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August 13, 2020

A New "Beware": Scammers Impersonating Reputable Literary Agents


Posted by Victoria Strauss for Writer Beware®

This post has been updated

I've written about this new "beware" twice already (you can see those posts here and here), but it appears to be a growing problem, so I want to put out a more focused warning.

Scammers--the same Philippines-based Author Solutions copycats that I've featured numerous times in this blog (also see the long, long list in the sidebar)--are impersonating reputable literary agents and agencies in order to bamboozle writers into buying worthless "services." Here are the misused names I've documented so far; the scam companies they work for are in parentheses:

- Jennifer Jackson of the Donald Maass Literary Agency (TechBooks Media, aka Chapters Media and Distribution)
- Victoria Marini of the Irene Goodman Literary Agency (Writers Desks)
- Danielle Burby of the Nelson Literary Agency (Writers Desks)
- Nelson Literary Agency (some guy calling himself Justin Smith, Book Scout, with a fake Nelson Agency email address)
- Matt Belford of the Tobias Agency
- Clare Richardson of the Maria B. Campbell Associates (Chapters Media and Distribution)

The scammers' solicitations come out of the blue. Here's what you might receive:


Or this: 

Or this: 


These approaches are followed by opportunities to spend large amounts of cash. For the Jennifer Jackson scammer, it's a "review" of your book plus "book insurance and returnability" for a total of $1,400. For the Victoria Marini scammer, the video trailer she's shilling for "promotional" purposes costs $3,000 (an amazing discount!) For the Danielle Burby scammer, it's "Submissions to Traditional Publishing Companies" by "Book Scouts" for the wallet-squeezing sum of $5,000. 

The Jennifer Jackson scammer has also recently started offering something so off the wall that it's worth another image:


I've seen a lot of egregious lies and bullshit from the Philippines-based scammers, but this one--that there is such a thing as publisher insurance and writers need to buy it in order for their work to be considered--really takes the cake. There. Is. No. Such. Thing. (This email also illustrates a growing scammer trend: attempting to capitalize on the pandemic. A number of predatory vanity publishers are doing this too.)

I shouldn't need to say that reputable literary agents don't charge fees or sell services as part of (or as a condition of) representing you. It's also very rare that a reputable literary agent will contact you out of the blue; in the publishing biz, you can never really say never, but the odds that any such contact is legitimate are extremely small. 

The poor English in the emails above should be a very large clue as well. 

Even though I've only identified four iterations of this scam so far, I don't doubt that there are others. Writers, please, PLEASE be on your guard. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. And if you encounter a scam like this, please contact me, so I can add it to my list.

Some basic tips for protecting yourself: 

1. Proceed from a point of skepticism. As noted above, an unsolicited contact from a real, reputable agent isn't automatically suspect, but it's rare. Out-of-the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate. Caution is definitely in order. 

2. Mistrust--and verify. Google all the individuals and/or companies that are mentioned to see what information you can find (are there complaints? Have they shown up on this blog?) If someone claims to work for an agency, visit the agency's website to see if that person is mentioned--and be suspicious if they aren't. If an individual or company claims to have placed books with reputable publishers, or to have sold film or other subsidiary rights, see if you can verify the claim--and if you can't, or if there are no checkable details (such as names or book titles) attached to the claim, be wary. 

3. Use your common sense. Anyone can make an occasional typo, but professionals communicate professionally (no reputable agent would send out language-challenged emails like the ones above). Check the email address and any links--do they match the person or company claiming to be contacting you? (For the Jennifer Jackson and Victoria Marini scammers, the mismatch between their email addresses and their claimed agencies is an important clue. Unfortunately, the Justin Smith/Nelson Agency scammer is a bit savvier; the address he's using is fake, but it looks legit if you don't know otherwise.) If there's a demand for money, or if there's a service for sale, be sure it's a company that customarily charges such fees or offers such services (reputable agents generally don't).

4. Contact Writer Beware. Always a good default if you aren't sure about an individual or company. We may have heard something, or received complaints, and if we have, we'll let you know.

Finally, I want to note that, while writers are the scammers' principal targets, the agents and agencies are also victims. These scams are a form of identity theft, tying the agents' names and reputations to dishonest and predatory practices that they are then forced to disclaim. Everybody loses--except the scammer, of course. 

Hopefully, with increased awareness, we can make it more likely that the scammers will be losers, too.

UPDATE 8/20/20: Here's the payment request that "Jennifer Jackson" sends out to prospective victims. Note that "she" requests a wire transfer--preferred by the scammers over credit cards or PayPal, where payments can be reversed via a dispute:


Chapters Media and Advertising is run by the same people who run TechBooks Media (the scam company "Jennifer" is shilling for). Chapters has business registrations in several states, including Wyoming and Florida--though not in Nevada, where it purports to be located. It's registered as a "foreign LLC", and guess where officer Mark Rosario lives:


UPDATE 9/25/20: Matt Belford of the Tobias Agency is the latest to have his name appropriated by scammers.


UPDATE 10/17/20: Chapters Media is impersonating another reputable agent: Clare Richardson of Maria B. Campbell Associates. Here's one of its solicitations:


As with the Jennifer Jackson impersonation, writers who respond are referred to "secretary" Mia Roberts for a "social media campaign", and asked to send the four-figure fee via wire transfer to Bank of America. The writers I've heard from report that the so-called campaign amounts to little more than some stuff on Facebook plus a bunch of unverifiable promises.

17 comments :

PT Dilloway said...

They're using the same tactic that "phishers" have for decades now: create an account that looks mostly legit and then hope whoever gets it doesn't notice the slight differences. Like sometimes I get fake contests claiming to be from CVS Pharmacy but you can tell the font isn't the same. Or I get "Amazon" emails to an account not associated with my Amazon account.

More than just initial payment to these scammers, you have to worry what they'll do with your financial information. It really is a difficult world for authors, agents, and publishers with all these scams.

Jack Mulcahy, Author said...

Always, always, ALWAYS, check to see if the letter-writer belongs to a professional organization of literary agents. The Association of Authors Representatives (www.aaronline.org) comes to mind. Doubtless there may be others of which I'm not aware.

Victoria Strauss said...

The only relevant professional organizations for literary agents are the AAR and its equivalents in other countries. In this case, though, that wouldn't help, because the scammers are stealing the names of real people who may legitimately be members.

Marcia Yudkin said...

Hi Victoria,

Another clue you didn't emphasize is that the samples you quoted are all completely generic in their references to the letter recipient's work. They don't provide clear evidence that they've read the person's work. A legitimate literary contact would most likely say something specific about their work and why they felt it was promising to make the inquiry seem credible.

And I disagree a bit about the prevalence of literary agents contacting authors out of the blue. There are a good many bloggers who published their first book because an agent saw their blog and suggested they write a book. I myself received several inquiries from genuine agents after I published an essay in the New York Times. But as I said, if the inquiry doesn't mention what sparked the interest, it is probably a scam.

Thanks for all you do to keep aspiring writers informed!

Marcia Yudkin

Bill Patterson said...

IF I got something like the posted comms above, I'd wonder how they ever saw my work. I am not traditionally published at the novel length. How would Famous Agent ever have a reason to read my stuff? Their slush piles are taller than their chimneys. The 'yeah, right' factor is huge here.

Now, if I were a top selling Indie author and Famous Agent was thinking about signing me to a book deal based on that, I would have expected that work to be at least mentioned...and if it was, I'd quiz them about the work, just to see if they had read it.

That's too much work for a scammer. They're after easier prey. Make it hard for them. If you have a mind to--tie up their time.

Anonymous said...

Er, you've got a Jason Smith listed at the top ("some guy calling himself....") and Justin Smith everywhere else. Feel free to delete this comment.

Victoria Strauss said...

Good catch, Anonymous--I've corrected my mistake.

Marta C. Weeks said...

If an agent charges you and is not listed on reputable agency authors they are fake.

GM Malliet said...


I agree with Marcia Yudkin when she says, “And I disagree a bit about the prevalence of literary agents contacting authors out of the blue. There are a good many bloggers who published their first book because an agent saw their blog and suggested they write a book. I myself received several inquiries from genuine agents.”

I was contacted by my current agent out of the blue. Of course I verified his name and agency (googled their website) before responding)..

Also, not all agents choose to belong to AAR.

Thanks for the work you do. Invaluable.

Anonymous said...

He's up, they are using Clare Richardson, who is a legit employee of Maria Campbell associates, who scouts for netflix.
They were pretty crafty, but she said something like, " I'm going to have my secretary call you, sorry if she sounds funny, she's Chinese"
I knew right away that a top executive would never say anything like that.
So ive been going back and forth for 5 days pending live im trying to send them money and acting super excited. I figure, maybe this will slow them down from scanning someone else. And it's been pretty entertaining.

This was also, chapters media.

Victoria Strauss said...

Unknown 10/03,

I'd like to document this new impersonation--if they've emailed you, would you please forward it to me? Your name and contact info will never be shared. beware@sfwa.org . Thanks!

Devon Volkel said...

They are also using Clare Richardson of Maria Campbell associates too. She gets you to Mia Roberts of Chapters Media and you pay her to advertise for you to get your social media presence up

Anonymous said...

Hi Victoria, I recently posted a comment stating I'm in the process of an agreement with a company you mentioned as a potential scammer. I also was just recently emailed by yet another company Writers Desk with a Shontelle summers stating for a mere 5000.00 USD i can get a contract with Penguin Random House for 120000.00.

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 10/27,

Writers Desks is one of the companies that's actively using reputable agents' names to solicit for their scam services. Would you share the email with me? beware@sfwa.org. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I just sent it to you the Writers Desk correspondence with Shontelle Summers. Please delete my personal info off of it before posting. I'm still trying to negotiate with an actual agency and would prefer not having my name attached to this crap. Thanks

Victoria Strauss said...

Anonymous 10/28,

I got your email, and don't worry--no personal information about you will be shared.

When you say you're negotiating with an agency, would that be the agency mentioned in one of your emails to "Shontelle"? If so, based on what you say in the email I'm concerned that thsi may be another scam. Would you be willing to tell me who the agency is? If so, please email be at beware@sfwa.org

Virginia Anderson said...

FWIW, the links in the gmail message I received (where I regularly receive Victoria Strauss messages) didn't work. I found the post at last by going to the Writer Beware blog. Not sure what broke. I'd like to post this on my blog JustCantHelpWriting.com, but not sure if the link works. Thanks!

 
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