Watch Out for These 7 eBook Scams

eBook scams target readers, writers and online auction users: Internet Scambusters #453

Spammers, con artists and thieves are using ebook scams to sell useless information or to steal copyrighted material from genuine writers.

They also trick victims into using ebooks to visit other websites, which may download malware, sell products or steal information.

This week, we highlight the 7 most common forms of this fast-growing crime and provide advice on how to avoid ebook scams or what action to take if you become a victim.

And now for the main feature…

Watch Out for These 7 eBook Scams

The age of the Amazon Kindle and other e-readers has also ushered in an era of ebook scams.

These incredible gadgets and their corresponding ebook apps (applications), which can be hosted on PCs, Macs and mobile devices, enable us to store thousands of digital books on a single device and read them wherever we like.

But they’ve also unleashed a storm of spam-related and malicious ebook scams on an unsuspecting and unprepared army of readers.

Here are the 7 main types of ebook scams that have been identified so far:

  1. Worthless ebooks filled with useless and often badly written garbage sold for a couple of dollars.So called “authors” can buy text from “content farms” — the text equivalent of online clip art — and then repackage and sell it.
  2. Using the above techniques, “authors” can “spin” the text, rewriting the same stuff over and over, and sometimes merely duplicating the material but selling it under a different title or author’s name.In one frequently-reported ebook scam, a guy was churning out 20 digital books a day, with a total tally of 3,000 books to his name.
  3. Theft and plagiarism (copying) of other people’s material from websites and blogs, which is then put into an ebook and sold.Sometimes it is rewritten, other times it is just copied exactly from the original without any accreditation of the source.

    In at least one case, an “author” has been issuing ebook versions of “public domain” works — books that are no longer in copyright — under his own name, apparently perfectly legally.

  4. eBook scams dressed up as competitions, in which “winners” get their work published digitally.The organizers charge a fee for entry, but, of course, it costs next to nothing for them to publish the works digitally.
  5. The ebook equivalent of the old “vanity publishers” — companies that charge people for publishing their books.Again, this costs the “publishers” little or nothing but they charge fees to unsuspecting writers who don’t realize they could do all this themselves.
  6. Spamming readers with ad-laden works and hotlinks to both commercial and malware sites.This is fast becoming a major concern to online ebook sellers, though it’s more of a problem with their ebook apps on computers, iPads and cellphones than on dedicated devices like the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes & Noble Nook.

    In these ebook scams, “authors” produce books — say, one on wedding etiquette for instance — which they sell for a couple of dollars.

    The content turns out to be commonsense stuff, but buried in the text are sections that promote particular commercial products.

    Worse, they contain links you can click that take you to websites where they’re either peddling stuff, like wedding favors, or uploading a virus onto your machine.

    DVD courses are now being sold online for $25 explaining how to use ebooks for spamming in this way.

  7. Using ebook purchases and sales to build up credentials for bogus sellers and buyers on auction sites like eBay.Crooks use these ebook scams to purchase digital books for a penny or some nominal sum.

    They might buy two or three dozen of them and, of course, get a positive rating for each one.

    Armed with this fabulous reputation, they’re now well-placed to pull off some other kind of scam.

How to Avoid eBook Scams

So what can you do to avoid becoming a victim of these ebook scams?

First, just being aware of them takes you a good way towards skipping them.

But here are a few other tips:

  • If you buy ebooks, stick with authors you already know or those who have an established reputation.
  • If you decide to buy from an author you don’t know — perhaps precisely because you’re researching a niche subject like wedding etiquette — see if you can download a free sample (Amazon lets you do this) first to test the quality.
  • Don’t be taken in by great reviews that accompany cheap ebooks. They may be genuine or the writers may have been paid to produce them.
  • Do a search on the book name or author to see what other people say or how many other books they supposedly have written.
  • Don’t click on links inside an ebook unless it’s by an established, reputable author.Even then, we’d recommend you visit their websites via your Internet browser rather than use the link.
  • If you believe you’ve been scammed, seek a refund. For instance, Amazon will normally give a refund if you make a valid complaint within 7 days of purchasing.You should also register your complaint with the seller’s customer service department.

    And, if all else fails, do other readers a favor by writing a bad (but honest!) review of the book.

  • If you’re a blogger, author or other writer, run regular searches (or set up a Google alert) on your name, book or article title and phrases from your works.

Believe it or not, some ebook scam artists have simply re-published existing ebooks but set themselves up as the recipients of royalties.

If you find any infringement of your copyrighted work, contact whoever is selling it with evidence of your copyright ownership.

In more serious and costly cases, consider taking legal advice, issuing “cease and desist” orders and even taking action to recover lost royalties.

It seems probable that the likes of Amazon and other ebook purveyors will take steps over the coming years to clamp down on this crime.

They may not have the resources to read every self-published work but there are steps they could and should be taking right now, like using software that already exists to check for plagiarism and duplication of text and checking out “authors” who publish scores of books.

In the meanwhile, it’s very much a case of “let the buyer (or writer) beware.” No doubt just like ebooks themselves, ebook scams are becoming a huge growth industry.

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!