Impersonation is an increasingly common tactic employed by the Philippines-based scams that have been taking up so much space on this blog for the past few years.
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 scammer, who 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’s currently doing business as Scriptor House (another name, Best Writers Publishing House, appears to have been retired); 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.
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?
My wife’s website (below) generates a lot of phony calls. The most convincing (“no money up front”) today was Louie Day, of Quantum Discovery. Does his name ring a bell? The giveaway was a $1,000 was needed to redesign the book and cover. But the publisher does that AFTER they accept the book. For those interested, my wife’s son is coming out with The Con Queen of Hollywood, who imitated the voices of producers like Sherry Lansing and Amy Pascal for years to scam money and cause mayhem. His book about it comes out June 6th from Harper Collins. https://www.harpercollins.com/products/the-con-queen-of-hollywood-scott-c-johnson?variant=40795407122466 or just Google it. Thanks for having this site!
If I received an email claiming to be from a popular publishing company, I’d go to the company’s actual web site and contact them through there and let them know that I received an email from somebody claiming to be from them. If you believe that you received a scam or phishing email, don’t click on anything in it.
I’ve been contacted by two impersonators, one that claimed to be the writer and producer of Windfall. So I looked him up online and learned as much as I could about him so when the impersonator contacted me by phone after 15 emails, I grilled him with questions about himself that he had to think about. For instance, I asked him about his actress wife’s famous father and he got mad and asked me who my father was. Sort of snarky. Then he said, “I’m done with this” and hung up on me. He didn’t sound like a kid from L.A. as he had a strange accent and also sounded much older. And he wanted to make a movie out of my novel. Writer be very Aware.
They also call on the phone wanting to offer you a deal for one of your already published books. I politely tell them I am not interested and never to call me again. I then let my answering machine pick up any follow-up calls they choose to make.
This is not true! These are all black propaganda! Send me your proof. You have my email and website below.
“Carson,” your protests are undercut by the fact that you’re using the scam email address.
These scams spring up like mushrooms. Thank you for notifying us about them.
I am very careful about unsolicited emails. In fact, I would say I never respond. If I’ve missed some opportunities (although I don’t think I have) it’s probably worth missing out on something rather than losing thousands.
Anyone who calls my writing “contemporary” and that it has “interesting thoughts” is going to get a face slapped with a glove while I say with great indignation due to the insult, “I demand satisfaction!”
I write to disturb people into pondering why they do not live as they wish to.