have never allowed returns because we are a Print on Demand (POD) publisher. However, when we used to give bookstores, libraries and schools

Fake Reviewer

I’ve written about this before, but it deserves repeating because it’s a growing scam. Not every “book reviewer” that contacts you and requests a copy of your book is a real book reviewer! We don’t send review copies to reviewers unless they’ve proven they’re a real book reviewer (not a hobbyist writing fee book reviews for a tiny website or someone who has no respectable book review publishing credits). Lots of authors are falling victim to this scam. You should first check out the reviewer’s credentials. If you just don’t feel they deserve a free copy, yet you think they might be a real reviewer, offer to send them the ebook version instead. It’s actually not hard to tell a legitimate book reviewer from a hobbyist or a scam-artist. If you ever get one of these requests and aren’t sure, forward the email to me – angela – at – writersweekly.com – and I’ll try to help you figure out if it’s real or a scam.

At Booklocker.com, we created an automated “blacklist” in our merchant system. We add naughty customer who have tried to scam us to this list. You might consider starting your own blacklist to protect you from being the repeat victim of an online scammer.

Angela Hoy is the co-owner of WritersWeekly.com and BookLocker. WritersWeekly.com is the free marketing emag for writers that features new paying markets and freelance job listings every Wednesday. According to attorney Mark Levine, attorney and author of The Fine Print, BookLocker is one of the top-rated POD publishers in the industry.

This article may be printed/redistributed freely as long as the entire article and bio are included.