Scams are an unfortunate part of every industry and it seems as though scams are becoming more and more frequent. ALLi author member Stephen Bentley shows us how to spot and avoid author scams.
Pirates, Scammers, and Nary a Cap’n Jack Sparrow in Sight
Book pirates and author scams in their various guises are the bane of us indie authors. Advance Review Copies (ARCs) are an accepted method of gaining traction for reviews of a new release. However, ARCs attract scammers like blood in the water attracts sharks. Vigilance is the watchword if you wish to safeguard your hard work.
ALLi asked if I would write this post considering my fourteen years’ experience as a detective and a further fourteen years as a barrister specialising in criminal trials. I'm now retired from the law, and like you, I am an independent author. The request was accompanied by two suggestions: focus on how to spot scammers by their email addresses, and take a broader look at language scammers use.
The first suggestion is easier to deal with than the second. It’s impossible to spot a scammer by merely looking at an email address. That is akin to a law enforcement officer’s ability to spot a criminal by simply looking at a person. It’s not possible.
How to identify book and author scams
Let me stick with that analogy because it blends in well with the second suggestion of looking at the language scammers are likely to use.
A police officer takes more notice of actions in determining if someone is deemed to be a suspect potentially engaging in criminal activity. You may call actions behaviour. It’s the behaviour of the scammer or criminal that gives rise to suspicion.
Here is a case in point with the name and email address changed for obvious reasons. But first a disclaimer: I need to mention Booksprout in my example and their services for authors. I have no affiliate or other connection of any kind to the company, its founder, or any of its employees.
Booksprout is an automated ARC service for authors both traditional and self-published authors. If you need to know more, follow the link as the full details of what they do is beyond the scope of this post.
Right, back to the tale: I have an ARC posted to its website. The aim with all ARCs is to attract genuine reviewers or book bloggers.
I received this email from (not real name) Polly Pirate. In it she wrote:
Hi, I have tried several times but each time I click the button to request a review copy of your book I am redirected to a ‘page not found' page. I would appreciate if you can email me a review copy in MOBI, PDF or EPUB format to [email protected]. Thank you, Polly P.
Remember what I said earlier about behaviour? This message is a lie. One, I tried it myself and the link to the ARC works. Two, my dashboard showed several others had downloaded the ARC. Three, the site operates a ‘help’ system for those in difficulty.
This was a blatant attempt to bypass the Booksprout system and grab my book for free, no doubt with no intention to review but rather sell it on the darknet. Polly clearly knows that Booksprout has a detection system in place. That is why she did not follow the usual protocol. The system knows who the freeloaders and scammers are by tracking emails. I contacted them about Ms. Pirate and this was part of their reply:
“Thank you for passing along this message. Please disregard/delete this message, because we are aware of this person and we are taking action against them.
Rest assured, we are working hard to ensure people don't abuse the system and are thankful you reached out to us. Take care.
After a little investigation, I discovered her email address was already known to a website called Spam Report Email. In 2017, someone had created this entry against her email address: “Likely scammer looking to get access to my books for piracy.”
I found one URL and headline which screamed proudly: Free books are just awesome. You may have guessed where it was – no prizes for a correct answer – it was a sub-Reddit called ‘Piracy.’ The poster was extolling the virtues of “stealing copyright” and getting books for free.
Then I found other threads in the same ‘Piracy’ sub-Reddit. One gave details of a long list titled, #wiki .25BA popular sites for books. The list contained site details of book pirates. The other gave technical details of how to download a Mobi from Kindle Unlimited and convert it into DRM-free Mobi,
ePub or PDF. It was titled, A Guide How to Render Your Textbooks for Free.
Don’t be fooled by the reference to textbooks. Michael Kozlowski, Editor in Chief of Good e-Reader writes:
“It is estimated that pirated content costs the publishing industry over $315 million dollars in 2016. In the past, digital publishers have turned a blind eye to piracy because most of them still think people are scanning books manually and posting the PDF file. The truth is, most people are employing sophisticated DRM removal techniques and uploading a pristine copy.”
I believe he’s right and his last point is proven by the ‘how-to’ sub-Reddit. In that forum, one can learn how download any book from Amazon, strip it of DRM, and clone it, ready to sell on the black market.
Stay vigilant against book pirates
The scale of the problem is immense. Short of a central registry1of properly identified scammers, the only viable solution is for every one of us in the writing community to be vigilant against author scams.
Be vigilant especially when dealing with requests for free books in the form of ARCs. If you find your suspicions are confirmed as in my Polly Pirate case, I urge you to report the person and the email address to ALLI’s own Watchdog, John Doppler, and the likes of Victoria Strauss at the excellent Writers Beware, or the Bewares section at the David Gaughran blog. Remember the Spam Report Email site I mentioned above.
1I have mooted the idea of a central registry with John Doppler. He was most helpful in pointing out the immense practical and potential legal issues involved. But at least the spam email website is a start. I hope one day a ‘Trust Pilot for Book Reviewers’ will exist.
OVER TO YOU
Have you ever been victim of an author scam? Had someone try to scam you and your books? What happened? What did you do? Leave a comment below.
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