Scams, Spams & Caveat Emptor!

Two years ago, when we moved from New Jersey to Tennessee, my husband and I cut the landline cord. We’d only kept our landline for as long as we had because cell service in our NJ home was spotty at best. If I had to guess, I’d say that at least 75% of the calls that came in on the landline were from spammers and scammers. Now, instead of receiving at least half a dozen spam and scam calls a day, I receive one or less a week.

I never answer the phone unless I recognize the caller’s name or number. Most spammers don’t leave a message because the calls are robocalls made by bots. Answering the phone alerts the call center that the bots have struck gold and they’ve got a live person on the line. If you’ve ever answered one of these calls, you’ll notice a short pause between saying, “Hello” and someone on the other end responding. That’s the time it takes for the system to switch over to a live operator.

Scammers, on the other hand, are usually people, not bots. If you don’t answer, they’ll leave a message, often an intimidating one that threaten you with criminal action if you don’t return their call because you either owe money to the IRS or are a wanted felon. Once you return the call, you’re told they can make the problem go away by paying a fine—in the form of a gift card. Amazingly, too many people fall for this.

A few weeks ago, I received an unusual scam call. Three calls came in within a few seconds, all from the same number, supposedly originating in New York. I didn’t answer, but the caller left a message between the second and third calls. In a very thick Indian or Pakistani accent, he said he was trying to reach Lois Winston, author of Guilty as Framed, because he wanted to invite her to a book festival his company was putting together in a few months in Los Angeles. If I was that Lois Winston, I should call him back as soon as possible for more information.

In the background, I heard lots of chatter. The caller was obviously calling from a call center, and I seriously doubt the call came from New York, no matter what the display on my phone read. New York City real estate is too pricey for call center operators.

I’ve known many authors who have been ripped off by unscrupulous people out to make a buck off them. I have no doubt this was just another scam in a long line of scams that have preyed on authors and would-be authors over the decades.

Back in my early days of writing, before I sold my first book, I even fell for a scam. I had queried a literary agency about my manuscript and received back a response stating that they were interested in seeing the first three chapters. Within days of sending the chapters, I received a note saying my manuscript needed polishing, and if I paid fifty dollars, they’d provide me with a professional critique of the pages I’d sent. If I followed their instructions from the critique, they’d consider representing me.

What I got back were two or three penciled comments, all of a personal nature and having nothing to do with my plot, characters, or writing prowess. One of the comments I remember was, “I knew a person like this.” I later learned I wasn’t the only person to fall for this scam. It was a family operation, and some of the members wound up serving prison sentences.

Unfortunately, scammers have become much more sophisticated since the onset of the Internet and social media, and many of them operate overseas, out of the reach of US law enforcement. Caveat emptor is a Latin phrase that means “buyer beware.” There’s also a saying in English: “If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.”

I have no idea how the book fair scammers planned to relieve me of my hard-earned dollars, and I wasn’t going to return the call to find out. But I’m sure they had a script filled with carrots to dangle in front of me. And unfortunately, there are probably some authors out there who are at this moment falling for their scam. In the age of spam, scams, fake news, and now ChatGPT, more than ever it pays to be skeptical. Caveat emptor!

What about you? Have you ever fallen for a scam or know someone who has? This month I’m giving away several promo codes for a free download of the audiobook version of Revenge of the Crafty Corpse, the third book in my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery Series. Post a comment for a chance to win.


USA Today and Amazon bestselling and award-winning author Lois Winston writes mystery, romance, romantic suspense, chick lit, women’s fiction, children’s chapter books, and nonfiction under her own name and her Emma Carlyle pen name. Kirkus Reviews dubbed her critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mystery series, “North Jersey’s more mature answer to Stephanie Plum.” In addition, Lois is a former literary agent and an award-winning craft and needlework designer who often draws much of her source material for both her characters and plots from her experiences in the crafts industry. Learn more about Lois and her books at her website where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.

28 replies
  1. Barb Eikmeier
    Barb Eikmeier says:

    Those scammers are so sneaky. I’ve seen invitations via email to attend panel discussions. The wording is usually vague. I sometimes wonder if I’ve deleted a real invitation in my skepticism!

  2. Kathryn Lane
    Kathryn Lane says:

    Very timely blog on scammers. The scams are never-ending! Even texts that appear to be from Amazon regarding Amazon author pages are exasperating. Vigilance is the name of the game.

  3. Gay Yellen
    Gay Yellen says:

    According to the person I spoke with at American Express the other day, scams are coming at us in increasing numbers. Amex had texted and emailed me an alert, asking if I’d given anyone else the use of my card or if I’d authorized a charge on it to Uber. I had not. By the end of that day, someone had Ubered on my account number two more times. My new card is arriving soon.

    • Lois Winston
      Lois Winston says:

      Gay, we have alerts set up on our credit cards. We immediately get an email for any charge over a dollar. Scammers will often charge a small amount to a credit card to see if it’s a viable number before they make a large purchase.

  4. Amy M Reade
    Amy M Reade says:

    Great post, Lois. The scammers seem to have an endless number of ways to separate writers from the money they work so hard to earn. It’s too bad it’s so easy for them to hide behind phishing schemes. Thanks for the reminder to be vigilant.

  5. Mickey Flagg
    Mickey Flagg says:

    I don’t pick up my land line or my cell phone if I don’t know the caller. The biggest nuisance calls are the ones that come before 8 am. As for the book writers scams… is nothing sacred these days? Great info!

    • Lois Winston
      Lois Winston says:

      Thanks, Mickey! I’ve gotten calls like that as late as 10pm. Once got one at dinnertime on Easter Sunday!

  6. Pamela Ruth Meyer
    Pamela Ruth Meyer says:

    Just when I thought it was safe to go back in the water…
    Well, to be honest, I already knew it wouldn’t be safe in the water ever again. But we have to go in, don’t we? Thanks, Lois, for keeping us alert to the dangers.

  7. Maggie Toussaint
    Maggie Toussaint says:

    Scammers are so sneaky. They seem to know our most vulnerable areas without even knowing us. I know someone who was tricked by one. The scammer told the person they hadn’t filed their taxes correctly and they were federal marshals with an arrest warrant… It didn’t end well.

  8. Donnell Ann Bell
    Donnell Ann Bell says:

    Sheesh! I tweeted, then forgot to respond here. Lois, I remember you telling me about this. I am here to state if Lois Winston can fall for this ploy, anybody can. I cannot abide people who hurt other people. I hope Karma has a wide reach!!!

    • Lois Winston
      Lois Winston says:

      Well, it did that time, Donnell. Unfortunately, too many of the scammers now operate from outside the US, and the long arm of the law isn’t as long as we might hope in these instances.

  9. Elizabeth Eby
    Elizabeth Eby says:

    A landline is included in my internet package, though I don’t know why. I never answer it, because it is the line which gets all the spam calls. I can use it when a # is required for something, and I don’t really want to hear back from whoever that is. I check it to see who has called and if there are any voicemails. Everything else is by cell phone.

  10. Debra H Goldstein
    Debra H Goldstein says:

    It’s scary – especially when someone is being taken. Two summers ago, a group of women met for lunch – all ages – to try a new restaurant. While we were there, one received a call from her husband that their grandson had been in a serious accident and needed medical/facial attention immediately. He needed to call the number given but was too shook to do it. We all knew it was a scam, but her elderly husband couldn’t be convinced that the grandson was at camp in a different state than was claimed being a counselor and was safe. He was so upset that the woman became somewhat doubtful. I suggested we call the camp – we did – and while he didn’t come to the phone that moment (he did call his grandfather once they relieved him and brought him to the office), the person who answered assured her that from her window she could see him playing basketball with a group of campers. The woman left lunch to assure her husband everything was okay and not to respond to the call. It cast a damper on lunch as we all realized how easily one can be scammed.

    • Lois Winston
      Lois Winston says:

      Debra, these scammers are becoming more and more savvy, and they prey on vulnerable people. Not everyone thinks with their brains instead of their emotions at times like that. Your friend and her husband are lucky cooler heads were around to keep them from getting scammed.

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