An American Editor

May 11, 2020

On the Basics: Scams are always with us

Filed under: Editorial Matters — An American Editor @ 10:15 am

By Ruth E. Thaler-Carter, Owner

An American Editor

I’ve been warning colleagues about over-payment scams for years — and I recently received one for the first time! I wouldn’t usually take up AAE space with a scam warning, but I’ve been seeing inquiries about this particular one ever since it reached me, in e-mail discussion lists and several Facebook groups. A lot of people apparently either have never heard of this type of scam or just aren’t following discussions that warn about the current version. It seems to be prevalent and convincing enough to warn our subscribers about it.

In the first message I received, someone using claimed to have a medical condition and to need a 2,550-word article written about general health topics for a presentation at a conference, quoting a rate that fit my usual fee structure — and was a lot more than most writing assignments usually offer these days. It included a list of topics to be included and looked like an easy project to do.

I responded by e-mail to say that I was interested and require a 50% deposit from new clients. There was no argument, although my radar started pinging when the “client” asked, “What would be your preferred mode of payment? Though I’m proposing a certified bank draft, a cashier’s check or bank certified check.” The pings started going bonkers when FedEx delivered a check the very next day — a Saturday, and at not even 9 a.m.! The supposed sender was a “Jerry Orchid” in Houston, but the check was apparently drawn on an account of a John Wieland in Atlanta, GA, and issued by Vinings Bank in Smyrna, GA. Neither name matched the sender of the e-mail, and the amount was more than twice the agreed-upon deposit.

Almost as soon as the check arrived, the sender asked me via e-mail to deposit it right way, along with something about a longer or additional assignment that I didn’t quite follow — that that seemed far less important than the excessive payment and pressure to use the check immediately. I said I couldn’t get to the bank until Monday, although I already was sure this was an attempt at an overpayment scam. On Monday, I called the bank that supposedly issued the check (it was closed over the weekend) and they confirmed that it was counterfeit; in fact, I was the fifth person to call about such a check.

I wrote back to the “client” to say I knew this was a scam and that I was going to report them to the authorities, and I haven’t heard from them since. I did not pay or lose any money — but that’s only because I didn’t deposit the phony check. If I had, they would have said they mistakenly sent too much and asked for the “difference” back. The check would have been counterfeit, so I’d have been out the amount I sent back, as well as the full amount of the check, among other headaches, possibly including charges for bank fraud.

The bottom line

Versions of this scam have been going on since before e-mail and online shopping began, in all kinds of areas, from small and large Craigslist purchases to home rentals and more. Regardless of the sender, apparent assignment, amount of offer, etc.: If you ever get a check or money order for more than an agreed-up amount, don’t take it — or at least call the bank of the supposed owner of the bank account before depositing it to your account. That’s usually faster than asking your bank or the authorities to look into it. It can take several days for a check to go through channels to be confirmed as counterfeit, and the scammer will be long gone by then. Money orders might be easier to verify, but call the supposed issuer before trying to deposit one.

Other potential concerns

Another recent scam that keeps popping back up involves being contacted because the sender supposedly found you through one of your professional memberships. They offer work in or somewhat related to your service area, for a known major company (Bayer, Random House, Penguin and other well-known businesses have been named in this one). Among the red flags is that the sender’s e-ddress is not based on the company name, although some have used names of people who do actually work for the company, and that they include a request for you to be interviewed via Google Hangout. These don’t seem to involve offers of money that turn out to be counterfeit, but might be aimed at identity theft.

There are other recurring scams aimed at our profession, but most are so badly written that they’re obviously not worth a response. On the other hand, those who work with authors whose first language is not English are likely to get clumsily worded requests for editing or proofreading assistance, so we shouldn’t automatically assume that every clunky message is from a scammer.

On a related matter, colleague Beth Lasser posted a warning that while “people mention concerns about their bank details being revealed and their resumes being in random hands. Yet, our bank details are on our checks, and we put our resumes on multiple websites. What we don’t necessarily put out there is our address, birthday, income, relatives’ names, religion, and political affiliation. However, this information is on people search sites like My Life and Spokeo.”

To remove yourself from these sites or have your profile hidden, go to:

Lee Drake of OS-Cubed, one of my tech-savvy colleagues from back home in Rochester, NY, recently warned that “We’re all aware of the more common ways hackers can infiltrate your business. But as technology advances, the bad guys are getting even more creative about stealing your data.” He’s produced a video about “3 cyber threats you probably aren’t aware of.” You can check that out at

The bottom line

This all comes down to being cautious about how we conduct our editing and other editorial businesses. Sadly, if an offer seems too good to be true, that’s probably exactly what it is. As one of my favorite “Hill Street Blues” characters used to say, “Be careful out there.” Every day and in every way.

Ruth E. Thaler-Carter ( is an award-winning provider of editorial and publishing services for publications, independent authors, publishers, associations, nonprofits and companies worldwide, and the editor-in-chief and now owner of An American Editor. She also hosts the annual Communication Central “Be a Better Freelancer”® conference for colleagues (, now co-hosted with the National Association of Independent Writers and Editors ( and sponsored by An American Editor, and (still) planned for October 2–4 in Baltimore, MD. She can be reached at or


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