Ghostwriting agency scams are well-developed and capable of swindling almost anyone.
The number of authors who have reached out to tell me they’ve been scammed by a fraudulent ghostwriting agency has increased exponentially in recent weeks. (Many get in touch after seeing this article I wrote on the topic.) In the last month, I’ve heard from at least four individuals who paid companies for ghostwriting services, only to quickly learn they wouldn’t be getting what they paid for.
Michele (not her real name) had written 21,000 words of her first book, a memoir, but was having trouble finishing it. With a full-time job filling her days, she was finding it almost impossible to find the time to work on it, she told me. She felt stuck. To try to move her project forward, she paid a website that promotes ghostwriting services for its bestseller package, which promised a ghostwriter would help her finish her manuscript.
Before paying, Michele checked the company out as thoroughly as she could, going so far as to click through to the Better Business Bureau reviews posted about the company that were linked to the site. They were all glowing and confirmed Michele’s hopes that the company was a smart way to get her manuscript finished.
However, after handing over the fee, she continued conducting her own due diligence and realized the Better Business Bureau (BBB) write-ups were as fake as the site on which the reviews were posted; it wasn’t the actual BBB at all. The true BBB reviews confirmed her suspicions that it was a scam.
Nervous, she requested a refund from the agency. The company’s representative pushed back on her request, suggesting Michele would only get 40% of her payment back, despite the fact that the company had done no work yet.
“The whole time I couldn’t tell if I was talking to real people or AI robots,” Michele says, reinforcing her sense that the business was not legitimate.
This story has a happy ending, however. Michele got her money back by disputing the charge through her credit card company.
What Michele endured has happened to many other aspiring authors, unfortunately. It’s hard to tell how many people get scammed each month, but based on the increasing number of questions and messages I’m receiving at the Association of Ghostwriters, I fear the count is rising.
Where to Start Your Ghostwriter Search
Given the potential value a ghostwriter can provide to authors who need help communicating their message, it’s easy to see why someone would turn to a ghostwriting agency. If you’ve been trying to find a ghostwriter yourself, you can reduce your risk of getting scammed by using legitimate organizations with professional ghostwriters. Some of your best options include:
- American Society of Journalists and Authors (ASJA)
- Association of Ghostwriters (which I run)
- Gotham Ghostwriters
- Kevin Anderson & Associates
- Scribe Media
- The Editorial Freelancers Association (EFA)
This is not an exhaustive list, but it should help you track down some potential candidates with the qualifications you’re looking for.
If you stick with writers who are affiliated with the above organizations, your odds of being scammed are much smaller. It’s possible that a scammer could infiltrate one of these groups, but rather unlikely because of the qualification requirements all have.
However, there are some other steps you can take to confirm you are dealing with the ghostwriter you think you are:
Go directly to the source. Get in touch with the ghostwriters you’d like to consider working with through their websites or social media accounts. If they have supposedly been hired to work on your book through a ghostwriting agency, confirm they are aware of your project. Many authors who have reached out to their purported ghostwriters discover that the ghostwriter is not actually affiliated with the agency claiming them as their employee or contractor and has never heard of their book.
Ask for a Zoom meeting. Since scammers have impersonated professional ghostwriters by text and email, get your ghostwriting candidate on-screen, live, so you can confirm they look and sound like the person whose photo you spotted in their professional bio or social media pages.
Request writing samples. Review the examples the agency or writer provides, but then also Google sentences from the work to see what book or magazine or website actually published the material. Does it match what the ghostwriter or agency claims? For example, when you Google a writing sample that is supposed to be from a book titled Leadership 101 for College Students (which I just made up as an example), is that where Google finds it?
In a nutshell, don’t just take the company’s word for it.
In addition to confirming that your ghostwriter is who they say they are, watch for these signs that the ghostwriting agency may not be legit:
Big discounts available. When a website or company offers a discount and uses high-pressure sales tactics to get you to commit right now, back away slowly. Legitimate publishers and ghostwriting agencies want your business, but they don’t offer huge sales or discounts and they won’t pressure you to sign today. They’re busy enough.
Big claims. The most successful scammers feature the covers of bestselling books, numbers such as “1500+ books published,” and list major publishing houses on their websites, to lull you into a false sense of security. Be skeptical. Check their claims, such as by emailing authors who supposedly used the company’s services, to confirm they are, in fact, a client.
No names. If you search the company’s website and can’t find the organization’s history or startup story, the name(s) of the founder(s), or names of writers and editors, be suspicious. Most legitimate companies will gladly put you in touch with a live person. That said, there are a few scam sites that have stolen the photos and bios of a handful of real ghostwriters and claimed them as their own. These include Joel Mark Harris, Thomas Lee, Jennifer Locke, and David Stokes, to name a few.
Unorthodox payment terms. If you’re asked to pay via sites like Venmo or Zelle, or using PayPal but specifying the money is being sent to a friend, don’t do it. You will have no recourse as soon as your money leaves your account, unlike when you pay via a credit card or indicate you’re sending money in payment for a product or service on PayPal. Similarly, checks provide less protection, too.
Ghostwriting scammers are good, so if you get caught, don’t be embarrassed. You are most definitely not alone.
Do work quickly to file a dispute with your credit card company, however, to try to get your money back. And then let me know by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d like to be made aware of new scam sites that are emerging so I can warn others.