Writing is one of the few professions that’s as much about dreams as business, and because our emotions and identity are inextricably tied to our work, writers are particularly vulnerable to predators – people who use our dreams to take advantage of us. Most of us know to be wary of unscrupulous “agents,” “editors,” and “publishing houses,” and many of us learned those lessons the hard way.*
Over the last week, the small independent publisher of my books Fox Talk and Fuzzy Forensics has been dealing with a new breed of scammer, and I wanted to share the details here so that authors working without the protection of a large, established publishing house, know what to watch for.
It all began with this email:
Am Daniel Peter, I will like to purchase some of your items in your store and i want you to confirm back to me if mode of payment is accepted by credit card, Visa/Master card And also i will like to know if you can allow my freight forwarders to come down to your store for the pick up of my items, So do get back to me with your catalog or website where i chose the items i am interested in buying from your store.
Thanks and revert back
Red Flag #1: This email was sent to the contact address on my publisher’s website, where the books are clearly displayed. So why would “Daniel” need a catalogue?
But hey, a sale is a sale, so the contact person at my publishing house, who also happens to be a Sister of the Traveling Chocolate, responded with the requested information. And here was the result:
Thanks for your email, Below are the listed of products that i will like to purchase from you and i will like you to get back to me with the cost quote and also reach my shipper at the below stated contact email for immediate pick up of my item at your warehouse or store.
1, Items : L.E. Carmichael (hard cover $19.95, soft cover $19.95) ============ 50 QTY
Wahoo! 50 copies of each of my books, in both formats, is 200 books. And who doesn’t want to sell 200 books in one go? Ah, but…
Red Flag #2: What person ordering 200 books in one go is willing to pay full retail price? Surely this is a discount situation.
The same message went on to say:
Concerning the shipping , the likes of UPS, DHL and others always don’t take care of the charges down here. Charges like handling,customs and duties etc. We have experienced such situation before and i don’t want to experience such thing again,you do not need to worry about the stress involve and all documentations because i have a shipping company that have delivered to me in the past, I really like their services, so i will like you to contact them about the shipping quote.
Huh. Well, that’s a little odd, but plausible. After all, the shipping address “Daniel” provided is in Bulgaria. And that address isn’t a flag in and of itself, because there are English-language academies and bookstores in countries all over the world, and in the age of the internet, people can order products and services they’re interested from anywhere on the planet. On the other hand,
Red Flag #3: The websites of both “Daniel’s” company and the shipping company he wants to use look unfinished and a touch on the sketchy side. One website might be under construction, but both? That’s suspicious.
The shipping company provided a quote in the range of $3000 US for the package, so my SotTC emailed “Daniel” and informed him that, instead of shipping books that are currently located in Canada, she could have the UK office of Lightning Source print them there, reducing the delivery charge to $200.
Red Flag #4: Daniel doesn’t seem to want to save $2800, and insists on using his preferred shipping company.
And here’s where it got really interesting:
Thank you for correspondence to my email request, i want you to know that i could have direct shipping charges payment to them by myself but my private freight forwarding company does not have facility to charge credit card and more over, i am currently out of town to a remote village to monitor my new construction and there are no western union point on site to send the funds to them. I have enjoy their efficient service in the past and that is why i have decided that they should take care of the pick up and shipment of all my order but they have informed me that due to high demand for their service at this season they have decided to accept payment by cash before making arrangement for the pick up of any order and their service will be done in this season in a mode that who pays first enjoy their service first.This is why i requested for your assistance in paying for the shipment of all my packages that is to be picked up by them through Bank Transfer.
Red Flag #5: What shipping company doesn’t take credit cards?
Red Flag #6: Your remote area seems to have internet access, so why can’t you use Western Union’s website to transfer the money?
Red Flag #7: Wait, you want us to wire money to your shipping company to deliver your order? And THEN you’ll give us your credit card number to reimburse us?
NO, NO, NO, NO, NO.
IN PUBLISHING, MONEY FLOWS TO THE AUTHOR. NEVER, NEVER, NEVER THE OTHER WAY AROUND.
At this point, most people would stop responding to “Daniel’s” emails, and perhaps have a little cry over the loss of a great sale. But this is my SotTC we’re talking about, and being both highly creative and just a tiny bit evil, she decided to have a little fun with him.
I’m wondering if you can provide some information regarding your business and reason for purchasing the books. We find it very exciting that the books are going to Bulgaria, and it is something we’d like to put on our website – perhaps encourage other buyers from your side of the world!
Thanks for your mail I read some of your books when i was in canada for a conference and i found out that i can sell some of your books in my store also and the books will help the people of Bulgaria.
As if more were needed:
Red Flag #8: The only conference my books have ever been to was the Nova Scotia Association of Science Teachers, and since I was there with them, I’d have remembered.
Red Flag #9: I love my books, but let’s get real – how exactly are they going to “help the people of Bulgaria”?
That’s great! I’m glad our investment into sending our people to conferences is paying off. We generally send Kylee Willis (tall, curly red hair) and Gorgianne Pastinache (short, dark skin, short black hair – we call her ‘the pixie’). Do you remember with whom you spoke, or which conference it was? I’d like to congratulate them on garnering interest in Europe….
….I would suggest that you question your shipping company in regards to their prices. I would also suggest that you look into their practice of wiring money, as this is often used by scam artists. My uncle has a friend who is often contracted to various federal and international agencies, as he is a forensic accountant. If you wanted, I could have ask my uncle to ask him to look into the shipping company for you. They may owe you a significant amount of money if they are defrauding your vendors. And, if they are defrauding you, they are probably doing it to more of their clients.
I feel it’s important to note that none of the characters my SotTC mentions in this message actually exist. I am also very, very glad that she’s on my side. We haven’t heard from “Daniel” since she threatened him with the long arm of the imaginary law. 😀
So protect yourself, author friends – ask questions, do the research, and remember that if it the deliciously-wrapped chocolate sounds too good to be true, there’s probably a festering pile of lies at the centre.
Have you fallen victim to a scam like this? What red flags do you wish you’d picked up on before it was too late? Which flags have helped you avoid scams? Please share in the comments. And please share this post widely, so we can all stay a bit safer.
* In my case, it was the National Library of Poetry, but in my defence, I was 15.