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Highly targeted phishing trying to scam writers -- but to what end?

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Lakey

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Interesting article in the New York Times:

Why on Earth Is Someone Stealing Unpublished Book Manuscripts?
https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/21/books/publishing-manuscripts-phishing-scam.html

The upshot is that someone(s) out there is sending oddly specific emails to writers trying to scam them into turning over unpublished manuscripts, and nobody knows why. The targets aren't limited to well-known and commercially successful writers; the manuscripts aren't turning up on pirate sites; nobody is even issuing threats to pirate the manuscripts and demanding ransom. The scammers seem sometimes to work from the announcements in trade publications that so-and-so has a forthcoming book with such-and-such, but sometimes they seem to have more inside knowledge. Some of them seem to be playing a long game--using lookalike domains that they registered years ago. So maybe the payoff is yet to come?

Be careful out there, folks. If your agent or editor is sending you a request for material that sounds a little out-of-character, it doesn't hurt to verify before responding. Start a fresh email chain so you know exactly where your message is going.

:e2coffee:
 
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Cobalt Jade

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I read this, and am stumped. Maybe it's someone from the industry working within to get manuscripts for publication in China or Russia.
 

Chris P

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The foreign right theory makes the most sense to me. However, this bears a superficial resemblance to patent trolling, particularly the following definition:

Purchases a patent, often from a bankrupt firm, and then sues another company by claiming that one of its products infringes on the purchased patent

That won't work here, though, because book ideas can't be patented, and although the words are copyrighted the copyright stays with the writer and do not go to the phisher when it gets emailed. The only (way long shot) I can figure would be the compilers are making a huge database of text then plan to mine successful published works to claim plagiarism later. But nobody who knows as much about publishing as the article hints they do would be so foolish.
 

AW Admin

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"penguinrandornhouse.com" (notice the subtle misspelling, " r n " instead of " m " ) is registered to an IP just outside of Wichita, KS:
https://www.cubdomain.com/site/penguinrandornhouse.com

That's not how it works.

The Registrar was Bluehost.com.

I'm pretty sure that in fact the box providing DNS (which is not the same as the actual server hosting the site) is in Provo, Utah.

The IP resolves to EIG/Bluehost. This is a ginnormous hosting company; the umbrella is EIG, but they own Bluehost and Hostgator, and Unified Layer and a bunch of tiny ISPs they gobbled up, like CyrusOne.

In this case the Registrar is Bluehost; the box the content is on is a Unified Layer box, which means that they are probably hosting the site at their Registrar, and the actual PenguinRandomhouse can pretty quickly fire of a letter to Bluehost as Registrar and Unified Layer (not a reputable host) pointing out the deception, and get the site booted and the domain in their control.

This is not likely to even take long, honestly.

It's interesting that they registered the domain in August; they've been planning this a long time. It would be fairly easy to discover other domains they've registered by a nice attorney sending a letter to the Registrar Blue Host, who is likely to tell them.
 

Alessandra Kelley

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The article suggests it might be someone angling for an edge on reading manuscripts for movie and TV rights which, given the competitive nature of movie and TV rights, is not the weirdest idea.
 

CaoPaux

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Per 1/6/22 update to WB post:

The book thief may have been caught. The New York Times reports that the FBI has arrested Italian national Filippo Bernardini, charging him with wire fraud and aggravated identity theft. He was indeed a publishing industry insider: a rights coordinator for Simon & Schuster.
See post for more details.