Tuesday, January 03, 2006

A.C. Crispin - 29 What to do if you've been scammed...

Sad to say, though we try out best, Writer Beware can't save all the writers out there from scam agents, publishers, contests, book doctors, editors, etc. This grieves us. Some of the toughest letters we receive are the ones from from writers who write something like, "I paid Agent B a $50.00 "submissions fee" and then I paid her a $600.000 "evaluation/consultation fee" when I signed the contract she sent me. Then I saw on Absolute Write (or Writers.net, or The Rumor Mill) that Agent B isn't legit, she's a scammer. NOW what do I do? Is there any way for me to get my money back? Will she take my book manuscript, put her name on it and sell it as her own work? Can you help me?"

Well, no. We probably can't, except to offer advice.

(There is a ray of hope, though. If you send money and your book to a scam agent, or a scam publisher, you're probably never going to see your money again, but your BOOK is probably safe from plagiarism. Scam agents and publishers are interested in MONEY, not in selling books. If they could actually sell books, they might not have to charge those upfront fees. Selling a book is a lot of WORK.)

So, if you've been scammed, we suggest you do the following:

1. REPORT the fraud to law enforcement. File a complaint with your local sheriff or city police, or State troopers. Have the cops forward a copy of the complaint to the appropriate authorities in the jurisdiction where the scammer is located. (For example, for Agent B, that would be a small town in New Jersey.)

2. GO ONLINE. Post a report about what happened to you on Writers.net, Absolute Write, The Rumor Mill, Usenet, any place that you can think of where other writers will see it. Don't be coy, give names. You may be able to keep some other writer from suffering the same fate.

3. If the scammer had to cross State lines to email you, or snail mail you, that makes the fraud a federal crime. Report the crime to the FBI Field office near you. Write a complete chronology of what happened, giving the dollar amount of all expenses, and include documentation, such as cancelled checks, credit card statements, etc. Save all correspondence with the scammer and keep it in a separate file, both in hardcopy and electronic versions, if they communicated via email or fax. Write a "phone log" if they contacted you by phone. KEEP your records. It can take law enforcement YEARS to begin prosecution of a scammers.

4. Send a copy of your chronology to Writer Beware, including documentation. Also email Preditors and Editors about what happened. We track and keep a database of scams, as you know. Sending us your information will help us warn other writers away from that scammer.

5. If you lost a lot of money, say, over a thousand dollars, you may want to invest in getting an attorney to write the scammer a threatening letter demanding your money back immediately. With PublishAmerica, this won't work. They don't even read such letters. But with some scammers, they have shown that they'll cave under this kind of threat, and refund your money. "Agent F" for example, will usually make a complete refund if the author threatens to inform the Better Business Bureau and local law enforcement of the scam.

(Note: the Better Business Bureau is totally useless as a source to detemine the legitimacy of agents or publishers. The BBB was still listing the Deering literary agency and publishing house as "legit" the day Dorothy and Charles were led away in handcuffs.)

I know it's tough to get scammed. You feel violated, you really do. But if you don't report what happened, due to embarrassment, the scammer will blithely go along, scamming other victims. If you report them, and post what happened to you, you'll be able to hurt them back, at least a little.

Scammers are ugly, sociopathic predators, who don't just steal money, but dreams. Their worst fear is exposure and the inside of a courtroom. Every time they're reported puts the public one small step closer to being rid of them for good.

Let's hope that today I was wasting my keystrokes and that this post doesn't apply to ANY of you!

-Ann C. Crispin
www.writerbeware.com

4 comments:

Julia said...

You (Writers Beware) have already taught me to avoid most of the scammers.

But it is good to know what recourse there is!

Thanks

Dave Kuzminski said...

Even if you don't suspect you're being scammed, save those emails and letters and receipts and rejections because those will possibly be important one day should you become famous or it turns out that you did encounter a scammer.

Don't let them conduct everything over the phone. If they do, advise them that you're recording your conversations, whether you are or not. If they ask why, tell them you can't take notes fast enough or have a bad memory. If they're scamming you, they'll probably dump you real fast since they won't want to run afoul of the laws against fraud over the telephone and wires and have evidence in your hands proving it.

Remember, keep that documentation!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

Great advice Victoria, and you to Dave. It's so sad to see people get taken. But how can you drill it into people's heads, that you're not supposed to pay them, their supposed to hand you money!

Dr. Deborah Serani said...

Terrible that this stuff happens. You provide great insight and resources for any who have been victimized, and educate those to be aware.


~Deb