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 www.loiswinston.com where you can also sign up for her newsletter and follow her on various social media sites.