Zon Alert – Call to Action

Zon Alert members have identified dozens of fraudsters at Amazon. The worst offenders are listed below on the Do Not Buy List.

Suggested Reading:

The Many Faces of Carolyn Arnold

When Authors Have No Shame: The Carmen DeSousa Story

When the Crime Author is a Criminal – The Carolyn Arnold Story

The Online World is Overrun with Fake Reviews

The Shameful Fake Writing Awards of Melissa Foster

A Con Artist at Work: Carolyn Arnold and Her Fakery

Tracking the Fraud of Melissa Foster

The Hugh Howey Tirade: Exposing Amazon’s Biggest Fraudster

Caught Red Handed: Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey

The Crazed Antics of Cheating Authors

The Epic Fraud of Hugh Howey

The Thumbs Down Author List: Fraudsters Identified

Melissa Foster Joins Hugh Howey in Buying Her Way Onto New York Times and USA Today Bestseller Lists

Writers Beware: Joining World Literary Café May Irreparably Damage Your Career

Amazon and Others Purge Thousands of Fake Hugh Howey Ratings and Reviews

Hugh Howey Attacks Serial Novelists

The Truth Behind the Rise of Wool and Hugh Howey

Melissa Foster Continues to Attack Other Authors

More Amazon Fraud Identified

The Crazed Racist Rants of Hugh Howey

Investigating Misconduct at Amazon

Where’s Zon Been?

Zon Alert has been on extended hiatus as our founding member was diagnosed with an aggressive cancer and passed away September 25, 2015. Although Zon went quiet out of our deep respect for him and his struggle, it also is our respect for him that makes us want to continue his work. Though we no longer have access to the resources of his boards, the private member discussions or internal Amazon access for our deepest research, we will endeavor on to work toward revealing truth.

Another reason for our return is that another of our founding members, a retired DC PD detective, is working to get an attempted murder indictment against Melissa Foster for her role in paying someone to attack a writer she was at odds with. The vicious attack left the writer crippled and without a means to support herself or her family.

The Do Not Buy List

Authors on this list have been identified as having conducted extensive fraud.

A M Hargrove

A Meredith Walters

Aaron Pogue

Alle Wells

Amanda Hocking

Ann Mullen

Ann Swann

Ashley Fontainne

B V Larson

Bella Forrest

Betty Dravis

Blake Crouch

Brandon Sanderson

C C Cole

Carmen DeSousa

Carolyn Arnold

Cassia Leo

Cege Smith

Cheryl Kaye Tardiff

Christine Steendam

Collette Scott

D A Graystone

D Ryan Leask

Daniel Arenson

David A Wells

David Dalglish

Debora Geary

Dixie Goode

Dr. S Drecker

E L Lindley

Edie Claire

Elizabeth Reyes

Emma Chase

Erica Stevens

Erin Hunter

Frederick Lee Brooke

Gail McHugh

H M Ward

Hugh Howey

Ilona Andrews

J A Hunsinger

J A Konrath

J S Scott

Jaime Rush

James Dean

Jasinda Wilder

Jay Allan

Jennifer Chase

Jennifer Probst

Jessica Sorensen

Jillian Dodd

Joanna Lee Doster

John Locke

K Bromberg

Karen DeLabar

Karen Vaughan

Kenneth Hoss

Kerry Reis

Kirkus MacGowan

L J Kentowski

Linda Giron

Linda Hawley

Linda S Prather

Linda S Prather

Lorena Angell

M R Mathias

M Todd Gallowglas

Mallory Monroe

Marilou George

Marni Mann

Mary Campisi

Matthew Mather

Melinda Leigh

Melissa Foster

Michael G Manning

Orlando Ramos

Pamela Fagan Hutchins

R J Palacio

Rachel Dover

Rachel Jorgensen

Rebecca Forster

Rebecca Neilsen

Richard Hale

Rick Bylina

Rick Gillispie

Rick Soper

Robert Lee Carey Jr

Robert Pruneda

Rosie Cochran

Ruthie Derby

Ryk Brown

Sandy Wolters

Shaunna Rodriguez

Stacy Eaton

Stephanie Lisa Tara

T R Harris

Tarryn Fisher

Teresa Cypher

Todd Bush

Zach Fortier

 

Hugh Howey’s Attacks on Serial Novelists

Hugh Howey hired PR teams to create a media frenzy around the fact that he “sold” a million copies of Wool. As we’ve discussed, Howey reached that number through many scams and schemes but the biggest scheme involved him chopping the completed 500-page Wool into 5 pieces and “selling” each separately, with Wool 1 being only about 50 pages.

After Wool, Howey scaled back the scam and it wasn’t until more recent precipitous declines in sales that he returned to the scheme, publishing Sand 1, Sand 2, Sand 3, Sand 4 and Sand 5 in rapid succession before releasing the full work.

Starting with a completed novel, dividing it up into pieces and publishing the pieces significantly inflates Hugh Howey’s numbers. When these pieces are given away and counted as “sold”, they inflate Hugh Howey’s numbers even more.

To date, the pieces have “sold” several million copies, with fully half of the pieces being given away yet counted as “sold”. Meanwhile, actual sales of the full works, are a tiny fraction of the whole.

The scheme though is so lucrative Howey, his fakes and his associates go after anyone releasing serial fiction, even those legitimately releasing serial fiction as they write, as opposed to Howey’s finishing a novel and then chopping it into pieces to inflate sales numbers.

The odd, derogatory reviews that often become personal attacks on serial fiction writers are easy enough to find. Odder still is that you’ll be hard pressed to find any such reviews of Howey’s piece-meal works. What you’ll find instead are the glowing praises of Howey’s fakes and associates.

Help us spread the word about this fraud. Google Hugh Howey Fraud. Tell others.

The Truth Behind the Rise of Wool and Hugh Howey

Our investigation into Hugh Howey continues. “Hugh Howey” self-published his first book as Hugh Howey in 2009. The effort was a complete failure, though highly rated by Howey’s fake accounts and bought mostly by friends and relatives badgered into buying.

With sales in the single digits, Howey kept writing, using his fake accounts to sing his own praises wherever anyone would listen. Despite his fakery and deceptive practices, his zombie fiction and other early works published between 2009 and 2011 remained complete failures. Read by few, with no one but Hugh Howey himself talking about them.

Increasingly bitter and angry, Hugh Howey used his fakes to target other authors, especially ones who seemed successful. In particular, Howey seemed to be set off by anyone talking about their sales or success. Oddly his diatribes were mostly about how the authors were self-published, fakes or frauds, which was strange coming from Howey who was all of those things.

Untangling the webs of Howey’s fakes wasn’t easy and even though we’ve put months into the research we doubt we’ve found even a fraction of the total. One of the most interesting finds was that some of the fake accounts pre-date his first self-publishing efforts.

By 2011, Hugh Howey had completed Wool. Instead of publishing the book as a single work, Howey broke the book into 5 parts: Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5. When Howey self-published Wool 1, pretending as if it was a short story, his deceptive practices and fakery went into over drive. Instead of a few fakes singing his praises, there was a chorus of many. This happened almost as soon as, and in some cases even before, the release of Wool 1.

Wool 1 is about 50 pages. In Wool 1, the so-called sheriff of a post-apocalypse missile-silo town climbs a set of stairs, decides to go outside (which is of course forbidden) where he finds what readers believe is his dead wife. There are no real characters. There’s no real action. There’s not much of anything really. And yet, Howey had his fakes out in mass singing his praises endlessly.

Howey self-published Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5 in rapid succession. Offering each for .99, before making Wool 1 permanently free and creating a so-called Wool omnibus.

Go read the early fake reviews of Wool 1, Wool 2, Wool 3, Wool 4 and Wool 5. They’re hilarious. While you’re reading the fake reviews, note how no one complains about Howey chopping 1 book into 5 parts and just about every fake reviewer talks about the parts as if they are complete works when they’re not.

Conning readers into believing Wool was 5 complete works was part of the hustle. It was the whole reason for the so-called omnibus.

At some sites, Howey listed a page count for individual parts as if the parts were hundreds of pages long. This was another way to con readers into buying what they thought were full-length works.

Here’s where things get even more wacky with Hugh Howey buying his way onto bestseller lists multiple times, as we discussed in earlier postings. Not just that but Howey then hired public relations teams to create media frenzies around Wool.

The linchpin of the PR strategy revolved around how Hugh Howey is the messiah of the new self-publishing movement, how he’s a Kindle superstar who “sold” a million copies of Wool.

Nothing in the PR frenzy Howey manufactures talks about how he chopped 1 book into 5 pieces or how it’s actually the pieces that together “sold” a million copies. Nothing in the PR frenzy talks about how many copies of Wool 1 were counted as “sold” but were really given away as part of Wool 1 being permanently free.

The real numbers tell the real story and for the time they looked something like this:

Wool 1 – 400,000
Wool 2 – 200,000
Wool 3 – 150,000
Wool 4 – 100,000
Wool 5 – 100,000
Wool Omnibus – 45,000
Shift 1 – 80,000
Shift 2 – 60,000
Shift 3 – 40,000
Shift Omnibus – 27,000

It’s hard to determine precisely how many copies of Wool 1 were given away in this time, though based on other books that rose as high in the free rankings it’s easily 2/3 to 3/4 of the “solds”. What you also can tell from these early numbers is a lot of readers were getting sucked in by the fakery and the manufactured PR frenzy, but fewer and fewer readers were continuing with the Wool saga.

If Hugh Howey’s scams and schemes had collapsed under him back then, Zon Alert and Fiverr Report likely wouldn’t have uncovered his fraud. But his fraud continued unchecked and continues still.

Melissa Foster’s Attacks on Other Authors Continue

Since we exposed the truth behind Melissa Foster’s World Literary Café, we’ve been flooded with comments and questions from others who have experienced the same things we discussed. Increasingly, those who came forward expressed deep concern. It was no secret to them that Melissa Foster hid behind the supposed good things she was doing at World Literary Café while secretly lashing out because they too had been victimized by Foster.

Overwhelmingly, those we heard from wished they’d stepped forward long ago and told others about what Melissa Foster and others associated with her had done to them. Having experienced Foster’s viciousness and ruthlessness firsthand though, they were too afraid to say even privately, off the record, much more about what had happened to them. Mostly, it was because they feared further reprisals and retaliation from Melissa Foster and those associated with her, like Hugh Howey.

We got the sense that Foster’s threats weren’t just taking place online and it was these physical confrontations that were most feared. Whether physical confrontations were made by Foster or associates we were unable to confirm.
One person who we’ll call Sandy told us she was once in Melissa Foster’s inner circle and agreed to speak openly as long as we didn’t use her real name. Sandy also told us about threats made against her family. Threats that made her certain she’d stumbled into a criminal organization.

Sandy went on to tell us about various fast-money schemes operated by Melissa Foster and her associates out of World Literary Café. During our investigation into this and related matters, our member bloggers did find the over-priced “writing” and “self-publishing” courses and other paid offerings discussed.

Anyone who joined World Literary Café became a mark to bleed of cash or a target to bash. We were told authors who joined World Literary Café and bought into these paid offerings were left alone, while authors who joined World Literary Café but didn’t buy these offerings were targeted for take down. The goal according to Sandy was to make self-publishers who didn’t buy in feel like they couldn’t do anything right on their own.

According to Sandy, Foster was extremely petty. She used her inner circle and others to go after non-paying authors hard. The sign up process and profiles created by the authors themselves when they joined World Literary Café gave Foster the ammo she needed to do it, as it told Foster all about where they were active on social media, what books they’d published and where, etc.

Sandy said it was a shakedown. While the authors were targeted for harassment on social media and derogatory reviews, Foster was baiting them with smiles, trying to pull them deeper into the spider’s web. World Literary Café was telling them about special offerings that could help them self-publish.

Some, according to Sandy, got the nuclear option, meaning Foster wanted them gone, destroyed, out of the writing business. Sandy wasn’t sure how these were chosen. It seemed just as easily to be those who got on Melissa Foster’s bad side as those who were successful self-publishers that somehow got on Foster’s radar.

All of this struck a nerve with our members, but it was something Sandy said offhanded that struck deepest. It was about how often Foster talked about karma. How Foster believed the bad things someone did would come back, and how the good things someone did offset this.

Sandy said often when Foster was up to no good, Foster would also be on social media spreading positive, uplifting statements. Melissa Foster believed this was the way to ensure the bad things she did didn’t come back on her. It was her way of balancing the negativity caused by her misdeeds.

Needless to say, we were just floored by this. Help us spread the word about this fraud. Google Melissa Foster Fraud. Tell others.

60% of Online Ratings and Reviews Are Fake

From corporate publishers with schemes to create the next Harry Potter by generating avalanches of “support” for authors and books to small-time book hustlers writing their own reviews, the online world is overrun with fraud and fakery. Online review systems are broken and untrustworthy. Amazon’s own internal memos state up to 60% of the reviews on its sites are disgenuine. 60% is a large number but based on our extensive research we believe the actual number is significantly higher.

When we started researching online rating and review fraud, Zon Alert and Fiverr Report bloggers didn’t know what we were getting into. Our initial investigation lead us to criminal crime author Carolyn Arnold and a large cabals of authors committing online fraud by faking ratings and reviews. This investigation lead us in turn to Melissa Foster and an even larger cabals of authors committing not only rating and review fraud but also driving multilevel fraudulent schemes of many types. Frauds that revolved around fake awards, fake fans or street teams, authors buying their way onto bestseller lists, organized efforts to damage the careers of other authors, organized review-for-favor schemes, consumers lured with promises of gifts and gratuities if only they reviewed certain authors’ works, authors swapping reviews with each other like bubble gum, and many other types of organized review-writing schemes.

In our investigations we identified numerous cheating authors and named them in this blog. Caught red-handed the cheating authors tried to discredit this blog and its members. Some outed for hundreds of fake reviews made claims they were innocent as they didn’t have hundreds of reviews at Amazon, knowing full well the scope of their fraud extended to many sites beyond Amazon. Knowing also some, and in cases many, of the fake reviews weren’t used to support their own books but to cause harm to others.

The list of cheats quickly grew to encompass not only authors but also friends and relations who knowingly participated. Our infamous list of badly behaving unethical authors grew to include

A M Hargrove
A Meredith Walters
Aaron Pogue
Alle Wells
Amanda Hocking
Ann Swann
Ashley Fontainne
B V Larson
Bella Forrest
Betty Dravis
Blake Crouch
Brandon Sanderson
C C Cole
Carmen DeSousa
Carolyn Arnold
Cassia Leo
Cege Smith
Cheryl Kaye Tardif
Collette Scott
D A Graystone
D Ryan Leask
Daniel Arenson
David A Wells
Debora Geary
Dixie Goode
E L Lindley
Edie Claire
Elizabeth Reyes
Emma Chase
Erica Stevens
Erin Hunter
Frederick Lee Brooke
Gail McHugh
H M Ward
Hugh Howey
Ilona Andrews
J A Hunsinger
J A Konrath
J S Scott
James Dean
Jasinda Wilder
Jay Allan
Jennifer Chase
Jessica Sorensen
Jillian Dodd
Joanna Lee Doster
K Bromberg
K J Bennett
Karen DeLabar
Karen Vaughan
Kenneth Hoss
Kerry Reis
Kirkus MacGowan
L J Kentowski
Linda Hawley
Linda S Prather
Lorena Angell
M R Mathias
M Todd Gallowglas
Mallory Monroe
Marni Mann
Mary Campisi
Matthew Mather
Melinda Leigh
Melissa Foster
Michael G Manning
Pamela Fagan Hutchins
R J Palacio
Rachel Dover
Rebecca Forster
Richard Hale
Rick Bylina
Rick Soper
Robert Pruneda
Rosie Cochran
Ryk Brown
Sandy Wolters
Stacy Eaton
Stephanie Lisa Tara
T R Harris
Tarryn Fisher
Todd Bush
Zach Fortier

As we kept digging we kept uncovering more and more cheating authors including hustlers like C J Ellisson, Martin Crosbie, A J Cosmo, Samantha Chase, Elle Casey, Jennifer Blake, K D Emerson, Rachel Yu, Michael Yu, Eve Carter, Helen Hanson, Lily Lexington, Michael Baisden, Sharlene Alexander, Monique Martin, Gerald Hawksley, David Dalglish, CC MacKenzie, Rosalind James and Alexia Purdy. Some of which are small-time cheats, while others are huge fraudsters earning tens of thousands a month through deceptive practices, unethical behavior and outright fakery.

Not to mention even bigger cheats: B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Melissa Foster, Amanda Hocking, et al.

The research left us disillusioned and angry. We believe the rating and reviews systems are so broken the only way to fix them is for all online ratings and reviews to be removed or for every site to have a widely displayed disclaimer that reader ratings and reviews cannot be relied upon to determine the quality or merchantability of any product. We won’t be holding our breath for such things to happen and you shouldn’t either. Instead, you should report the aforementioned fraudsters wherever their fake reviews appear and demand justice.

Crime Author Criminal: Carolyn Arnold

Earlier we blogged about the fake reviews of Carolyn Arnold on Amazon but those 200 fake reviews are the tip of the iceberg. Carolyn Arnold’s dubious practices are plentiful.

Before we get started, please don’t confuse the legitimate children’s author, Carolyn Arnold, with the self-published Carolyn Arnold. The children’s author Carolyn Arnold has written many successful books, over 100 in fact. The self-published Carolyn Arnold is the subject of this blog.

In the descriptions of her books, in her bio and on her personal sites, self-published Carolyn Arnold often adds gushing praise written by the same author friends with whom she swaps reviews.  Arnold  prominently lists that a book was selected as one of the Top 12 fiction books of 2011. The phrasing changes from time to time and currently reads

“Arnold’s imagination and attention to detail do not leave any loose ends. Exciting.”
–MIAMI BOOKS EXAMINER’S “Top 12 Fiction Books of 2011” list.

Reading this you might think this is a legitimate review source but upon examination you’ll see it’s just one more dubious practice in Arnold’s long con game. Examiner.com is a site where freelancers can share about anything. The site has over 100,000 freelancers who contribute, most of which aren’t paid anything. They are unpaid bloggers.

Miami Books Examiner is the tagline of one of the bloggers, just as another blogger is The Hunger Games Examiner. Miami Books Examiner is in fact the tagline for Rosa St.Claire, a friend of an Arnold friend.

Oddly enough, Arnold’s book actually isn’t even one of the Top 12 in the list as implied. Her book is part of an additional “special recommendation” section.

Using fake review sources seems to be a tactic used by others Arnold was swapping reviews with. These sources are made to sound legitimate but don’t hold up upon examination. Not much different from the way Carolyn Arnold misappropriates the name of the legitimate children’s author of the same name, often trying to use the other author’s reputation and accomplishments as her own.

Whether pen name or real name, misuse of another author’s name is a tactic of Arnold and her author friends. More on this in upcoming posts.

What is a troll?

Trolls were one of many unexpected things we learned about in our research into unethical tactics and fake reviews. In the context of online discussions, a troll isn’t a mythical monster or a child’s creation rather a troll is someone with ill intentions.

Trolls make outrageous claims. Trolls start online fights by saying hurtful things. Trolls attack others with words. Trolls do this to get a reaction. The stronger the reaction, the better, as far as trolls are concerned. Trolls do this because they want to get people angry. Trolls want to cause damage. Trolls want to cause harm.

With regard to books and authors, trolls often are the ones writing spurious commentary and reviews. Trolls do this to take down certain authors while promoting others. Trolls are plentiful at Amazon and Goodreads. They’re also present at Angie’s List.

It might surprise you to learn there are professional trolls. Professional trolls come in a few different varieties. Some work in marketing where their goal is to push a brand, book or author while devaluing another brand, book or author. Our resident marketing expert spent over a year tracking professional trolls before she stumbled upon the worst of the worst in professional trolling: hacker trolls.

Hacker trolls are different from most other trolls. They’re around to cause severe damage, promote extreme agendas, and do absolute harm while gaining recognition for their exploits. The more harm they cause, the higher the likelihood they will be accepted at certain closed sites and chat rooms where hacker trolls exchange stories, build their reps by detailing their exploits, and exchange tactics and ideas.

A clear warning: Stay away from dedicated hacker trolls. These trolls destroy lives and livelihoods for enjoyment.