Sunday, April 26, 2009

Scam Artists After a Writer's Soul? (And What To Do About It!)

We authors are a little different from others business people when it comes to needing our computers. Everyone depends on tech for daily business, but writers often have their hearts and souls stored in the depths of computer memory. Theoretically we all backup our files, but probably not frequently enough. And even if we were that thorough downtime can be depressing and suck up the time we could be ding what not only our pocketbooks need, but our souls.

Thus scams that violate our computers, violate we writers at a much deeper level. Whether they're after our identity or trying to infect our files and those of our contacts.

We, of course, all get the Nigerian scams and can usually identify them, because they are obvious. In one an e-mail asks if your credit card has been stolen. They want you to give them your card number so they can check!

There is a new one out, one I detest so much I blogged about it at claims a soldier in Iraq has a couple million he needs help transferring out of the country before he leaves for home (now where would an Army Sergeant get that kind of money?). Still it occurred to me that because so many s c @ m s use trusted entities to rope people in, it wouldn’t hurt to run a few by you.

These scam artists are using you cable company’s name and your Internet provider’s name. I wouldn’t know if something went wrong with my AOL account because I just ignore anything in my e-mail box that comes from them. I’d rather they closed my account that fall for a scam so they’d better send their trouble shooters to my door or send a letter if they want my attention.

Scammers use the names of your most dearly beloved American institution (or your most dearly hated ones!) including McDonald’s. Many customer satisfaction surveys are a way to build trust and then sock you for more information than you should give them. The trick here is to forget surveys or to simply avoid giving out your card number, your social security number, or your bank number in an e-mail or on the phone for that matter.

They’re also sending fake McDonald's, Coke, and Hallmark coupons. To get ensnared, you don’t even have to give out information. Just click on a link and a virus will get you and your friends. I could fall for this one! Frugal me wants those Coke and Hallmark coupons.

The recession is providing all kinds of inspiration to scammers. They’ll hustle you with ways to get some of that great money the government is giving away. They set up a professional-looking Web site and you pay a registration fee for their service. They might hound you for more always with an excuse. Court fees or legal fees to complete the deal, as examples. You can protect yourself by checking official government Web sites like or

Airline ticket scams are big, too. So, if you aren’t flying anywhere, don’t be lulled into opening e-mail from airlines. I’ve had e-mails that PayPal and e-Bay. I don’t even have an account at e-Bay!

There’s an IRS tax refund scam. Watch for and run like hell. That means, use your delete finger. If you have questions about a refund call the IRS at 800 829 1040

You may get a fake parking ticket with a Web address on it where you can download a picture of your car. With that download you get something that will make your computer very sick.

Some scammers are phishing instead of tweeting on Twitter, particularly with direct messages. Don’t download attachments!

Last, you don’t need to do business with Nigeria. That includes selling them hundreds of your books. Yes, I’ve seen this scam personally.
What if a window pops up when you’re on a credit card or bank site. Heck, that feels legitimate, right? Wrong. Answer no questions. Follow no links. Download nothing. Pam Kelly, author of Speak with Power! Speak with Passion!, nearly sold 100 books to a place of business in Belgium. She says she caught herself because she takes my newsletter where I warn, nag, advise and love authors with all kinds of things that pertain to writers. Afterward she could see all kinds of warning signals in their communications that all was not right with their oh-so-lucrative deal. (You can subscribe by using the box on the left column of my home page at

These same kinds of scammers can find you on your cell phone or your regular phone. When in doubt call the establishment purporting to need information directly using a telephone number you get from your phone book or from your phone’s directory service, not the one they give you.

So, you say. You’re not dumb enough to give your social security number or your credit card number or your bank number to anyone online. How about your Google or Amazon account number or password? Nope. Don’t do it.

You’ve heard me tell you not to send out media releases or much of anything else as an attachment because it’s not going to get read by editors. That’s because they know viruses are often carried in attachments.

So, the final lesson for writers. You want something read by your contacts, don’t put it in an attachment. I’m a contact, too. Please, please, plop the information you have for me in the window of your e-mail. That probably goes for most of submissions of any kind. Unless their guidelines say to send something as an attachment, don’t do it.

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Carolyn Howard-Johnson, author of This Is the Place; Harkening: A Collection of Stories Remembered; Tracings, a chapbook of poetry; and two how to books, The Frugal Book Promoter: How To Do What Your Publisher Won't and The Frugal Editor: Put Your Best Book Forward to Avoid Humiliation and Ensure Success. She is also the author of the Amazon Short, "The Great First Impression Book Proposal". Some of her other blogs are, a blog where authors can recycle their favorite reviews. She also blogs at all things editing, grammar, formatting and more at The Frugal, Smart and Tuned-In Editor blog.

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