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If it seems too good to be true…

As a journalist, I wrote many articles about investment fraud. A popular con is giving investors false information, such as promising high investment returns with little or no risk. A promise of this kind is an outright lie: the higher an investment’s potential return, the higher its risk will be. And there is never a guarantee that investors will actually get higher returns by taking on more risk.

I’ve also tackled financial scams in my fiction. Pat Tierney, the financial planner protagonist of my three mysteries (a fourth will be released this fall), meets a variety of scammers in her novels and her short stories: real estate fraudsters; cottage rental scammers; con artists who illegally record sensitive client information; even a sweetheart scamster who feigns romantic interest to rob her victims.

Con artists, both real-life and their fictional counterparts, have come up with amazing ploys to part their marks from their money. Their targets are anyone they can swindle, so it is not surprising that they’ve devised ways to dupe writers. According to author Victoria Strauss’s recent post on publishing industry watchdog Writer Beware, their latest con is impersonating real literary agents to trick writers into buying worthless services.

The approach generally comes completely out of the blue, and newbie writers who’ve had scant success to date may be particularly susceptible. One fraudster goes so far as to pitch insurance to “protect” writers’ manuscripts during the current pandemic. As Strauss points out, reputable literary agents don’t charge fees or sell services as a condition to representing authors.

Read Strauss’s post on Writer Beware here. She offers tips on how to protect yourself, starting with healthy skepticism: “Unsolicited contact from a real, reputable agent isn’t automatically suspect, but it’s rare. Out-of the-blue contacts are far more likely to be illegitimate. Caution is definitely in order.”

Bernie Madoff is currently serving a 150-year prison sentence for operating the world’s largest Ponzi scheme that stole US$64.8 billion from his clients.

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