I thought Writer Beware’s readers might be interested in hearing about the only time I’ve ever had a face to face meeting with a known writing scammer. I still laugh when I remember that day.
You see, once upon a time the perpetrator of a bogus writing contest tried to bribe me into keeping mum about his chicanery.
Remember Mitchell Graham–real name Mitchell Gross–the writer who set up a fake writing contest in order to promote his debut fantasy novel, and later on–much later–turned out to be a serial con artist? (Victoria blogged about Mitchell a few weeks ago, in connection with his indictment on charges of wire fraud and money laundering for allegedly luring a woman into investing millions of dollars in a phony company.)
The contest was the Delmont-Ross Writing Contest, with a $5000 prize, and prominent s.f. writer Ben Bova was hired to judge it. Trouble was, there was only one entry…Mitchell’s own. So of course Ben declared the sole entrant to be the winner, which was according to the rules. (Ben thought this odd, but rules are rules, and most writers aren’t as scam conscious as Victoria and I are.)
So Mitchell Gross won his own contest. Writer Beware did a lot of computer searching and tracing before we were able to link the contest with Mitchell’s own financial projects, because it was pretty well hidden. We also verified that the contest had no link (as had been implied to us) to Merrill Lynch–though it was linked to Mitchell’s own “front” business, the Merrill Company.
Aha. When I went to DragonCon that year, I was on a panel with Mitchell, the brand new shiny contest winning author who’d just had his brand new “award winning” book released from HarperCollins. Matter of fact, I sat next to him. When the time came for me to do my usual brief Writer Beware summary, I was careful to mention that the “Delmont-Ross Writing Contest” was bogus, and by all means don’t send them any entries.
I didn’t look at Mitchell as I was talking. But I’d stationed a friend in the second row of the audience, with orders to watch his expression. The moment I said the contest’s name, his face took on a startled, then panicky expression, then smoothed out very quickly. Con artists get good at that.
Heh heh, I thought. So he knows we’re on to him. He won’t attempt to milk anyone else with his “contest.” And he didn’t.
But that’s not the end of the story. Returning from DragonCon, I had barely walked in the door of my house when my home phone rang. It was Mitchell.
“Say, Ann,” he said in a breezy tone, “I found your cellphone case right below where you were sitting at the panel. Did you miss it yet?”
“Can’t be mine,” I said, puzzled.
“Oh, you need to check,” Mitchell insisted. “I’m sure I saw it while we were sitting there. And there’s five hundred bucks in the front compartment. I’ll send it right up to you, Fed Ex. You’ll have it tomorrow.”
For a moment I was struck speechless by the sheer ballsiness of a guy who assumed everyone was as dishonest as himself. Then I shook my head and grinned an evil grin.
“Nope, Mitchell. Can’t be mine. I don’t have a cellphone case.”
“Are you sure?” He sounded less sure of himself now.
“Yes, positive. Oh…and congratulations on winning such a…prestigious…contest.”
Silence on the other end. Then he said, quietly, “Thank you.”
“I have to go now,” I said. “Bye.”
And that was my only face to face encounter with a writing scammer. Of course, since that time, Mitchell has gone on to bigger and better things. He now faces up to 20 years in prison.
Chair, Writer Beware