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The Latest Internet Scam for Writers

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Now that many writers are turning to ghostwriting, since it has proved increasingly difficult to make a living due to publishing upheavals, celebrity-driven books, millions self-publishing books or writing for free, and Internet piracy, there is a new threat. This is the phony ghostwriting client seeking information and then getting money from you if you fall for the scam.

Here's how it works: since one of these phony clients approached me, though fortunately I was already wise to the approach used in this scam. That's because one scamster previously approached me, when I was looking for a roommate in Los Angeles and had advertised for one through a local roommate service. The women who emailed me claimed to be looking for a certain kind of roommate, and after I wrote back with information about myself and the shared townhouse, she emailed me enthusiastically, saying that the arrangement sounded perfect. She also wrote that she would be flying into L.A. on a certain date and asked if I could pick her up, although I gave her the address so she could take an airport limo or taxi to get to my place. Meanwhile, I turned down a few other prospects. But rather than pay a deposit via PayPal or credit card, she said she would send me a check.

Then, a day before she was supposed to arrive, she advised me that her arrival would be delayed, and she needed me to send her $700 from the $3,000 check she sent me, so she could pay her travel agent arranging for her travel. Then, she wrote that there would be more delays, but I should cash the check, hold the room for her, and send her the money for her agent. Ultimately, I decided not to remain in L.A. and wrote to her to explain this and assure her that I would return her check, though by now I was suspicious of the proposed arrangement. So after the check arrived, drawn on a bank that was recently acquired by another bank, I took it to a banker at the acquiring bank, who advised me that it was a phony check. She also explained that this fraud would have been discovered in about two-three weeks after the check was processed initially by a teller as a legitimate check. Had I fallen for the scam, I would have been out the $700 I sent the fraudster, plus any bank fees for the phony check and any returned checks if my account was overdrawn.

Thus, I was already familiar with the scam, when I experienced the same general ploy again, except now it was directed to me by a prospective client seeking a ghostwriter. The scam began with a woman (or at least a scamster posing as one) sending me a not very well-written email saying she was looking for a writer and wanted me to review the attached document to give her a quote. It read like this:

Subject: WRITER /EDITOR NEEDED

Dear Sir/Ma,

Good Morning to you and i am *******

Writer,Editor and Proofreader is needed urgently...the document attach to this mail and let me know if you can edit it

So get back to me if you are available and i will like you review the document attach and let me know how much you charge per page or words.I will be waiting till i hear back from you.

Kind Regards,


The query ended with her name, address, city, and state, plus there were two emails in the reply field. But the Word document she sent didn't open, and one of her two reply emails bounced. Still, giving her the benefit of the doubt, I wrote back, describing my rates for writing or rewriting, asking what kind of editing she needed, and explaining my usual arrangements -- either a pay as you go arrangement with a credit card or a retainer in advance, such as through PayPal.

But no, that arrangement wouldn't work, she explained: "Am sorry payment can only be made through check." So I wrote back, telling her this would be fine, "I could work on a check as a retainer then."

However, then came the kicker, showing this really was a scam. Not only did the woman not describe the manuscript I was being asked to edit or indicate its length to determine its price, but she indicated the check was already in the mail to my address. But the check was mistakenly made out for too much, so she wanted me to send the difference back to a name and address to be indicated. As she wrote:

"How are you doing today and i want to let you know that i got a mail from one of my sponsor that the check has been mailed out to you which you will get this by next week but there is a mistake with the amount on it he issue more than the price you quoted,when you receive the check i will like you to go ahead and deposit the check and when your account has been credited i will provide you with details where you will return the difference to and the extra fund is needed to provide shelter and drug for less privilege kids and organize seminar about the STD/AIDS program, awaits your mail."

So it was like the roommate scam all over again, where I would get a check with an error and have to send real funds to an address to be sent to me.

Thus, I am writing this article as a warning to not only writers but to anyone else who gets an offer to get paid for work -- or any product or service -- with a check to be deposited, after which you are asked to return the difference out of what is to be paid due to some kind of mistake resulting in an overpayment. The check is likely to be phony -- though you won't find this out for a couple of weeks after the seemingly legitimate check is credited to your account. Meanwhile, if you send real money, you are out of luck, especially if the scamster is in another country, as many are. That's what happened in my phony roommate case and probably would have happened in this phony writing client case, though I recognized the scam in time to decline the offer.
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Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing. She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Besides, LIVING IN LIMBO her latest books include: TRANSFORMATION: HOW NEW DEVELOPMENTS IN SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, BUSINESS AND SOCIETY ARE CHANGING YOUR LIFE and THE BATTLE AGAINST INTERNET PIRACY