Impersonating Agents: A New Face For An Old Scam

Image of a wolf (scammer) hiding behind a smiling mask

A few weeks ago, the Bent Agency notified me that an email was doing the rounds falsely claiming to be from Jenny Bent.

First solicitation email from fake Jenny Bent

Though it links to the real Bent Agency website and cites the correct address, this is clearly a scam. Real, reputable literary agents very rarely reach out to writers they don’t already represent–and if they do, it’s a personal approach, not a form letter that doesn’t mention the writer’s name or the title of their book (note also that there’s no “To” category, indicating a mass mailing to multiple recipients). Other indications include ungrammatical text (apart from the last two paragraphs, which have been copied from the Bent Agency’s Who We Are page)–not something you’d expect from a reputable agent–and an email address that doesn’t match the agency’s web domain.

Impersonating reputable agents, editors, and publishing people is a very common tactic for the fake literary agency scams that are so common these days. I’ve written a number of posts about this phenomenon.

Usually what happens if a writer responds to a solicitation like the one above is that the “agent” promises commission-only representation–but it somehow turns out that the author has to pay, whether for re-publishing their book (most of these scams target self-published authors), editing, a video trailer, movie producer pitches, a book proposal, printed books to submit to “investors”, and more. In other words, it’s a bait-and-switch, with the “agent” being a front for the scammer that actually sells the “services”.

Ah, but sometimes it’s even more complicated than that.

It wasn’t long before I got additional reports of approaches by Fake Jenny. This one, designed to appeal to writers’ dreams of money and book sales, drops the Bent Agency text and links (and also clearly signals what writers will have to pay for):

Second solicitation from fake Jenny Bent

This one abandons the agent pretense entirely: Fake Jenny is now a “copyright coordinator and specialist”. But her email address is the same, and paragraph one is virtually identical to paragraph two of the first solicitation:

Third solicitation email from fake Jenny Bent

Here’s the “list of producers” referenced in the email’s final sentence (the content of the list appears to have been stolen from Stage 32). Note the reference to the company that purports to be its source: Scriptor House.

Note also the company referenced in Fake Jenny’s payment information: Best Writers Publishing House.

Banking information for Best Writers Publishing House LLC

(Side note: requiring payment by wire transfer or apps like Zelle and Venmo is becoming more and more popular with scammers, as these methods make it much harder, if not impossible, for writers to dispute charges.)

So is Fake Jenny a front for two different scammers? Not exactly.

Last August, I wrote a long post about a scam that did business in the Philippines as Editors Creative Media OPC, and elsewhere under several names, including Silver Ink Literary Agency. Silver Ink was an enthusiastic practitioner of the impersonation game, along with a variety of other deceptive tactics, such as faking contract offers and other documents from major publishers, and falsely claiming associations with industry groups such as the Authors Guild. I heard from authors who lost thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars to Silver Ink’s schemes.

Eventually, between my post, some decidedly unfriendly attention from the Authors Guild, and proliferating online complaints, things got too hot for Silver Ink. This past March, it closed down, along with its alter-ego, Global Review Press.

That didn’t mean the scamming stopped, though. Why would it, when ripping off authors is so lucrative? One of the advantages of running an online scam from overseas is that you can ditch one business name, register another, and resume operations in the time it takes to slap up a new website. That’s what happened here. Goodbye Silver Ink Literary Agency and Global Review Press; hello Best Writers Publishing House and Scriptor House (I’ve confirmed these connections via documentation provided to me).

Fake Jenny, in other words, is not just a front for a scam, but a front for scams that are themselves fronts for scams. And why stop at one fake agent? David Dunton of Harvey Klinger Literary Agency is also being impersonated, using the same email address and largely identical email text:

Solicitation impersonating agent David Dunton

Bringing the scam full circle, Best Writers Publishing House is targeting former Silver Ink clients with Fake Jenny emails. No need to buy new leads when you already have a list of people you know are vulnerable to fraud.

The moral of this story, as always: even if it uses the name of a reputable person or company, any publishing-related solicitation that arrives out of the blue should be treated as a scam–at least until you can definitively determine otherwise.

The Bent Agency website now includes a scam alert.

UPDATE 8/15/22: Also being impersonated: agents Jamie Carr and Elisabeth Weed of The Book Group.

UPDATE 9/12/22: Not content with merely impersonating real agents, the Best Writers Publishing House folks are impersonating imaginary ones, using a new set of false names: Allison Summers and John Morris, with the email address asummers.independentagent@gmail.com. How do I know this? Because they send out fake “letters of intent” that are largely identical to those sent out by their earlier incarnation, Silver Ink Literary Agency, right down to the address and the ridiculous “certified true copy” stamp. Compare:

Bogus letter of intent supposedly from Penguin Random House, sent by Silver Ink Literary Agency
Bogus Letter of Intent supposedly from Penguin Random House sent by Allison Summers and John Morris

UPDATE 9/21/22: Agent Steve Troha of Folio Literary Management is also an impersonation target. Note the “To” line and the lack of personalization, which indicate that this is being sent out as a mass mailing.

Scam solicitation impersonating Steve Troha of Folio Literary Management

UPDATE 11/2/22: More impersonation: David Hale Smith of Inkwell Management and Sarah Haugen at HarperCollins, whose name was attached to a fake “book acquisition deal” email.

UPDATE 12/2/22: Yet more impersonation: Christy Fletcher of Fletcher & Co. and Nicole Cunningham of The Book Group.

UPDATE 12/15/22: Steve Ross of the Steve Ross Agency is also being impersonated by this scam. The email sent out under his name is somewhat different from the others, but it’s the second one I’ve seen that references this imaginary “International Book Seal.” When the other author who got one of these asked the agent impersonator what the heck a book seal was, the impersonator was unable to explain. Seriously, guys, if you’re going to make up a service, at least give your sales reps a script so they won’t be caught out!

Scam email impersonating Steve Ross of the Steve Ross Agency

UPDATE 1/13/23: Added to the impersonation list: Rick Lewis of Martin Literary Management. See that black block at the top of the solicitation? That’s the big list of email addresses this email went to. It’s been clear from the start that these solicitations are mass emails, rather than the canned but personalized approaches other scammers prefer, but it’s interesting to have proof. Given that the recipients are identified in the email as having used Xlibris, this strengthens my suspicion that Author Solutions sells its customer data.

Scam solicitation impersonating agent Rick Lewis of Martin Literary Management

UPDATE 1/20/23: In an inevitable development, the scam has added Big 5 publishing editors to its impersonation list–former ones, that is. This example, which mixes and matches elements from all the other examples above, purports to be from Caitlin Blasdell, who did at one point work at Harper but is currently an agent at Liza Dawson Associates.

Harper has published a fraud alert on its website, though you have to really dig to find it.

Scam solicitation impersonating Caitlin Blasdell and HarperCollins

6 Comments

  1. I almost fell for a similar scam, this one representing a well known ‘movie producer’.
    The email spewed fawning admiration for my book, without ever mentioning its title or anything about it. Just how wonderful and imaginative and exciting that it was. Perfect for a movie.
    It was really fun for awhile. I responded enthusiastically and actually enjoyed the brief possibility that I was finally getting the break all writers dream of.
    But when the next email asked for money, reality settled in.
    My condolences to those who are successfully scammed. Hope is a weakness, not a business plan.
    I don’t write because I like to, or even because it is enjoyable.
    It is simply a harmless sickness where I create and inhabit realities. No harm in it.

    1. Thanks for letting me know–I’ll add that name to my list of impersonated agents. Several of the agencies that have been targeted by this scam have added alerts to their websites–that can be helpful, since writers do check. Thanks again.

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