Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®
A few months ago, I warned about a scammer impersonating agent Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Literary Agency.
The fraudster in question turned out to be yet another of the Philippines-based publishing and marketing scams that I’ve been writing about so much over the past couple of years (see the sidebar for a full list of the nearly 100 I’ve discovered so far). These ripoff artists regularly pretend to be associated with reputable publishers, so it wasn’t a surprise that they’d try the same sort of thing with a reputable literary agency.
It was just one instance. But these scams all use the same tactics, so if there was one, there were sure to be more.
The other day I received an email from a writer who was concerned about the legitimacy of a cold-call solicitation from someone claiming to be Victoria Marini, an agent with the Irene Goodman Literary Agency. Here’s an excerpt of the email that followed.
Over the exchange of several emails, the writer became suspicious. Here’s the response the scammer sent when the writer expressed doubts–with, you’ll note, a rather interesting invitation to confirm “her” legitimacy:
The writer did indeed contact me, and this blog post is the result.
There’s scam sign aplenty here, including the many typos and English-language errors (not exactly what you’d expect from an established literary agent), and the fact that the “office” number goes not to Writers Desks but to a trademark registration service (which itself doesn’t look all that kosher). The supposed sample video trailer is a highly professional video from 2013–but Writers Desks didn’t exist before June 2020. As for its website, clicking on the URL yields malicious website warnings.
I was pretty sure at this point that Writers Desks was the same kind of scam as the one that impersonated Jennifer Jackson. And sure enough, when I checked its domain registration:
They don’t always make it that easy.
I contacted Ms. Marini to let her know.
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
— Victoria Marini (@LitAgentMarini) July 16, 2020
I’m still puzzled as to why the scammer suggested that the writer contact me. Many of these ripoff artists are aware of my interest in them (there are even some that provide “warnings” about me in their solicitation emails); you’d think they’d want to evade my notice rather than attract it. Maybe the scammer thought the writer would just send me a question, rather than forwarding the entire email chain. Of course, even without the emails, if someone told me that a reputable agent was cold calling random writers to shill video trailers, I’d be pretty sure something fishy was going on.
Some tips for seeing through scams like this:
1. Proceed from a point of skepticism. An unsolicited contact from a real, reputable agent or publisher isn’t automatically suspect, but it’s rare. Out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate. Caution is definitely in order.
2. Mistrust–and verify. Google all the individuals and/or companies that are mentioned (are there complaints? Have they shown up on this blog?) If someone claims to have worked for a major publisher or agency, or a company claims to have placed books with reputable publishers or to have sold film or other subsidiary rights, see if you can verify the claim. If you can’t, or if there are no checkable details (such as names or book titles) attached to the claim, be wary. Especially be wary if, as in this case, you can find nothing to connect the person who is supposedly contacting you with the company they claim to be contacting you from.
3. Use your common sense. Anyone can make an occasional typo, but professionals communicate professionally (no reputable agent would send out language-challenged emails like the ones above). Check the email address and any links–do they match the person or company claiming to be contacting you? (You’d expect Ms. Marini to have an Irene Goodman Literary Agency email address–as indeed she does.) If there’s a demand for money, or if there’s a service for sale, be sure it’s a company that customarily charges such fees or offers such services (reputable agents and publishers generally don’t).
4. Contact Writer Beware. Always a good default if you aren’t sure about an individual or company. We may have heard something, or received complaints, and if we have, we’ll let you know.
NOTE: Writers Desks LLC is not to be confused with Writer’s Desk, a company that provides English-language tutoring and classes for Chinese students.
UPDATE 7/20/20: Looks like the Nelson Literary Agency is also being targeted by the scammers. I’m trying to get more details.
It has come to my attention that there is someone out there impersonating me on the phone and calling hopeful authors to offer them “contracts.” I’m trying to get to the bottom of this so please let me know if you have any info. I am so sorry to anyone who has experienced this.
— Danielle Burby (@DanielleBurby) July 20, 2020
have you heard about Optage publishing? They started contacting my mom through call and email by sending her a proposal about their services. I looked upon their website and saw several books they supposedly published. I dug deeper and found out those books aren't even published under Optage. A man named Noah spoke with her
Their website is https://www.optagepublishing.com
just wanted to tell u about the huge puppy scam on craig's. I should have caught on when they didn't call instead of emailing.
I suspect they thought the person would just email the question, "Hey, is Victoria Marini at Irene Goodman a legit agent?" and would then get a positive answer.
But to me, the horrible grammar in the original message was the instant red flag.
"I'm still puzzled as to why the scammer suggested that the writer contact me"
One possibility is that they're using the same strategy as the people who send out '419' scam emails (the emails that pretend to be from someone in Nigeria who has a large amount of money they want to share with you). 419 scammers deliberately make their pitches obvious and unconvincing, in order to select the most naive prospects. The biggest cost of running these scams is the time spent 'managing' the victims. The scammers don't want someone who will become suspicious and pull out of the con part-way through, so they set the scam up in such a way as to snare only the most gullible people.
Something similar could be going on here. If this is a long con, the scammers want to eliminate anyone who is suspicious or is smart enough to do due diligence right at the start. That way, they're left only with people who've already shown themselves to be naive, inexperienced and over-eager.
My guess is they thought dropping your name would make the writer feel at ease. No way a scammer would intentionally name drop a known literary scam watchdog, right?