Author Impersonation On Amazon: How  Fraudsters Launder Money

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Amazon has undoubtedly become one of the biggest and most trusted platforms for authors to publish and sell their books. Patrick Reames who is one of Amazon’s credited author was surprised to receive a 1099 form from Amazon saying that he had sold books worth $24,000 on the company’s on-demand publishing arm known as Createspace.

Confident that he had not sold any books, Reames sought IT support. He searched the site for his name only to discover that someone had been using his name and Social Security number to sell a $555 book full of complete nonsense. The book recorded more than sixty sales on Amazon. Although Reames is a known Amazon author, he had never realized the amount that Amazon reported to the Internal Revenue Service from the sale of any of his books neither did he have a Createspace account.

This, however, did not stop the impersonator from publishing a novel under Reames’ name. In an interview with KrebsOnSecurity, Reames said that the book had no structure, chapters or paragraphs. It was simply a computer generated story with each sentence being accompanied by a carriage return.

The book which was titled “Lower Days Ahead” was posted to different Amazon sites in different countries. It was said to be published on the 7th of October 2017 and was priced at $555. A few days ago, however, the book was removed from most Amazon country pages.

Since the book contains nothing but gibberish, Reames said that “it was unlikely to generate as much revenue as it did within only 12 weeks”. Hence he suspects that someone has been purchasing the book with stolen debit or credit cards and keeping the 60 percent that Amazon’s authors get from sales. According to Reames the use of his Social Security number to sell the book reveals that it was used for money laundering as well as tax fraud/evasion. Unfortunately, Amazon has refused to release a corrected 1099 or provide Reames with information that would have been used to determine how or where the royalties were remitted.

Speaking further, Reames said that all the books he has sold on Amazon were not done directly through a personal account. Instead, it was sold through a publisher as the royalties for the books went to his former employer. He stated that he had never disclosed his Social Security number to Amazon, but the impersonator did which caused Amazon to believe that the imposter was him.

After discovering that someone has posed as him, Reames got curious and used IT support in Boca Raton to find other examples of author impersonations on the Createspace platform. He revealed that there are quite a large number of fraudulent books on the site with no real content, just pages of gibberish. The prices of these books range from as low as $1 to as much as $320.

Reames said that it is quite easy for these books to be used to launder money using credit cards that have been stolen from theft victims. The books can also be used to facilitate transactions for illicit materials or even fund criminal activities. Amazon seems unaware of these loopholes and is unwilling to do anything about it. They have refused to discuss the fraud as well as send Reames a corrected 1099.

Amazon says that all they can do for now is send a letter stating that Reames disputes ever receiving funds from the sale of the book as it is impossible for them to prove that he didn’t receive any money. However, Reames insist that they tell him where the funds went since they can’t say for sure whether or not he did not receive the funds. Amazon has however refused to disclose such information saying that the security of their customer accounts is of utmost importance to them. They advised that those having issues with their account should contact Amazon customer service using the help section on their website.

Be wary of fraudsters if you plan to get in touch with the Amazon customer support via phone. According to KrebsOnSecurity, a fraud investigator for a mid-sized bank recently reported that some customers who wanted to cancel their Amazon Prime membership ended up calling fake Amazon support numbers. The fraudsters requested for all kinds of personal information including bank account details and credit card information which was eventually used to create new Amazon accounts and set up accounts at Coinbase.com.