Anatomy of Scams: “Posthumous Vanity Publishing”

Fellow authors, do you have a loved one who was a writer too, but sadly passed over into the Great Beyond with their poems or prose unpublished? Does the cosmic injustice of that weigh heavy on your soul? Do you lie awake nights, grieving that your loved one never had the chance to see his or her words enshrined in print?

Well, now there’s a way to set your troubled mind at rest, and give your loved one the recognition he or she deserved: Posthumous Vanity Publishing, a service run by one Dr. Edgar Scattergood.

Summer’s lease has far too short a date, but thousands of people of this World and the Next are published for Eternity with our Posthumous Vanity Publishing (PVP) services which you can access from your own home…Through our PVP services you can post your loved one’s prized creations to an all-accepting Universe, including poems, short stories, and novel excerpts. You’ll be amazed at the Reception.

Here’s a sample Posthumously Vanity Published website, complete with an introduction from Dr. Scattergood: The Hayfield Forever. And posthumous publishing services aren’t all Dr. Scattergood has to offer.

You may purchase an eGrave upon such eGrounds as the elite Whispering Dells or, in the medium price range, Harmony Glades. Funereal applications for iPhone and iPad are available. We also offer grexting (send text messages from your cell phone directly to your loved one’s eGrave), eUrns, eFlames, and all come with our trademarked eUlogies.

Right about now, you may be thinking something along the lines of Holy cow, the scams are getting weirder by the day! How do people get away with stuff like this? Or perhaps Could anyone really fall for such a scam? It reads like satire!


The PVP enterprise is actually a clever joke: an experimental fiction project created by real-life scam-buster Gary Rhoades, a Deputy City Attorney who works in the Santa Monica City Hall Consumer Protection Unit.

According to a 2009 article in the Santa Monica Daily Press,

The idea for the dark comedy came more than a year ago after Rhoades, who was curious from prosecuting a number of cases involving scam artists, decided to take on the mindset of such a criminal. An unpublished poet himself, Rhoades spent some time at a hay farm he owns in Missouri with [his brother] Alex to brainstorm a plot and figure out the best medium to tell the story.

They ended up creating four connected Web sites —,,, and The multiple Web sites are actually an attribute commonly found in scams, Rhoades said.

“Scam artists will create a cluster of Web sites that when people are going through them and clicking on the links, will go to another Web site and get this illusion of depth,” he said.

Also in on the joke is one of Rhoades’s colleagues, fellow Deputy City Attorney Barbara Greenstein, who plays the part of fictional Deputy District Attorney Carla Found, who is prosecuting scammer Scattergood for fraud.

The project was supposed to conclude in the fall of 2009, but seems to have taken on a life of its own, becoming an ongoing “experimental literary mystery,” with scammer Dr. Scattergood being just one story thread. There are now five interconnected websites–Forever Prized, Inc. (the PVP service itself), The Cartoon Cowgirl Forever (an “epic redemption poem”), Lucy Acre’s eGrave (with grexting functionality–for an extra fee, of course), Seemingly Forever (a posthumous hardboiled spy thriller), and the original posthumous “breached haiku,” The Hayfield Forever, complete with academic commentary–plus a Facebook page and Mr. Rhoades’s blog.

Quoted in 2009, Rhoades said he hadn’t heard from anyone who’d taken the websites seriously. “We hope that some of the over the top nature of some of the stuff clues them in…that this isn’t a real service.” But Rhoades’s knowledge of the inner workings of scams lends the websites a crazy surface credibility–and one of the reasons that writing scams are so ubiquitous is that so many people are inexperienced and unprepared, and don’t read carefully enough. I’d be willing to bet that by now, at least a few people have been fooled.


  1. We were amazed at how well "Publishing Beyond the Grave" summed up nailed our messy and complicated cluster of websites. And it has taken on a life of its own with several characters writing as many as a dozen posts. The only thing I'd add is that I think there are a couple of pretty good mysteries lurking in the comedy.

  2. Now, I wanna say that when my good friend Mike Timmons passed away earlier this year, the funeral home had this dedication/memorial website that I thought worked really well. It was the first time I had ever seen something like an online memorial service-type thing.
    When my time comes, my goal is to have my eulogy webcasted worldwide. If I know its coming ahead of time, I plan on recording my own eulogy. The campus video people have told me that they can beam in, let me play a vid or two, say some great things about myself and beam me out.
    No one else I know is worthy enough to eulogize someone as incredible as me!!!
    It's also in my will that I'll be buried in y Starfleet uniform.

  3. Rather glad it is a scam. When I got to the part about eGraves and texting someone's eGrave I got really sick to my stomach that someone would warp the idea of death that way and make a joke out of it.

  4. Pranks are great social experiments. I've pulled off many in my time (I sometimes cover them on my blogs). This guy is showing how people can be scammed, but if someone reads this and believes it, his or her reality has been changed. Brilliant. I figured it was a prank, but I believe quite a few people have believed this.

  5. So… What's actually the point of doing something like this? Is it supposed to be a public service, or does he just have too much time on his hands?

  6. Scattergood is actually not that odd or uncommon a name. My art teacher in high school was Mr. Scattergood.

  7. This is hilarious. I'll go check them out. Like Richard Gibson above, as soon as I saw the name "Scattergood" I recognized a satirist at work.

  8. I took a quick look at the calendar, wondering if I was in a time warp and it was really April 1.

  9. I don't think it's that terrible of an idea if for instance you have a loved one who's written memoirs or a journal but isn't famous enough for people outside the family to care about. Though Lulu or Createspace might be cheaper to do that.

  10. I will confess I believed it too, when someone (who also believed it, clearly not having read carefully enough) posted a link to a discussion forum…nothing is too strange to be a scam these days. But a few minutes on the Forever Prized website clued me in, and a websearch, which turned up Rhoades's blog, clinched it.

  11. I was prepared to believe it – few things surprise me any more – but "Scattergood" had too much of a Hawthornian sound to it…. great joke, though!

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