Beware Bait and Switch Scams

Header image: bait and switch scammer  offering a carrot to tempt victims off a cliff

There’s a scam doing the rounds right now.

Scam email to writers

(Apraxia is a neurological condition affecting, among other things, the ability to speak; it’s not really clear why the scammer makes this claim, except maybe as an excuse not to speak on the phone.)

It’s not just writers; illustrators are targets too.

Scam email to illustrators

If the person responds, they are sent upfront payment in the form of a check that looks genuine (I’ve redacted the name of the purported sender because it’s not clear they’re involved in the scam).

Bogus payment check sent by the scammer

The check bounces, of course. The recipient contacts the scammer to complain, and the scammer asks for the deposit ticket or other proof of deposit, which would give them some of the recipient’s bank information. Alternatively, the recipient is told that the scammer accidentally overpaid, and asked to send the overage back to the scammer (this is also a common Craigslist scam).

This is an example of a bait and switch scam. You’re offered an opportunity with remuneration. Or you’re promised a service that doesn’t require an upfront fee. But to access it, you have to pay something or buy something or provide something of value, such as personal or financial information. Once you’ve complied, you never hear from the scammer again.

Some other bait-and-switch schemes that have pinged Writer Beware’s radar:

Conference Scam: The bait: the scammer claims to be inviting the writer (or other professional–this scam targets multiple professions) to participate in a virtual conference, for which they’ll be paid a sizeable honorarium. The scammer’s emails use the names of real staffers or executives with real companies, so that anyone who is suspicious enough to Google, but not suspicious enough to wonder why a company with no connection to publishing is putting on a writing conference, will be more likely to assume the invite is genuine.

The switch: to participate, the writer must send a money order (i.e., a payment with no accountability or possibility of reversal) to rent “video equipment” from a preferred vendor. Not to worry, though: the scammer will send a check to cover the expense (which some writers actually do receive, though as with the Apraxia scam, it’s bogus). Guess what happens when the writer deposits it?

This is quite an elaborate, ongoing scam that appears to trace back to one person with a PO box in New York City. I’ve written about it in detail here.

Editing Scam: DC Publishing Service claims to be an “independent publisher”, but it seems to be more interested in recruiting remote workers. Anyone who ignores the giant scam signal on the DC website (illiterate English from a supposedly UK-based company), and applies, is promised payment of $2,000 plus a $300 bonus for completing an initial task.

A cavalcade of ripoff signals follow. In order to do the task, the person must “register” an account, which costs $80 (they’re assured this will be refunded as part of their earnings). The task–typing text from a series of screenshots into a Word document–is weirdly pointless and unchallenging. The contract they’re asked to sign has missing pages, and their recruiter can’t seem to fix it.

If the person is not scared off by all of this and completes the task, they’re instructed to link their account to “the payment system” in order to receive their fee. And that, of course, is the switch:

Fee demand by DC Publishing Service to "link account" in order to be paid

Those who pay–and, worse, provide their ID information–never hear from DC Publishing Services again.

Translation Scam: On Facebook, an account identifying itself as Elena Morgan has been posting job calls in translators’ groups on behalf of a (websiteless) company called Online Chase Publishing.

Facebook job posting from Elena Morgan

Those who respond (and you can see from the number of comments that there are a lot of them) are told they must pass an audio audition: translate and narrate a short English-language children’s story in their preferred language. The audition is unpaid, but if they qualify, they’ll be compensated at the rate of $500 per hour for translation and narration of additional stories.

That’s the bait. The switch: although the audition was fine to record on the translator’s phone, subsequent projects require specific recording equipment…and the translator must confirm that they own the equipment before they can proceed or get paid. If they don’t have the equipment on hand, and/or it’s too expensive, no worries: Elena can recommend an “audio engineer” who can provide it for much less.

"Audio engineer" recommendation from Elena Morgan

At this point, the translator who reported this scam to me smelled a rat, so I don’t know how much the “engineer” would have demanded. Had the translator paid, however, that’s no doubt the last communication they would have gotten from Elena and Online Chase Publishing–which not only would have stolen the translator’s money, but gotten a free translated story narration into the bargain (which of course poses an entire range of other issues).

Fake Literary Agency Scam: If you’re a regular reader here, you’ll be familiar with this one, given the many posts I’ve written about it. The scammer targets self-published writers with offers to represent their books to big-name traditional publishers and/or production studios–commission-only, no fees ever! But in order for that to happen, the writer must lay out cash: re-publication/re-branding of their book, a screenplay, developmental editing, a video trailer, and more. Often the writer is referred to a “trusted literary firm” that can provide the needed services–aka the scammer for which the “agent” is a front.

Typical bait:

Fake agent "commission only" offer

Typical switch:

Fake agent "re-licensing" offer and fees

Blueprint Press is one of many names used by this particular scammer to solicit authors in the US, Canada, and the UK; in the Philippines, where it’s based, it does business as Bridgebooks. Dozens of other scam companies run similar bait-and-switch operations.

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How to protect yourself against bait-and-switch scams? This can be a challenge, since you often have to venture some way into the scammer’s web in order to figure out what the play is.

Solicitation can be a clue–though not always, for as with the conference scam, legit conferences often approach potential participants out of the blue. Lack of findable information, as with Online Chase Publishing and its lack of website, should prompt caution–though this isn’t infallible either, since the scammer may be impersonating someone real. Obvious unprofessionalism–poor written English, for example, or a super-sketchy website like DC Publishing’s–is of course a huge red flag, though I’m constantly surprised by how many people are willing to ignore this.

Bottom line: if you’re promised payment for providing a professional service, but there are conditions attached–such as a fee you have to pay or equipment you have to buy or sensitive information you have to provide–or if you’re promised a service that doesn’t involve any upfront fees or other investment, but in order to access it you must lay out cash for some adjacent good or service, you are probably being scammed. At that point, no matter how much work or hope you may have invested in the scheme, trust your gut and get out.

9 Comments

  1. I’ve recently received a rash (like one a day for the last week) of emails form people wanting to read my book for a review. I don’t think I’d gotten anything just like this before, and it’s obviously a concerted spam effort.

    Cheryl L. Freeman
    Yup, Accepting Book Review Requests Right Now

    Hi,

    I am Cheryl, a student of English literature. I have been in love with books since I was a kid. I read books of all genres. If you are looking for a review on Amazon or Goodreads, please contact me.

    Regards,
    Cheryl

    *****

    Tom S. Ortiz
    I can help you with Amazon Reviews

    Hello,

    If you are still looking for Amazon and Goodreads reviews for your book, please let me know. I am a book review tour organizer with thousands of ACTIVE AND VORACIOUS book reviewers and Kindle readers in my list. I also have over four thousand social media followers in my network. If you want honest reader reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, etc., you can contact me for details.

    *****

    Colin A. Smith
    Do you Want Guaranteed Reviews?- That’s Correct!

    Hi,

    If you want GUARANTEED reviews on Amazon…

    Then this can be one of the most important emails you have ever read!

    I don’t know about you, but I firmly believe that an author should spend time writing books rather than marketing them. Imagine yourself sitting back in the comfort of your chair, absolutely focused and worry-free, writing your next bestseller book, while I do all the hard work of garnering reviews for your existing book! To top it all, my review program also comes with a guarantee: if you don’t get a review from me, you will definitely get a refund. At present, I can guarantee up to 40 reviews.

    1. This is interesting–I haven’t heard from anyone else who’s gotten these (though I’m sure I will). Sounds like the long-running racket run by Aimee Ann, aka the Red-Headed Book Lover.

  2. “Then this can be one of the most important emails you have ever read!”

    Gosh, that is screaming hilarious.

    Some people do indeed pay for a few score reviews, and some pay for several hundred. This, of course, violates Amazon terms of service,.

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Beware Bait and Switch Scams

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