Scam Attempt Warning for SF/F Writers

Short version: If you’re a science fiction/fantasy writer who got an invitation to speak from Bexley College in the UK, someone’s trying to scam you.

Longer version:

Here’s an e-mail in my box today:

Greetings John Scalzi,

I am Prof. Arthur Peterson from Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus) here in London UK. We are officially writing to invite you and confirm your booking as our guest Speaker at this Year Bexley college Seminar which will take place here at the campus ground.

Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus).

The Venue as follows:
VENUE: Upper Holly Hill Road Belvedere, Kent
London, United Kingdom
POST CODE: DA17 6HF
Expected audience: 450 people(mainly students & invited guest). Duration of speech per speaker: 1 Hour
Name of Organization: Bexley College Campus.
Topic: ”Mystery of Life and Death”
Date: 18th February 2013

We reached your profile at http:// www.aboutsf.com// and we say it’s up to standard. The College will be so glad to have such an outstanding personality as you in our midst for these overwhelming gathering. Arrangements to welcome you here will be discussed as soon as you honor our invitation. If you have any more publicity material you wish to share with us, please do not hesitate to contact me.

An Official Formal Letter of invitation and Contract agreement would be sent to you from the College as soon as you honor our Invitation. The College have also promised to be taking care of all your travel and Hotel Accommodation expenses including your Speaking Fee.
If you are  available for this date, include your speaking fees in your reply for it to be included in the DOCUMENTATIONS.

Stay Blessed
Prof. Arthur Peterson
Bexley College (Holly Hill Campus).

Tel: + 44 702 xxx xxx

The reason I know this is a scam:

1. The grammar and composition of this letter OH DEAR LORD.

2. Bexley College is a general further education college (i.e., a vocational school), not a university, and while a school that teaches people to be hair dressers and to work in construction probably might want the occasional speaker, those speakers are not likely to be science fiction authors from the United States, speaking on the subject of the mysteries of life and death.

3. The e-mail came from a GMail account, not an e-mail account using the school’s address (I’ve already reported it to Google as a phishing attempt).

4. The phone number attached to the letter not only does not match the numbers for Bexley College on the Web site, but I learn that UK numbers that start with “+44 70″ are very often used for scam attempts (scroll down a bit for the info).

5. “Prof. Arthur Peterson” doesn’t exist, at least not in the context of Bexley College.

And so on.

Clearly the plan is to get me to call the phone number or to respond to the e-mail, grab some pertinent information about me from my own excitable self, and then go from there. Nice try, but no.

The fact the letter mentions my speaker listing at AboutSF suggests that whoever is doing it has copied out that site’s speaker list contact information and is probably contacting other folks listed there. So this is to raise a general alarm. Note that I suspect most science fiction/fantasy writers are smart enough to recognize a scam with they see one, but on the other hand better safe than sorry.

Bear in mind this particular letter uses Bexley College but it’s entirely possible the scammers will change it up and use other educational institutions. They’re crafty, these scammers.

So: Science fiction and fantasy writers: Beware.

50 thoughts on “Scam Attempt Warning for SF/F Writers

  1. I stumbled about “We are officially writing to invite you and confirm your booking as our guest Speaker.” Why should someone confirm something he has never spoken about with you before.

    If this is a workable scam, i now have a way to get my favorite writers to Germany ;-).

  2. Karen Healey:

    Yup. As noted I suspect most SF/F folks will see it for what it is, and very quickly. Because they’re not dumb. But it doesn’t hurt to raise the alarm.

  3. UK phone numbers starting with 7 are usually, if not always reserved for mobile phones. Living about 5m from Bexley College, I would say that I’d try to attend such an event should it turn out to be genuine (hah).

  4. Mike Woodhouse said: “UK phone numbers starting with 7 are usually, if not always reserved for mobile phones.”

    True for 71, 72, …79, but the exception is the 70 range, which is for redirection numbers, not mobiles.

  5. What sort of UK acadaemic institution would give it’s address as:
    “Upper Holly Hill Road Belvedere, Kent
    London, United Kingdom”
    Hint: Kent is a county, London is a city (which isn’t in Kent… ;) )

  6. Reblogged this on The Fog of Ward and commented:
    A scam warning from Scalzi. This one seems to be targeting SF/F writers, but I imagine similar schemes exist for other genres, as well. I don’t always go to conventions, but when I do they’re legit cons run by good folks. Stay wary, my friends.

  7. Actually Kaal, I’m minutes from Bexley. My address is Erith, Kent however I live in the London Borough of Bexley and zone 4 of the London transport network. Local addresses are weirdly complex. Clearly a scam overall though.

  8. @Kaal: what Max said. London-the-postal-district is a lot smaller than Greater London-the city (although still substantially larger than the actual City of London). As such, the correct postal addess for some of the more suburban districts lies in one of the adjacent counties (or occasionally in Middlesex, which otherwise doesnt exist any more).

  9. I received one of these emails, and was most amused by it. Didn’t think to raise the alarm, so I’m glad you did. But might I suggest as you’re president of SFWA, and SFWA has a relationship with AboutSF, that an email go out to SFWA members?

  10. I’m embarrassed to say that if this had come in from a non-English speaking venue, I would have excused all the obvious red-flags as –oh, they are translating from Russian, Polish, Turkish, whatever language I am unfamiliar with– and I would have responded before I realized it was a scam. Thanks for the heads up.

  11. I got some reports of this exact scam last July–only difference is it was Kings College in London and the signer was “Prof. Harry Stewart.” I tried to persuade the people who contacted me to take it a little further–at least an email response–but no one was willing. So who knows what the actual scam is. I suspect it involves travel fees.

  12. Could anyone who has received one of these emails–either now or in the past–forward it to me? beware [at] sfwa.org. Thanks.

  13. @Kaal I grew up in London, but went to school in an Essex postal area, but in a London Borough (but my home used to be a villiage in Essex, but is now part of London).
    I now live in a London borough, insde the Mayor of London’s domain, but my address is Middlesex (which doesn’t exist outside of addresses, a cricket club and strange uses like giving your birth county when matriculating at some older universities which for such ritual purposes still use 16th Century counties…)
    Such strange things happen when cities evolve over many centuries and absorb ancient villiages and towns (where I currently live has been inhabited for longer than London itself!)

  14. Yup. The lack of specifics about me or my work, combined with the odd willingness to fly a writer not even published in the UK overseas, had me pretty sure this was a scam. But was nice to be able to quickly confirm the fact, just the same, so thanks.

  15. Oh, Googling for “we say it’s up to standard” with the quotes gives “about 52,300 results,” with the earliest from 2009 or so. The hits include an article by a TED speaker who was successfully scammed for about $1,000 in “work permit” costs… (why, of course the UK border agency uses anonymous Western Union transfers to collect fees).

  16. Well done for the heads-up. Our eyebrows are still raised by the ‘University of Glastonbury’, which appeared across S E Asian websites a year or so ago – the address is actually a car park, and the shiny building which accompanied enrolment info was in fact part of the real Uni of De Montfort, about 200 miles to the north. Enterprising scam, though, and Bexley would appear to be a minor variant of that.(Liz W)

  17. Greetings to you with joy and celebration,

    it is with infinite sadness that I sit to this letter as I watch the dissolution of every one to my country, for I am Oil Minister, as my secretary cruelly betrayed me and we are seeing the fruit of said time. I have four million dollars in copies of excellent literature, notably John Scalzi’s Redshirts, that I need to transport to safety before they are taken to rebels.

    I entreat your help for I am affirmed that you are trustworthy, as one of character and noble soul, to perform the services under my advise.

    Please to respond to lift my despair to the heavens, and blessings upon your.

  18. Sounds like they’d probably accept a reply from just about anybody, because they’re probably not closely keeping track of who they phish. Probably an acceptance email from Prof. Moriarity or Severus Snape would get noticed, but it’d be interesting to find out whether the scammers are actually familiar with English culture or are just picking random details they hope would be convincing to suckers. Randolph Carter has occasionally replied to Nigerian scammers; perhaps he’d be obscure enough.

  19. Also, an English institution is relatively unlikely to spell honour “honor”. Not impossible, of corse, if an American academic was involved, but still.

  20. Bill Stewart at 1:47 pm—I think Kilgore Trout would be the appropriate person to respond.
    On a second re-through, I noticed the American spelling of “honor”. How gracious of the professor to write in the native American tongue!

  21. The funniest thing about the email I just got was the topic I was asked to speak about — “The Mysteries of Life and Death.” As a devout atheist, that would make for a very short talk. I forwarded the letter to Victoria, per request. The typos, weird phrasing, gmail address and the fact that they asked me in the first place (Me? Who am I?) all screamed scam. Thanks for confirming.

    I love writing about science fictional, futuristic scams, but I hope mine come off as clever.

  22. Markus: you’re assuming the phishers are actually paying attention to anything other than whether they got a bite at the end of their particular line.

  23. From the link supplied by Studer above in which Barton Gellman replies to the scammers:

    “He accepted my terms and sent a contract to engage my services, complete with a request for my banking details so he could wire me an advance. If I had taken the next step,the usual move on his part would have been to say I had to pay a small wire transfer fee, and he’d use the information I supplied to clean me out.”

    Can someone explain how this works? If I send a wire transfer, sure, they get that money, but how can anyone ‘clean me out’? Surely the whole point of a wire transfer is to limit the amount moved to that specified by the sender?

  24. @Jonathan Walker: Not sure what Gellman meant by that; it’s either sloppy writing or a misunderstanding. I’m not aware of any standard scamming scenario where the scammers actually get control over your existing accounts (if your bank allows people to withdraw money that easily, look for another bank asap). My understanding is that they usually ask for account numbers etc. early on to help them prioritize — the more willing someone is to give up information, especially when promised money, the more effort he’s worth (the guy that got scammed mentioned 50-60 mails and a half dozen personas before he wired over the first batch of money).

  25. It’s likely that this was a variation on the ‘advance fee’ scam wherein, after determining the size of the ‘fee,’ the scammer sends you a check for an amount considerably larger than the original amount and asks you to deposit it and send back the overage– quickly. The check is bogus, but by the time your bank alerts you to this, you will have already sent the money to the scammer and will have to pay the bank back. Western Union is often specified by the scammer as the method you should use to send the money, because WU transfers are virtually anonymous and impossible to trace. For more on this subject, see:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nigerian_scam

  26. Thanks for posting! Alarm bells started going off as I was reading the email from “Arthur Peterson”. Found many of the same things you did, Mr. Scalzi (suspicious email address, vocational college, etc.). A Google search on “Arthur Peterson” “Brexton College” brought me right here. Saved me any more time on this thing. Will reblog in case anyone I’m following has also received the letter. Too bad it’s a scam. A trip to London could have been fun.

  27. This could actually be one of those “phone scams”. Where calling the number provided re-directs you (,as someone mentions above this is probably a re-direct number,) and that call is charged at $10-50 in some obscure small country. If the scammer keeps 90% of that charge (, with the rest for the phone company,) there’s some money to be made from relatively few calls from people who are curious.

    I don’t remember where I read about those types of phone scams, but I’m pretty sure it was something that was going on with UK numbers.

  28. Thanks for posting this! Yes, I too received that ‘invitation. I did forward it to the fine folks at Bexley, so that they are aware someone is using their information etc.

  29. Where this type of scam gets really sinister is when it targets vulnerable individuals for whom English is a second language.

    My Hungarian flatmate came to me in great excitement because her 17 year old cousin, who had registered with an Au Pair agency, had been offered a job with a lovely ex-pat American family in London.

    It took almost two hours to convince her that a.) the American-born wife of a Professor of Economics would not make elemental grammar errors in her email and that b.) Kensington, while a lovely part of London, does not abound with the type of detached house depicted in the photographs, and definitely does not have an ocean view.

    My concern was not only that, without a native Londoner’s intervention, a teenage girl of limited means was almost ripped off, but that she was on the verge of booking unaccompanied travel by bus to the UK on the strength of the offer.

  30. And of course the most obvious red flag? ‘Prof.’ with a period, instead of just ‘Prof’ as any BE speaker would have it.

    Periods after Dr./Mr./Prof. and so on is a ‘deprecated’ usage in British English and has been for a long time. It’s just Dr/Mr/Prof etc.

    Much blessings!

  31. Thank you for this. I got an invite too. It sounded suspicious to me and was glad to find this information that you provided to confirm my suspicions.
    Marc Millis

  32. The vagueness of the topic (“Mystery of Life and Death”) suggests to me that this scam was built to tug at the ego of all kinds of writers, not just SF ones.

  33. They got my name off of the ASME (American Society of Mechancial Engineers) speaker’s forum and I received the same e-mail today. Almost identical e-mail but with different “professor’s” name, and I thought it was funny that they would have me speak on “Life and Death”. Funny thing is I am booked to speak on that date but in North Carolina.

  34. You’ll find similar scams aimed at ESL teachers, from folks supposedly looking for private tutors for their children. Sometimes the supposed sender is an oil company executive, sometimes a diplomat on a foreign mission.

    The scam is to get the mark to send ever-increasing amounts of money for work permits, licenses, fees, and whatever else the scammer can think of.

  35. Our Euro-centric team, before our diaspora over the years, originated from this area and we know Bexley College as a local landmark. Bexley College actually is in ‘Tower Road’ and the college is a tall rectangular block perched on a hillside that literally ‘towers’ over a broad vista of the River Thames curling around Belvedere and Erith. The Holly Hill campus is a temporary affair as the college will be moving.

    As some have commented, the address ‘Kent, London’ is odd. Bexley is what is called a London Borough for local government purposes (including education) but the eastern part of the Borough (and the college) is actually in the county of Kent.

    As you say, Bexley College is a vocational college. A few years ago it appealed to local experts to run evening courses and some of us enquired, but they were not interested in science (or SF).

    Teasing all this apart does make one wonder whether the perpetrators of the hoax have some local knowledge albeit very poor to the point of error, hence the perpetrators may have had some recent/brief connection with the area? Had they gleaned all their information from the internet then they would not have made these mistakes. But adding what they thought was local, factual colour, but which was in reality erroneous, was a mistake.

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