Bookseller or Catfish?

February 10, 2014

Today’s post is based on actual events, but the person, the name of his company (if it is even real, but who knows?), and his home country will remain anonymous. If you are just itching to know, PM, DM, or contact me privately. The purpose of this post is not to slander, but to inform and educate since not everyone is who they say they are! Here goes!

Catfish Scam

Photo Credit: The Indiechicks.com

Early last year someone friended me on Facebook, and in their profile they claim they were a bookseller. I usually check out people’s profiles, so I can connect with readers, book bloggers, other authors, etc in the book loving community with my profile account as well as my page, so I can make connections, network, and build relationships. I mostly use Facebook for networking, probably to goof off more than I should, and to share my blog posts. So I accept his friend request on good faith. I try to remember his name just in case if he were to contact me about being interested in purchasing and carrying any of my 3 books that I had at the time.

A good while passes (months), and he IMs me on Facebook. The first conversation seemed to start out professionally and kind of like what would transpire between an independent author and a bookseller. He claimed to be a “children’s bookseller” and I inquire if he also carried upper MG-YA books. He said yes. Then he asked if my picture is what I really looked like and said I looked ‘very beautiful’.

That made me freak out a little bit. Sometimes a compliment can be harmless, but from my experience it’s best to keep things like that to yourself until you get to know the person better, not on the first online conversation. He then asked if I was married–that, too, can go either way, but that shouldn’t be asked in the first conversation and following aforementioned compliment. That’s simply not professional, even for small talk. However, in this same conversation, he tried to strong arm me into trying to call him by telephone (which would also be an international call). I like to have a few more online correspondences before talking on the phone with anyone. There is something about that extra blanket of security and the safety barrier just in case something is awry. A phone call is more like being farther into one’s personal domain if you will. I am extremely shy, so that’s what works best for me and professionals don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable when they want their business do they? Most professionals I’ve worked with respect that and usually have an MO before they go to that step. Not so here. I find a way out of that somehow.

Plus, he asked about me sending him copies of my book (which would be at my expense, I noted, since he isn’t ordering them) and something about me and someone from my publishing company coming to his home country to sign some papers or something. Um, that’s not possible–either of those (international travel or shipping) would be very expensive, and that can easily be accomplished with email and a scanner–I do this all the time, so there is no need for that. I may have contracted a publisher to design and distribute my first book, but I am an independent author, so there is just me, no publishing rep required for me. I said I would gather my distribution information in the meantime. It may take a moment since I personally haven’t dealt with a bookseller aside from a bookstore.

I also asked other questions about what the royalty split was, how I would receive my share, a written contract of some kind, return of unsold books, and all those kinds of things, but they remained unanswered. I asked for his email address so I could send him free digital samples as well as my distribution information once I got it. I wasn’t going to mail him any books until there were some distinct questions answered first. I’m the one with more to lose here, and I am the one who has the stock. So I really have most of the cards here. I do not want him stealing my books or my royalties or dealings without anything in writing.

The next day when I get on Facebook, he’s on and he sort of asks some of the same questions. I inquire about my email. I had reasked some of the questions from the previous conversation that remained unanswered with the attachments. He said he didn’t get them. I resend them. I make sure he receives it, and those questions still remained unanswered. He didn’t even look at the excerpts to my knowledge.

In some ways I am having a bit of PTSD flashbacks with my harrowing experience with an unscrupulous publisher by some of his actions, but at least they (the ex publisher) wasn’t asking for a live appearance. I asked him about what if I could hire him to sell my books and remain right where I am if he would purchase the books through my distributors (which he should do)? I can’t come to where he is for various reasons, so we have to work out something else. He said something about I would not be able to pay him his salary (usually a bookseller doesn’t take a salary from an individual author–they buy the books at a wholesale discount about about 55% and take an agreed upon portion of the royalty from the sold book I doubt they take salaries from publishers either apart from advertising fees and such). If that had even been the case, can anyone say Paypal? Western Union? There are ways with today’s technology to do things completely online, especially internationally. I know because I do it all the time. I inquired how much this salary was supposed to be (even though I knew there really wasn’t supposed to be one), and he didn’t bother to give me a quote. Okay, now I a bit confused and a bit alarmed. Again, when he brought up a salary in the first place that didn’t really make any sense. Something was amiss.

Then I had this nagging thought based on other things that transpired and were said that made me think the “salary” he was asking for may not be monetary: he didn’t give me a real number figure, I didn’t have to be physically present to pay one, and he shouldn’t be asking for one in the first place. There were some things about this situation that just didn’t seem right. What if a scenario like from Taken was about to take place here if I dared to venture to said meeting? How do I know he’s not some psycho (some red flags were already raised into the possibility thereof)? I placed some proverbial landmines in my head, and would see if he would tread there. Then I’m high-tailing if this looks like what I think it was going to look like. I tried giving him the benefit of the doubt just to make sure my imagination wasn’t running away with me, but I didn’t completely disregard it. That’s usually when people get into trouble.

I email a friend and ask him about dealing with a bookseller since he owns a publishing company, so he deals with these kinds of folks all the time. For my interpretation I based it off of like dealing with a bookstore or an ebook distributor since I have dealt with these types of people before. In my mind there couldn’t a whole lot of difference as far as the inquiry went. I had to make sure there wasn’t a little something I might need to know. He gave me the advice and information I needed. He even did a bit of extra background checking with an Arizona investigator for me where I hadn’t looked and discovered the he (the “bookseller”) didn’t have a website. I discovered he didn’t have a Facebook page, but he did have  a Linkedin account with a lot of contacts. His Facebook account had hardly any activity on the timeline, and he had hardly any connections. Evidence of a possible scammer?

This didn’t seem right. He claimed to have been a bookseller for 15 years, and I have yet to see any experience thereof. I look on his profile, and if his age is correct and his claim for being a bookseller are also correct, then he would have been four years old when he started. Hardly credible unless he sold books from with some lemonade at a lemonade stand or was a child prodigy entrepreneur (there was no evidence of the latter).

We have a few more conversations and it seemed like the same ole, same ole–asking when I am coming to his country. After a while I started to avoid him by getting on Facebook later in the day since he seemed to know my habits. He wanted to talk every day. He tried to make me believe that I talk to my friends every day on the messenger. Um, no. I chat with friends on some of their postings, and it’s not every day–sometimes pretty much, but not ALWAYS. I don’t PM or IM them unless it’s important or something that needs to be private. Just like how most people don’t email their friends and family every day. Seriously? I don’t want to annoy anybody, so why isn’t he doing the same?

Then one day he ambushed me–just waiting for me to get online. I calculated it would be in the very wee hours in his country. By now he is beginning to grate on my nerves like 40-grain sandpaper (a usual sign of unprofessional behavior by someone claiming to be a professional). He asked me again to come to his home country, proverbially begging. *headdesk* How many times do I have to go through this with you? Like I had just changed my mind and had a change of heart all of a sudden? In some ways it seemed like the beginnings of stalking (this happens a couple other times after this). Here is the conversation that broke the camel’s back:

Me: I already told you I can’t afford to do that.

Him: Why?

Me: *eyeroll* I’ve already told you that don’t have that kind of money to bring me and my husband there.

Him: Can’t you go without your husband?

Kaboom! You have just stepped on the biggest landmine. That really raised my eyebrows.

Me: No.

Him: Why?

Me: I don’t go anywhere or do anything without my husband. We are inseparable, a team. He wouldn’t like that very much. (which is true, and like it is any of his business anyway)

We have taken a hard left turn into Inappropriateville and it is scoring a 9.0 on my weird-crap-o’meter. The conversation further deteriorates, but at a different angle. He begs me, on his proverbial hands and knees, groveling and sniveling (I’m not exaggerating), for recommendations to other authors and begging for work and to work for me. Where did all this come from?  The scent of pungent desperation is not the way to get business–or anything for that matter. Start-up and “getting out there” is always hard, and he is sinking his ship in the harbor by acting this way. Frankly, this is very embarrassing on so many levels.

Furthermore, I can’t be in my right mind and recommend him to anybody based on my experience and what I have just witnessed. He has done nothing to earn a recommendation, or a positive one at least. He did not perform a service to the best of his ability–or any service for that matter. I have a reputation to keep up of recommending reputable people to others (something else to loose). I gave him the information where he can order the books to sell (that’s what booksellers do) as well as samples (which booksellers usually request before buying), and I still get my royalty. He did everything a scammer or a phony would do. If he is legit, then he showed me all the contrary. I can’t say one way or the other; I am just going by my own experience.  He has to this day never purchased any books or let me know he has even read any of the samples. He has wasted my time and irritated the heck out of me. This lead turned out to be more than a dud, but a rather horrifying and irritating experience.

I wonder: Has he done this to other authors? Could this be why he may not have any clients (based on his behavior)? Or at least internationally? I am unclear if he has clients in his home country or if they are  even real people. Scammers can create fake accounts to make themselves look legit and use those fake accounts recommend/endorse themselves. I am unsure if his connections have actually done business with him. I am a bit wary of asking in the event they happen to be sock puppets.

I never in my life would have expected this kind of outcome. I was onto it being a scam early on, but I wasn’t expecting this kind of an outcome. It was sad really. I gave him a couple more chances to fix his embarrassment and maybe come around, and/or I was just curious to see how much farther he would dig himself deeper into this hole. If he kept it up on this tangent then game over.  I’ve been more than kind and patient to have dealt with it this long. He tried to make me feel sorry for him by saying that no one would date him from where he was. Maybe because you are creepy? I just say, “I can’t help you,” and leave it at that. In short, I am looking for a bookseller, not a boyfriend. When I want to build relationships online, this is not what I mean, or I would be on Farmers Only.com. I could hear the world’s smallest violin playing in my ear with an eyeroll accompaniment. I am not feeling any sympathy for someone who just tried to scam me.

After a couple other conversations  still in Inappropriateville, I unfriended him. I didn’t have to resort to blocking him or reporting him to Facebook. We are still connected on Linkedin, but I don’t hear from him there. He doesn’t email me either (thank goodness).

After watching some educational TV and research about catfish scams (for a possible future book project), I wonder if I have come across one. Usually these types of scams happen on dating sites and some social media sites (i.e. Facebook) and are dating scams. But just what if these could happen in the business world? Or would you call these a Trojan horse since they come across as a business professional and turn out to be a catfish looking for attention, money, or free merchandise/services for them to resell or freeload on? Most catfish scams result in monetary and emotional damage, they are not usually dangerous (i.e. fatal or related to sex trafficking). Keyword: Usually. What if there could be deadly catfish out there? Who is to know if there have been? This is a cool idea for a thriller…

Then I wonder this: Could there be more so-called “booksellers” like these out there ready to prey on the unwary author (could be independent or traditional should they want to expand their distribution)? I know there are publishers that exist to scam authors, but at least not the trying-to-find-dates part. There could be new grassroots booksellers that could come up, but you want to make sure they aren’t snakes in the grass. If you can’t get any information like you would from a distributor or a bookstore (like a contract, TOS, royalty splits), then run the other way.

I would say the majority of booksellers are legitimate and professional, but here again it pays to do your homework, background check, and check again. Remember to NEVER, EVER give anything to anybody if they ask for something up front without additional information if you have questions, definitely if they skirt any of those important questions! Most of the time a bookseller will go through a distributor or a publisher and only ask an author about their distribution, samples, and returnability, if they are an indie author, but in most cases that is rare.

Important Update: The day after posting a similar article on my blog, I did some additional research on Facebook and Linkedin about this person based on a hunch. This person has 4 different profile accounts with variations of his name and profile picture and two Linkedin accounts and that’s the ones I know of. No business pages, no website, and no other social media accounts. Now, a person may have a couple Facebook profiles as a business entity and their personal one, but most people simply have pages for their business(es). I was a bit suspicious of this when he sent me a friend request from an alternate Facebook account and his Linkedin profile and email address has a different spelling for his first name than the Facebook profile we were connected on.

Moral of the story?  If it feels, smells, or tastes like a catfish, then it probably is, right?

AK Taylor

About the Author

AK Taylor

AK Taylor is an award winning YA author who has been writing novels since age 16. Beekeeper, outdoor sportsman, avid adventurer, and animal lover. Taylor lives in the backwoods of Middle GA where she continues to write stories.

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  • Tui Snider says:

    Creepy! Glad you trusted your gut & that all turned out well in the end. 🙂

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