Imposter Syndrome: The Rise of Impersonation Scams

Header image: joke mask with glasses, fuzzy eyebrows, and a fake nose on a white background (credit: Marco Verch Professional Photographer /

I’m blogging over at Writer Unboxed again today, with an overview of a type of scam that currently represents 50% or more of the questions and complaints I receive.

The current self-publishing industry has its roots in the mid-1990s, when three startups–Xlibris, Trafford, and AuthorHouse–began selling digital publishing services to individual authors.

(Bear with me: I’m getting to the subject of this post!)

Along with similar provider iUniverse, these companies later incorporated under the umbrella of Author Solutions, Inc. (AS). A pioneer in the assisted self-publishing space, AS also pioneered the hard-sell sales tactics, deceptive advertising, and expensive junk marketing techniques that dominate this publishing segment. (Junk marketing: marketing services that are cheap to provide, sold at a large markup, and are of dubious value for book promotion.)

Sometime in the mid-2000s, AS began outsourcing most of its sales and production to the Philippines, where there is a large, educated, English-speaking work force that’s also less costly than equivalent workers in the USA. Inevitably, some of the more entrepreneurial-minded of these staffers, seeing how lucrative it was to convince writers to spend large amounts of money to publish and market their books, decided to set up their own self-publishing enterprises to poach authors away from AS and other companies.

When I first started discovering these AS knockoffs (here’s my first blog post about them), they were mostly just selling Author Solutions-style publishing and marketing packages–although exponentially more overpriced and deceptively advertised than the original, with terrible customer service and the books and other products far more likely to be of poor quality (and that’s when they didn’t just take the money and run).

In recent years, though, their numbers have exploded—there are hundreds of AS knockoffs in operation now, and more cropping up all the time—creating fierce competition for customers in an increasingly crowded field. This has driven them to adopt ever more brazen practices to support their quest for writers’ cash: forging documents and contracts from Big 5 publishers, selling completely fictional products such as “book insurance”, engaging in elaborate front operations involving multiple fake businesses, and impersonating reputable literary agents, publishers, and movie companies.

Impersonation scams especially have become common over the past couple of years, and they can be quite convincing. In this post, you’ll find examples of the three types of impersonation scam you’re most likely to encounter, along with a look at the telltale signs that can identify them.

Read the rest at Writer Unboxed.

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