Sunday, March 30, 2008

A Tipping Point?

Years ago, when I worked at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books (gone but not forgotten) in Marin County, we were amused, or bemused, by the arrival of a fax machine in our office, and the first message that came through: "Greetings Technophobes" (from the smart-aleck husband of an employee) Little did we know how ubiquitous faxes would become, or what a wonderful source of opportunities they would turn out to be. Need stock tips? Insurance? A vacation home? A fortune in South African diamonds? All available to you courtesy of your humble telecommunications device.

But there's one type of offer that is (I presume) sent only to bookstores. For years now, bookstores everywhere have been receiving, always by fax, bogus special orders for large quantities of books. I don't know exactly how the scam is supposed to work, because I don't know anyone who's ever fallen for it. I guess the idea is that you send them the books, and then somehow they cheat you out of payment--by using a stolen or otherwise invalid credit card, probably.

Of course, it's not impossible that someone might actually order books this way. But there are a few tipoffs that alert wary booksellers. One, the text of the fax tends to be illiterate: "Hello, pls do special order 30 pieces of below book title for me now..." Two, the fax usually comes from hundreds if not thousands of miles away, raising the question of why the sender couldn't find a bookseller in his hometown. And three, the book ordered is always--always--My Life by Bill Clinton. (The only explanation I can come up with for this is the fact that a copy of Bubba's tome can be increased in value a hundredfold simply by forging his signature in it.)

I've come to feel kindly toward these faxes--they're an amusing diversion, and a chance for us grizzled veterans to show up quicker-moving but more gullible newbies. They're like four-leaf clovers or shooting stars or long-necked Buds... a gentle, nostalgic reminder of the quirkiness of the universe.

But the most recent one I received breaks the pattern. I suspect it means that a new order has arrived, one that may not be welcomed by all of us.

"Upon receipts of this fax messages kindly forwarded the quotes for 30 copies of each of the two book belowed now and I do want to know if you can special order 30 copies of each within one to two business days and if yes kindly advise ASAP:

Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama"

Hillary, I think we need to talk...