UPDATE: The scam profiled in this post is now using the email address @groupofacquisitions.com in addition to @directacquisitionsteam.com, and may also be using the address @literaryacquisitionsguild.com.
NAMES ASSOCIATED WITH THIS SCAM:
Acquisitions Galley (aka AG LIterary Agency)
Best Writers Publishing House
Creative Media Editors Inc.
Brand With US LLC
Editors Press and Media
Writers Press Publishing House
A few weeks ago, the Bent Agency notified me that an email was doing the rounds falsely claiming to be from 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):
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:
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.
(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 Press and Media, 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).
(UPDATE 2/16/23: The Best Writers Publishing House company name seems to have been retired–its website URL returns a “site not found” message. Scriptor House is still operational.) (UPDATE 3/28/23: Three new names have been added: Acquisitions Galley, Creative Media Editors Inc., and Brand With US LLC.)
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:
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 email@example.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:
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.
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!
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.
UPDATE 1/20/23: More additions to the impersonation list: Caitlin Blasdell and Tom Miller at Liza Dawson Associates.
Harper has published a fraud alert on its website, though you have to really dig to find it.
UPDATE 2/16/23: As I’ve noted before, scammers are among my most loyal readers. Apparently things have gotten a bit too hot for the @directacquisitionsteam.com email address, so they’re using a new one, @groupofacquisitions.com (domain registered 10 days ago). It’s like putting on a hat and thinking no one will know it’s you, though, because the email itself is largely identical to the Caitlin Blasdell one above. And they’re impersonating agent Victoria Sanders.
UPDATE 3/28/23: Some new names for this scam: Acquisitions Galley and Creative Media Editors Inc. There’s also Brand With US LLC, which appears on the wire transfer info used by the scam.
Here’s the latest email; note that while “Juan’s” signature includes the URL of the new Acquisitions Galley name, he’s sending from the telltale @groupofacquisitions.com email address. The invoice referred to is for “developmental editing” from Creative Media Editors Inc., for $3,500.
UPDATE 3/31/23: More impersonated agents: Daniel Conaway of Writers House, Kirby Kim of Janklow & Nesbit, Peter Steinberg of Fletcher & Co., Rachel Beck of Liza Dawson Associates.
UPDATE 4/23/23: Here’s the latest solicitation from @groupofacquisitions.com, impersonating agent Robbie Guillory of Underline Literary Agency. Different wording, but similar “representation requirements”, including the totally bogus International Book Seal.
UPDATE 4/30/23: Based on identical solicitation emails, it appears that a new name has been added to the scam roster: Writers Press Publishing House. Emails I’ve seen impersonate Macmillan.
UPDATE 5/24/23: The scam is now impersonating agent Dana Murphy (who really works at Trellis Literary Management) via the @groupofacquisitions.com email address, with a laughably fake “letter of intent” from Penguin Random House and a “developmental editing services” agreement with Creative Media Editors Inc. Here’s CME’s banking info:
UPDATE 6/10/23: Apparently the Trellis impersonation is too good to abandon, but the @groupofacquisitions.com address has gotten too hot; the scam is now using the email address @trellisliterarymanagement.com to impersonate a roster of Trellis agents (the real Trellis email address is @trellisliterary.com). Watch out for fake solicitations from Allison Malecha, Natalie Edwards, and Danya Kukafka in addition to Dana Murphy. Likely other Trellis agents names are being used as well. Trellis has been informed and is aware of the scam, but unlike some impersonated agencies, hasn’t posted any kind of warning.
As with fake Dana, fake Allison and fake Natalie and fake Danya refer authors to Creative Media Editors Inc. for developmental editing. Same banking info as above.
UPDATE 6/23/23: Lucienne Diver and The Knight Agency are the latest impersonation targets. As with the Trellis scam, they’re using a fake email address that looks authentic unless you check: @knightliteraryagency.net (the real address is @knightagency.net). The domain associated with that email address was registered just 14 days ago as of this writing.
UPDATE 7/24/23: Jennifer Carlson of Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Literary Agency is the latest impersonation target. As with Trellis, the scammer is using a fake email address that can be mistaken for the real one: @dcl-agency.com (the real address is @dclagency.com). The agency has a warning on its website, but it’s way down at the bottom where it can easily be missed.
UPDATE 8/21/23: Based on email solicitation content identical to what’s in the screenshots above, the scam is also doing business as WordTalk Press.
UPDATE 11/14/23: The impersonation machine trundles on: emails identical to the Victoria Sanders one above are going out purportedly from “Sam Stoloff, from the acquisitions team of Frances Goldin working with HarperCollins.” Sam Stoloff is a real agent with the Frances Goldin Literary Agency.
And…a new fake agency joins the party: Cedar Literary, whose website is replete with false claims of representing real writers. Here’s the solicitation Cedar is sending out; the section beginning with “The publishing industry has evolved at par” is identical to portions of the Steve Troha impersonation email in the 9/21/22 update above. Also, although “Paul Gonzales” is not a real agent, he has the bio of one–or at least, large portions of it: Peter Steinberg of Fletcher and Company, who the scam has impersonated directly in the past (see the 3/21/23 update above).