True Crime Thursday – Scams That Target Writers

Public domain, Winsor McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, 1909

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Like mosquitos in summer, scammers keep buzzing in with new tricks to suck the blood from writers. Here are three that recently hit my radar:

Scam #1 – We Pay You to Write!

A couple of months ago, several members of the Authors Guild received emails from individuals claiming to need articles or workbooks written for an upcoming seminar. The bait is a substantial fee and a promise of wider recognition through their organization. They may claim to have a disability, with the inference that if you write for them, you also enjoy the satisfaction of helping. Or…if you don’t write for their worthy cause, you should feel guilty. Con artists are masters at manipulation.

Here’s a sample invitation from “Paula Smith”:

Hello, My name is Paula, an academic consultant. I have a speech distorting condition called Apraxia. I got your contact details online and I need your service. Can you write an article on a specific topic for an upcoming workshop? The article is to be given as a handbook to the attendees of the workshop. I have a title for the article and have drafted an outline to guide you. Please get back to me for more information

(442) 278-5255

Paula

Fortunately, the author who received the solicitation investigated a little deeper and discovered “Paula’s” phone number had numerous complaints against it for fraud. A helpful resource to check out questionable phone numbers is callername.com.

More writers added their suspicions to the Authors Guild discussion group but weren’t sure how the scam worked.

Then AG member and travel writer Lan Sluder offered the following enlightening explanation:

This is a scam that is well known in the hospitality (lodging) industry. The target is usually smaller inns, hotels and B&Bs. Someone makes what seems a legitimate reservation, often for several rooms, and pays by check or credit card. There are various versions, but typically the inn owner is overpaid or part of the reservation is cancelled or changed and the scammer wants a refund. Much later, the original credit or check payment is found to be invalid, and the inn owner is out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some of these scammers are pretty clever, and it’s not always easy to tell an authentic reservation from a fake one. Occasionally, hotel owners or reservations offices are fooled into thinking it is an actual guest reservation.

I’ve written a number of travel guides and other travel books that review hotels so I get a lot of these scam emails due to mistakes by the less sophisticated scammers.

A similar scam exists targeting attorneys, CPAs and small businesses of all kinds. I guess now the scammers are starting to target writers.

——————————
Lan Sluder
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Another AG poster who’s a member of the American Translators Association added that their members have also been targeted and shared the story of one victim. The scammer “overpaid” then asked the translator to wire money for the refund. Unfortunately, she did, shortly before the scam check bounced and she was out $2000.

Ouch!

Scam #2 – Fake Marketing Offers

These scammers keep reinventing themselves with different aliases and websites. Be wary of anyone who calls out of the blue or sends an email with wording similar to this:

Dear Author,

Our expert book scouts discovered your fabulous novel and we are excited to offer you an amazing opportunity. Because we believe so strongly in the bestseller potential of your book, we want to invest [fill in outrageous amount of money] in your marketing and publicity at absolutely no cost to you. We will reserve a place of honor for your book at the upcoming [fill in prestigious book fair or festival]. Your success will be our reward.

Sincerely,

A Company That Believes in Your Fantastic Talent (smirking)

After a few more flattering emails, they swoop in for the kill shot:

We reaffirm you do not have to pay one penny for our fabulous marketing package because our faith in you is so strong. To be fair, we know you’ll want to contribute your part by paying the bargain registration fee of only [fill in hundreds to thousands of dollars].

Here’s a post from YA author Khristina Chess who was contacted by Readers Magnet. Interestingly, they claim to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau as of 2019. However this BBB link shows multiple complaints against them.

Here’s a list of companies that engage in practices that may technically be within the law but slide into slimy.

 

 

 

Before you engage any writing-related services, check them out on Writer Beware  whose mission is:  “Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.”

A big thank you to Writer Beware for watching out for writers!

Scam #3 – Impersonating Agents and Editors

Earlier this year, intrepid Victoria Strauss covered cases of scammers who assume the identity of legitimate agents or editors then contact unsuspecting authors. Of course, struggling writers are understandably thrilled to have a big-name agent contact them. Just be sure the person is who they claim to be. Here’s Victoria’s post.

On July 16, agent Victoria Marini @LitAgentMarini tweeted the following warning after learning someone had co-opted her name:

“It has come to my attention that someone is impersonating me online, likely in an attempt to scam writers. I am not associated with WritersDesk LLC, nor do I sell videos, materials, editorial work, or any other good or service. Many thanks to @victoriastrauss.”

 

Protect yourself from true crimes against writers. Always verify the source.

 ~~~

TKZers: Have you been solicited by questionable people or companies regarding your writing? Please share your experience and outcome.

 ~~~

 

 

Check out a devious scam with a unique twist in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Stalking Midas, available at this link.

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Looking for an editor? Check them out very carefully!

 Jodie_June 26, '14_7371_low res_centredby Jodie Renner, editor, author, speaker

An incident happened to me recently that got me thinking about all the pitfalls that aspiring authors face today when seeking professional assistance to get their books polished and ready to self-publish or send to agents.

Most of us know about the vanity publishers who can easily take thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to prepare and publish your novel, whether it’s well-written and marketable or not – they don’t care, as long as they get your money.

But what about other publishing consultants and editors? There are lots of excellent, highly reputable editors and consultants out there, but unfortunately there are also some poseurs, predators, and plagiarizers. I found that out firsthand about a week ago, and it made me worry about all the unsuspecting aspiring authors who are getting taken in by sites posing as experts in editing or publishing.

If you’re self-publishing or trying to get your book ready to send to agents, scroll down for some concrete tips for finding a creditable, competent, knowledgeable freelance editor for your book.

Here’s my recent story: A writer I’d never met contacted me on March 28 to tell me that a website, WordWorks Publishing Consultants, had plagiarized a bunch of testimonials from my website HERE and changed the names and is passing them off as reviews of HER editing HERE. I was shocked and angry. I’d worked damn hard to deserve those testimonials, and my clients had put in time and effort to compose them!

I told Preditors & Editors about it, and someone on Facebook suggested I contact Victoria Strauss of Writer Beware about the offending website. The name Pamela Wray rang a bell for Victoria, who researched this website and person further and found out that the pilfering of my testimonials was just the tip of the iceberg – most of the “accomplishments” and claims on that site are fraudulent. Victoria wrote an excellent expose of the site HERE. I also wrote about it briefly HERE on Crime Fiction Collective. (I’ve taken lots of screen shots, but I see the site is still up there, unchanged, today – over a week later.)

ALL of the testimonials under “Editing” on that website are lifted verbatim from my website, with only my name replaced by hers, and the names of my clients LJ Sellers, Allan Leverone, A.M. Khalifa, and Tom Combs replaced by fictitious clients of hers, including Random House and “Simon & Shuster” (her spelling for Simon and Schuster)!

And under “Writing and Content,” she has testimonials from big names like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, among others! As if! If she did, she’d be making big bucks and her website wouldn’t be so cheesy-looking, and she’d be able to afford a proofreader to fix the myriad of typos and grammatical errors throughout the site – not good for someone advertising as an editor with 38 years of experience!

For example, under “Editorial Services” it says “We boasts more than thirty eight years of…experience”. Besides the “we boasts” (which sounds like a non-native English speaker to me), it should be “thirty-eight,” with a hyphen.

And can you pick out the grammatical error and the formatting error within the first three words of the bio of this “editor”?

Among other “accomplishments,” Pamela Wray claims to have written and published 62 books (and ghost-written another 60), yet a search on Amazon.com reveals only 2 amateurish-looking children’s books under that name, and those are co-written.

And I can’t help but wonder about the spelling “Pame” (rhyming with “shame”) instead of “Pam” as a nickname for Pamela, especially for an editor. Hmmm…

Unfortunately, not every aspiring author will notice all the errors in this website or have the time to do the research, as did Victoria Strauss and others who responded with additional info in the comments under her expose. So a lot of hopeful writers may not realize that a great many of Pamela Wray Biron’s claims are false. It angers me that many trusting writers will be taken in and could lose – or have lost – a lot of money, for either poor editing or no editing at all.

Here are some tips for weeding out incompetent or fraudulent editors for your manuscript:

1. Read their websites over carefully. Wild, exaggerated claims should be a red flag! For example, in that fraudulent site, besides the so-called testimonials from Bill Gates, etc., huge publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster don’t use freelance editors – they have their own in-house editors. Nor would they write that kind of personalized testimonial, as if from the author.

2. Check for strong English writing skills on the websites. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong suits, have someone who’s got an eagle eye for typos and grammatical errors comb the websites for you.

3. If you’re looking for an editor for your novel or short story, check to be sure they know about current effective fiction techniques such as plot, pacing, character arc, point of view, natural-sounding dialogue, and showing instead of telling.

There’s no point in paying for a basic copyedit or proofread of a whole manuscript, when it may need a developmental, content, and/or stylistic edit and significant revisions first. Entire chapters may need to be deleted, condensed, or significantly altered to make the story stronger, so it would be a waste of money to get the whole manuscript proofread before it’s been analyzed by an expert in fiction writing, or at least by a savvy critique group. After you’ve had “big picture” advice and completed the content and stylistic revisions, you can then get the final draft checked over by a basic proofreader at a lower rate.

3. Get references or follow through on the names listed under their testimonials. I link to the author’s website or other contact info under my testimonials so potential clients can click through to their websites, blogs, or Facebook pages, and contact them if they wish.

4. Contact at least 3-4 potential editors and ask for sample edits of your work. Don’t accept a pre-prepared sample edit of some other person’s document. Who knows who actually edited it? And I would never share a sample edit from a previous client’s work! Nobody wants their original errors and the corrections up on somebody’s website or sent out for others to see!

Get a sample edit of at least the first 5-10 pages of your manuscript, even if you have to pay for it. Then ask someone you trust who’s knowledgeable in English grammar and spelling as well as effective fiction techniques to check it over. Or contact an established editor to check over the sample edit for you. Better to pay $25-$50 or so upfront to establish the competence of the editor than to pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for a poor edit – or no edit at all! I’ve heard horror stories of writers paying thousands of dollars and it’s a year later and they still haven’t received any edits.

5. Don’t pay large amounts of money upfront – not even for half of the job, unless you’re absolutely certain of the competence, dedication, and integrity of the editor. Sure, pay a small fee in advance for a sample edit – it’s money well-spent and could save you a lot more – but not a large sum to a basically unknown editor.

My method is to edit in sections, with each section going back and forth a few (or sometimes many) times, and my clients pay me in instalments as we go along. That way if it’s not working out for either party, if we’re just not on the same page, we can part ways, and nobody owes anybody anything.

Bottom line: be sure to do your homework before parting with your hard-earned money and entrusting your valued manuscript to an editor!

And click HERE for my article with advice for finding and attracting top-notch, highly in-demand freelance editors.

Jodie Renner is a freelance fiction editor and the award-winning author of three craft-Fire up Your Fiction_ebook_2 silversof-writing guides in her series An Editor’s Guide to Writing Compelling Fiction: Captivate Your Readers, Fire up Your Fiction, and Writing a Killer Thriller. She has also published two clickable time-saving e-resources to date: Quick Clicks: Spelling List and Quick Clicks: Word Usage. You can find Jodie at www.JodieRenner.com, www.JodieRennerEditing.com, her blog, http://jodierennerediting.blogspot.com/, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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