NOTE: This scam is also impersonating Barnes & Noble and City Lights Bookstore (see updates at the bottom of the post).
Impersonating literary agents. Impersonating publishers. Impersonating film producers, directors, and production companies. Impersonation scams extort anywhere from hundreds to tens of thousands of dollars from unwary writers, and damage the reputations of the individuals and companies whose names they falsely use.
A new impersonation scam doing the rounds appropriates the name of a famous bookseller: the Strand Bookstore in New York City.
As is typical with impersonation scams, first contact is via an email that uses a fake address (@thestrandbooks.org) and borrows the real website URL and the names of real people (in this case, current and former Strand staffers) in hopes of tricking the recipient into believing they are really being contacted by the Strand. The claim: the Strand wants to print and stock thousands of copies of your book and give you 80% of sales! All that’s needed to take advantage of this amazing offer is to “contribute” the cost of shipping and handling. The Strand will front the expense of printing.
Here’s the initial approach (along with authors’ information, I’ve redacted the names and images of Strand staffers to protect their privacy). Note the strategic flattery, designed to stroke an unwary writer’s ego:
Authors who ignore the telltale English-language lapses, not to mention any misgivings about why a bookstore would be paying to print books, receive this:
That’s a lot of sales! But how much is the “one time Shipping and Handling fee”? Not exactly peanuts: $1,500 (or $1,900, depending on which version of the solicitation you receive). Compared to a five figure payday, though, it seems like a steal. Plus, look at all these thrilling extras (wait, didn’t the first two emails say 80% royalties? Never mind!):
Payment is via wire transfer, a method that’s increasingly popular with scammers because wire transfer payments are almost impossible to reverse.
Odds are that once the unlucky author sends the fee, they will never hear from the scammer again–because although scammers can and do provide fake “proof” of their bookstore distribution claims (I’ve seen actual examples of book covers photoshopped into stock bookstore images), the level of excuse-making involved in keeping this particular deception going (where’s the promised in-store publicity? Why aren’t those royalties arriving?) is probably more trouble than it’s worth. A lot easier just to take the money and ghost.
This is a very new scheme–the domain for its fake email address was registered just three months ago–and I hadn’t heard of it before this week, when the Strand’s Communications Director reached out to alert me (though it wasn’t long before that changed: the very next day, in fact, when I got an email from an author who’d been approached). That doesn’t mean the scammer running it is new to the business–but it’s often very difficult to find enough breadcrumbs to reveal exactly who’s behind the curtain.
In this case, the wire transfer information provides a clue.
The above is a bit hard to read, but the “beneficiary” is a company called Brand with US LLC. As it happens, I’d recently seen that exact same wire transfer info–but connected to a different scam:
See the @directacquisitionsteam.com email address? It belongs to this scam, which is no stranger to the impersonation game: it has been busily impersonating reputable agents, including Christy Fletcher of Fletcher & Co, whose (mis-spelled) name is used above. It does business in the Philippines as Editors Press and Media; in the US, it’s currently operating as Writers Press Publishing House, among other names. Previously, it operated as Silver Ink Literary Agency and Global Review Press, but had to abandon those names thanks to some unfriendly attention from the Authors Guild and yours truly. (The LinkedIn of the owner of all these enterprises, Shawn Serdena, also documents the tie to Brand with US LLC.)
So…a new scheme, but a familiar scammer. Things are getting fierce in the publishing/marketing/fake literary agency scam space: the proliferation of operators means they have to fight for customers, and writers’ growing awareness of scam techniques makes them harder to fool. It’s not enough to stick with the tried and true–re-publishing offers, junk marketing, “endorsement” to traditional publishers, etc.. New angles are required. The operator behind the Strand scam is one of the most inventive in that regard.
Not all new schemes succeed. But depending on how successfully the fake Strand solicitations can bamboozle authors out of $1,500, additional big-name bookstores may be next. Powell’s and Tattered Cover, watch your backs.
UPDATE: Hilariously, one of the names used by the scam has left an angry comment.
If I were in any doubt about who this is, it would be dispelled by their use of the scam’s fake email address (which appears in my admin dashboard but not on the public post). Their, um, credibility is further undercut by the fact that they emailed me around the same time from a different scam’s email address, using a similar distinctive phrase:
Jesus Christ, guys. Make it hard for me, won’t you?
UPDATE 5/22/23: The scam now appears to be impersonating Barnes & Noble.
The offer is the same: printing and “in-store stocking” of thousands of books, with “Barnes & Noble” supposedly handling production and printing costs and the author paying for “shipping and handling” and getting 80% of the “royalties”. Interestingly, the sales rep who sent the email below appears to be using Amazon India for their royalty calculation: the numbers are in rupees.
UPDATE 6/15/23: The scam is also impersonating City Lights Bookstore, using the name of Stacey Lewis, PR Director at the publisher of the same name and the very suspicious email address firstname.lastname@example.org.
Here’s the contract authors receive if they respond to the solicitation. The promise of a multi-thousand copy print run, the $1,500 fee for “shipping and handling”, and the 80% royalty are all the same, as is the list of “exclusive benefits”, including display of the book “in the store’s Books of the Month section/Bestseller section for a period of 12 months.” (One oddity: the European date format in the first paragraph.)
UPDATE 9/13/23: Here’s the latest iteration of this scam, again impersonating Barnes & Noble. Note the email address (same as in the fake B&N solicitation above) and the complete lack of personalization. It’s also the most English-challenged of the lot.