Laptops and cellphones may present an easy payday for thieves, but the VCU Police Department said crooks are setting their sights on less obvious-but equally lucrative-targets.
Officer Greg Felton of the VCU Police Department said cases of textbook theft are increasing. Most often, criminals do their homework on the value of certain books so they know which ones to take, Felton said.
“Very rarely are these cases student to student. These are outsiders, or people that don’t go to VCU, and they know exactly what to steal,” Felton said. “They spend time researching textbook prices to the point where 10 books could be laying out on a table, and they would know the exact price of every one of them.” Felton also said students often make the mistake of forgetting how much textbooks are worth once they are purchased.
“When you are holding an iPhone, it feels like you are holding several hundred dollars in your hand,” he said. “With a textbook, even though it may cost hundreds of dollars, students don’t think of them as a viable thing to steal, so they let their guard down.”
Ernest Mooney, owner of Virginia Book Company, has been selling textbooks to students in Richmond for 27 years. He said he noticed an uptick in the cases of theft.
“Never before have I seen so many cases of textbook theft,” Mooney said. “And I’m not talking about stealing from the stores … The thieves know students are new this time of year, and they often set their books down in places like Shafer and the library, and before they know it, they have disappeared.”
Mooney said stores come into play when the stolen textbooks are sold back for a fast profit. He offered advice to all students upon buying a new textbook.
“We tell people to pick the last two numbers of your birth year and write down the last four digits of your social security, or any other number that you will remember. That way, if the books get sold back to the store, you will have proof that they are yours,” Mooney said.
Virginia Book Company and BookHolders do not allow direct access to textbooks. Barnes & Noble does not leave a partition up at all times. However, Jay Phinizy, assistant general manager at Barnes & Noble, said the store has a safeguard against textbook theft and buying back stolen books.
“One thing that we do that not every store on campus does is we require a VCU ID with every textbook purchase or return. Theft still happens, but if a student with an ID walks in with an alarming amount of books, we will know to be suspicious,” Phinizy said.
One former student, who asked to remain anonymous, said he has stolen books in the past to help pay for school.
“I don’t steal anymore, but I did do it a few times when I went to VCU. College is really expensive, and it was an easy way to make a few hundred dollars,” he said.
Textbook theft can also affect those seemingly not involved. Felton said there are consequences to even unknowingly buying a stolen textbook.
“Sometimes people will try to sell what they have stolen in Monroe Park. If a student ends up with one of those textbooks or even one that was sold back to one of the bookstores, they wouldn’t get charged with anything, but the book would be confiscated with no refund,” Felton said.
He also said that cases of textbook theft are about as common as thefts of small electronic devices. He offered a word of advice based off his experiences of these cases.
“You need to start thinking of textbooks as currency,” Felton said. “That is how (thieves) view them. A $217 book out on a table in the library is like a stack of $217 in cash to them.”