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Op-Ed: Critical info — Phishing scams targeting writers and Goodreads extortion scams

With many people turning to writing and other creative media, scams are on the rise. Public exposure means the scams start sniffing about.

Photo: © AFP
Photo: © AFP

Publishing and writing scams are at pandemic levels and have been for years. The irony of scamming people who often don’t have any money doesn’t need explanation. It’s rock bottom bastardry.

The problem is – With many people turning to writing and other creative media, scams are on the rise. Public exposure means the scams start sniffing about. The two latest scams, the writing conference phishing scam, and the Goodreads extortion scam are cases in point.

A Writer Beware post from May this year is a sort of blueprint for the very real scam risks for writers.

Background: Writer Beware is a very relevant, very useful source of information for writers. It’s a site operated by the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) and run by professional writers. They warn about writing ripoffs and dodgy publishers, dangerous contracts, and more. I’ve been following them for over a decade. If you do any kind of creative writing at all, bookmark their page for useful info when researching publishers and writing opportunities, and above all, learn the risks.

Please understand – These scams are genuinely dangerous if you fall for them. A knee jerk reaction could cost you personal security as well as money.

The Writers Conference phishing scams

These scams come in sizes – Ugly and extremely risky.

One nasty little thing invites writers “and poets” (how do you do poetry without writing?) to attend a conference for a fee of $500. You guessed it – Your banking details are exposed. Simple, with some bait and a bit of ego food. Better still, the company cited as running the conferences knew nothing about it. The conference scam dates from February, but it’ll show up again, as all scams do.

Far more dangerous was a similar scam using the name of well-known publishers Macmillan Publishers. This was much more like pro phishing, and it sometimes works. The findable clues were in the incorrect use of Macmillan Publishing as a title and a fake email address protocol. Citing the name of an HR person at Macmillan was another pointer. The bait, in this case, was $1500, so these guys weren’t guessing about which writer buttons to push.

You see why this is a subject writers need to familiarise themselves with, ASAP. There’s a perennial plague of writing scams online, and new types emerge fairly regularly.

The Goodreads extortion scam

This hideous little bit of trolling comes with threats, if not actual sprinkles. The contact threatens to publish a lot of negative reviews of your books. This third—party wanking exercise plays on fear and it can hit targets.

The threats are almost incoherent and illiterate. It includes the Trumpian phrase “ruin your career” (most writers would get a laugh out of that) and similar endearments. The idea is that you pay them, and, of course, provide them with more information about you.

A few points:

  • Negative reviews come with the territory, and these are fake reviews. Nothing to worry about.
  • Fake positive reviews are much worse for writers, particularly on Amazon.
  • Why would anyone offer that sort of money? It’s a logical question.
  • These scammers have got nothing on anyone; they play on doubt. Don’t doubt yourself.

The recommended response is:

Abuse. (My preference) However much scatology you can be bothered sending to the little dears. They can’t do a damn thing.

Total silence. Let ‘em squeak. Negative reviews, particularly in suspiciously large numbers, are meaningless. People buy books because they like them.

Report to cybercrime authorities. Not usually much of an option, but it does help build a profile of these parasites for police.  

Report to Goodreads. Depends on what Goodreads can do about it. The information is useful for eradicating persistent pests.

Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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