Anatomy of a Book Piracy Scam

Sarina Bowen explains one common kind of piracy scam, and why authors can ignore quite a few of their so-called pirated alerts.

This is your friendly reminder that a great number of piracy links aren't really piracy links. Here's a nice example that appeared in my Google alerts today.

The alleged link is to a randomly named site showing all my books.  I do a lot of piracy work, so I already know this site is scammy. This one caught my eye for its boldness--this German book doesn't come out for months, and reviewers don't have copies yet. The probability of this book appearing on a real piracy site is super low.

Screen Shot 2018-08-11 at 9.34.06 AM.png

So why does it show up here? Let's see what happens when we try to get to the file.

When I click on the download now link, I'm delivered to the front door of a site called Talkietimes. It looks a lot like the front door of Playster used to look. (Playster is a legitimate subscription service.) When I enter my email and a password to sign up for free, I'm taken to this screen:

 "We don't want to charge your credit card! We just want the number anyway." Uh huh.

"We don't want to charge your credit card! We just want the number anyway." Uh huh.

They ask for a credit card number just to validate your country location. Yeah, right. This is probably a phishing scam site. 

The other possibility is that it's an affiliate scam. It's possible that those who enter their credit card numbers are actually signing up for a membership at a subscription service without their knowledge. The fraudsters here would get an affiliate commission from that legitimate site, and the reader who thought she'd entered her credit card number just for verification would find that after a free trial period, she was charged. 

And my books? They're just bait. Those covers and titles just tease the potential reader into walking down the scammer's path. If this is a phishing scam, the trickster doesn't need any actual files to reel in his victims. If it's an affiliate scam, the trickster doesn't bother checking to see which titles the legitimate service actually has.

What did we just learn?

Here's the takeaway: it's really easy for a programmer to use the Amazon API to pull in the covers and descriptions of your books, and to make it appear that your books are on a nefarious site. You can ignore these sites. In fact, their existence might actually help you! The harder it is for a thieving reader to find actual pirated copies of your work, the less fun book piracy becomes.

But how do I know what's what? you might wail. Some piracy should not be ignored. (IE audio on youtube. And that obnoxious Canadian site where you can perform instant takedowns on screen.) The smart author knows which sites to police, especially around publication day.

It comes down to this: are you able to easily download your file off the piracy site? Or can you read your entire book online on the site? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, that site is worth fighting. Fire up your cease and desist letter and get rid of 'em. 

But, alternatively, does the site try to get a credit card number? That's a nope. Walk away. Or does the site want to send you to another site to get the book? Why would a real file sharing site do that? It wouldn't! Any site that's trying a little too hard to get your attention or to visit another site is just a scammer with his own agenda. Ignore him.

It's like parenting. Pick your battles. Life is easier that way.

Sarina Bowen