Sunday, June 15, 2008

Victoria Strauss -- Fake Contest Alert

This week, a call for submissions in a SFWA-sponsored contest was posted on Craigslist and FLiXER, promising large cash prizes and publication.

Writers take warning: this contest is a fake.

Here's the pitch:

The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, Inc. is currently accepting science fiction story submissions of no more than 3000 words. All genres of science fiction accepted. Winners will get published in a Random House book titled "Asimovs of the Future." The cash prizes for winners are as follows:

1st Place: $10,000
2nd Place: $5,000
3rd Place: $2,000
10 Honorary Mentions: $1000

All winners and honorary mentions will get published. A percentage of the royalties for the book will also be included as part of the prize. The exact percentage has yet to be determined.


A check for $10 must accompany each entry, made out to "Science Fiction Writers of America." The mailing address is a "submissions center" in San Diego.

I can only imagine the number of hopeful writers who will be enticed by the SFWA name, not to mention the promise of enormous prizes plus a commercial publishing credit. Once again, however: this contest is a fake. I've confirmed this with SFWA's president, Michael Capobianco, but to anyone who's familiar with SFWA, the bogusness is obvious. SFWA does not conduct writing contests (and if it did, why would it advertise them on Craigslist, rather than on its own website?). It has no San Diego address. Its publisher is Penguin, not Random House.

Presumably, the contest is an entry fee scam--though for a scam, $10 seems a little unambitious. One also wonders how whoever is behind the scam plans to cash checks made out to SFWA.

SFWA is investigating. In the meantime, if you've entered this contest, please contact Writer Beware immediately.

28 comments:

Cait said...

For me, the giveaway's in the text - do any real publishers use the phrase "get published"? I would have strongly expected "be published" instead...

kendall said...

Hopefully SFWA will warn people about it soon in their Pressbook and someone will mention it on the SFWA community LiveJournal.

Kristin Laughtin said...

Thanks for the heads-up. I have a writer friend who might have been interested in this, so I'll be sure to pass along the word.

Samuel Tinianow said...

I wouldn't want to be in an anthology with a name that ripe even it was affiliated with SFWA.

WordVixen said...

I had the same thought cait had. Plus, publishing runners up as well, and a percentage of royalties which haven't even been determined yet? Yikes.

Here's hoping that no one's fallen for it.

mischief said...

Noticing how behind the times they are: it's now Science fiction and Fantasy Writers of America

michaelcapo said...

Both I and Ann wrote to this person this morning, and he/she has apologized, and says he/she will remove the solicitations from craigslist and never do this again. Obviously, we'll be following up on this to make sure.

Michael Capobianco
President, SFWA

Heather said...

You ladies are the best. Thanks for the heads up.

Dave Kuzminski said...

By now, there's no way of knowing how many writers have copied that ad and are preparing their entries. Odds are they won't get the word about it being a hoax. For that reason, I recommend prosecution as being appropriate.

Deborah said...

Just tried the link and found it "Tagged for Removal."

Good work!

Nancy Fulda said...

The craigslist link is flagged for removal, but the FLiXER link is still up.

Nancy Beck said...

What mischief said - the tipoff for me would've been that they left off the "fantasy" part of the organization's name.

Blogged about it just a few minutes ago.

Victoria Strauss said...

the tipoff for me would've been that they left off the "fantasy" part of the organization's name.

So do many older SFWA members--whether by habit ("and Fantasy" wasn't added to the name till well after SFWA was founded) or disdain for fantasy.

In any case, the original ad got it wrong once, and right twice.

ianrandalstrock said...

Capo said the perpretrator has apologized, and part of me has to wonder, what sort of apology is good enough? "Gosh, I'm sorry I used your name as a front for this completely legitimate contest I was running. I didn't think you'd mind. My bad." or was it "Gee, I'm sorry I got caught."

Mis-using the organization's name has to demand more than an apology and an "I'll stop doing it." At the very least, the perp has to inform the public of his misdeed, and promise to reply to every submission he gets explaining his crime, apologizing, and telling his victims SFWA was completely uninvolved.

J M McDermott said...

A decent indetity thief only needs a check's routing information to pull off some nasty business.

I doubt this scam is over 10 bucks, when one could relatively easily make out checks for 1000 with the information pasted on each check and some relatively-easy-to-acquire equipment.

mischief said...

Official notice here, if it will help spread the news.

Anonymous said...

SFWA needs to contact the Postmaster/Postal Fraud unit at the post office associated with that San Diego zip code and let them know what's going on. To use the US mail in this fashion is a federal offense, and the post office needs to be informed. The fact that this person apologized is insufficient; people less learned and less aware will still see (or have already seen) the postings for this contest and will gladly (unfortunately) send in their $10. And I suspect that if this individual gets even a few responses to his contest announcement, he will assuredly repost the ad somewhere else, and just hope he doesn't get caught -- again.

neutronjockey said...

Intentionally deceiving people then apologizing is like me claiming to be Victoria Strauss in a post then saying, "my bad" when caught.

Apology not accepted.

Burn 'em.

michaelcapo said...

The posts are now gone from both craigslist and flixer.

Rest assured, I will be contacting the Office of the San Diego District Attorney and the US Postal Inspector about this tomorrow.

Michael Capobianco

WRWarrenJr said...

I agree with NeutronJockey. Burn 'em. Even the legitimate contests that have suspicious intent are at least literate enough to appear to be legitimate. To abuse SFWA's good name and reputation for such a scam is unforgivable. To paraphrase Harlan, "Take it off with a cheese grater." This is impermissible.

WRWarrenJr said...

I agree with NeutronJockey. Burn 'em. Even the legitimate contests that have suspicious intent are at least literate enough to appear to be legitimate. To abuse SFWA's good name and reputation for such a scam is unforgivable. To paraphrase Harlan, "Take it off with a cheese grater." This is impermissible.

Dr. Phil (Physics) said...

No.

This isn't a matter of a simple apology. This person represented themselves as publishing an anthology from Random House, a legitimate publisher, and paying out $27,000 in prize money. If they had no means to pay out the money and no contract with Random House, this is fraud, pure and simple. And if they expected to pay out the prizes from a minimum of 2700 submissions at $10/per, I don't think that a publisher like Random House would sign onto such a fairy tale project.

I figure the person who suggested this was a phishing scam for check routing numbers is close to the mark.

You just can't say "my bad" and walk away freely from abusing SFWA, RH and intending to cheat people. Oh, and Asimov's of the Future? I think the Writer's of the Future might have something to say about that, as well as the estate of Isaac Asimov!

Dr. Phil

Victoria Strauss said...

I figure the person who suggested this was a phishing scam for check routing numbers is close to the mark.

...aspiring SF/fantasy writers being so well-heeled and all.

This may get me some flack, but I think many of the commenters above are seriously overreacting to what basically seems to me like a very amateurish attempt at an entry-fee scam. Sure, whoever it was misused SFWA's name--it wouldn't be the first time a would-be scammer has misused the name of a major writers' or publishing industry group--but the contest ads are gone now, and warnings are proliferating madly across the Internet, probably getting way more viewership than the ads ever did (this blog's traffic more than quadrupled yesterday because of all the warnings). I really don't see the point in pursuing it further.

I will certainly be keeping my eye out for anything similar, and I am currently using my secret scam-hunting superpowers to make certain that the contest really is gone. And if it was a phishing scheme, hopefully we'll hear from anyone who has been taken (so far, I haven't heard from anyone who actually entered the contest). But for now I think the thing is done, and that's where we should leave it.

Nancy Jane Moore said...

If the SFWA board thinks we've done enough to protect our good name, we don't need to waste our time and money suing people who probably don't have any money. Just report it to the proper authorities and let the prosecutors decide whether to file charges. I hope they will. Even if the only thing these people meant to do was rip off gullible people for $10, they ought to be prosecuted.

BTW, to me the obvious clue that this is a scam is the prize money. $10,000? For a 3,000-word science fiction short story? Any contest paying that kind of money wouldn't have been hidden on the back pages of Craigslist -- it would have been generating headlines in every serious writer publication in the country.

celia friedman said...

Letting this person off with an apology implies that somehow this was all a terrible misunderstanding, as opposed to deliberate fraud. Does anyone really believe this person won't just start up another fraud of this type, with different references, and hope not to get caught? Not to mention all the entry fees from people who never saw the retractions and sent stuff in anyway. I'm sorry, this kind of thing needs to cost them enough that they don't just move onto the next scam, thinking that "oops!" will fix things.

Anonymous said...

There is no telling how much money this person has collected already. A bit of jail time should be in order, if you ask me. This person probably has done this before, and will just move on to the next scam, if not stopped. A lot of this sort of problem starts in China and Nigeria.

At a cost of $10., no one is going to stop payment on their check, because the cost to do so, at most banks, is around $25. today.

Victoria, I hope you have gone to some of the writer's forums and asked everyone to pass the word. It may not help those who have already spent their money, but could possibly help those who have not opted in as yet.

Dixie

Victoria Strauss said...

Dixie wrote,

Victoria, I hope you have gone to some of the writer's forums and asked everyone to pass the word.

I didn't need to--this item got picked up very quickly by a large number of blogs, message boards, and writers' forums. If you click the "Links to this post" link on the blog, you can see a sampling.

IMO, this was a very amateurish, if bizarre, attempt at scammery. It had very limited exposure, and it was very quickly shut down (we've followed up to be sure of that). Despite our appeals, we've heard from no one who actually sent any money. As writer ripoffs go, this one was a piffle.

I wish we could get as much attention for the really serious scams and schemes we write about as we did for this one.

F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre said...

I'm a member of SFWA and I learnt about this lurk on the SFWA website. The fact that the scammer has used an older version of SFWA's name might be an intentional attempt at a loophole to make prosecution trickier. Something like: "I never claimed that my contest is sponsored by the Science Fiction AND FANTASY Writers of America. It's sponsored by the Science Fiction Writers of America; that's a completely different organisation!" (Mind you, I don't claim that such a loophole would get the crook acquitted ... but the more complicated a fraud case gets, the likelier that someone will decline to prosecute.)

Speaking of which, I wonder if SFWA still hold copyright on the older version of our name?

Many confidence tricksters hide behind bogus names which are intentionally ALMOST identical to a dinkum legitimate organisation's name. I suspect it's not an error that this person omitted "and Fantasy".

I agree with a previous poster; this scammer's primary objective is likely NOT stealing people's cheques at $10 a go, but rather to get hold of their routing information for bigger thefts down the line.

Whenever I've found it necessary to put out money for anything that seems even remotely dodgy -- such as a subscription to a website that won't take money orders, indicating that they plan to renew my membership via automatic debit even if I don't want them to -- I set up a secondary bank account, and I deposit only enough money to cover what I intend to purchase, plus a few dollars' safety margin. As soon as any organisation makes an unauthorised debit, I terminate the account and set up a new one for my next dicey situation.

-- F. Gwynplaine MacIntyre (Active member, SFWA)