One of the (sadly far too many) unwelcome side-effects of how people’s behaviour has been affected by Covid-19 is a worrying rise in online scamming. The isolated and vulnerable, in particular, are being targeted. We are therefore repeating guidance we have given previously (see here): when it comes to exchanging banking information, or money (whether you are the payer or the payee) you need to be vigilant.
Feigning interest in your work
There are scammers who masquerade as publishers or agents and invite you to send them your manuscript. In due course, following reassuring chit-chat with them about the value of your work, they ask for your bank details. Double check that any such person you may be corresponding with is bona fide and is who they claim to be. Check their website (if they have one – if they don’t, this may be a clue), get in touch with any authors who may have worked with them to see what their experience was, and look carefully at their social media channels and online reviews.
Prizes and grants
We continue to hear reports of scammers pretending to be the legitimate beneficiary/prize-winner and insisting that the grant or prize money be sent to the scammer. They can be very convincing. If you are awarded any such money, contact the administrators at an early stage and ask them to take rigorous precautions to ensure that they send the money to the right person.
Payments and statements sent to you by publishers or other companies
One author reported that payments to him from three different sources never appeared in his bank account. When he pursued the matter, he was told that the payers had each been given authority to make payments to a new account. In another instance, a member believed they were paying monies they owed to a third party only to discover they were in fact paying a scammer. In both cases, securing refunds was time consuming and complex.
How to spot that you (or your publisher) might have been scammed
Look out for phone calls or emails
Always be careful before acting on emails or phone calls purporting to be from your bank, even if the caller ID that appears on your phone matches your bank name or number. Scammers can change the number that appears on your screen. Remember that banks will never ask you to disclose details about your account or security code details over the phone, and will always ask security questions of you before talking to you.
Check that your information is correct
As soon as you receive a royalty statement or know a payment is due (e.g. an instalment of the advance), check that the statement is correct and that the payer has your correct bank details. Note when the payment is to be made and check to ensure that it has been received in your or your agent’s bank account.
Chase immediately if it has not been paid.
Check, check and check again
We recommend setting up a two-step verification system with your agent or publisher which they must use in the event of a request to change personal or financial details on their system, for instance a letter and a phone call quoting a prearranged identity question.
If you make regular payments to other parties, please be wary of any request to the monies to a different account and ensure (by some means other than email or by going via any contact details supplied with the request to change bank details) that the request is bona fide.
A word on PayPal…
If payment is coming from another country, you will often have to meet double-tax formalities and are very likely to be met with bank charges (either from the issuing bank or the receiving bank). We understand that a way to avoid this is to make a payment via PayPal. However, we also understand that if the PayPal payment for any reason goes to the wrong person, you will have no redress. So, for very modest payments from abroad, it may well be worth considering; for any sizeable payment it carries risk.
Publishers, agents, and indeed, everyone is now required to take steps to keep people’s personal data and confidential information safe, and a data leakage to a scammer could have serious consequences under the Data Protection Act – yet another reason to always be ultra-cautious when giving out yours – let alone anyone else’s – contact and other personal information.
If you have been scammed
If money has been taken from your bank account without permission, whether your identity has been stolen, your card cloned, there is unfamiliar activity on your account or you’ve been the victim of a scam, there are certain steps you should take. See the Money Advice Service and note the three contact links advised in the guidance.
In particular, you should:
- Contact your bank or card provider to alert them. You could be liable for all money lost before you report it
- Contact Action Fraud to report the crime if you’ve been scammed. This can be done online or by calling 0300 123 2040
- You can also report financial scams, such as investment fraud, to the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA).
If a scammer has taken money from your own bank account, it will generally be your responsibility to remedy the situation, but you may be able to reclaim it if you have taken proper precautions – see the guidance above.
If a scammer has diverted money from its originally authorised destination through no fault or negligence of the real recipient, the responsibility generally lies with the payer. Let’s say a publisher or producer sends regular payments to you; then a scammer contacts the publisher/producer, pretending to be you, notifying them of a change of account and asking that future payments should go to ‘your’ new (i.e. the scammer’s) account. As well as enriching the scammer, it means that you have not been paid. Our understanding is that – unless the error was caused by your gross negligence – you are entitled to look to the payer for the money you are still owed. It would be up to the payer to pursue compensation for the fact that it had wrongly sent money to a fake account. Contact us if you are experiencing difficulty in convincing a publisher or other payer to refund you.
Get in early
In practice, taking action to recover monies (from the original payer or, in the payer’s case, from the bank or via the courts) in such an event can be complicated and slow; so it’s in everyone’s interests to spot fake accounts as early as possible and to reduce the risk in the first place.