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

 

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.

Investigating Misconduct at Amazon

It’s no secret Amazon staffers play favorites when it comes to books and authors, or that the number of those affiliated with Amazon staffers who have become Kindle stars is excessively high. What’s not so well known are the tactics used to ensure certain books and authors succeed while others fail. While working at Amazon, our former Amazon insider saw these tactics employed firsthand.

Amazon is a company built around a search engine. The same search engine used to find products is used to feature products and control product display. Amazon staffers manipulate many aspects of the search engine every day from selecting which products appear in which features and which products don’t to determining which products are given higher precedence when a customer tries to find a product and which products aren’t.

Our former insider saw it all. Authors who were disliked or complained about issues at Amazon sites were punished. Their books were flagged, removed from features and listings or worse.

Tactics were used to push books of these authors so far down the listings no one would see them. One way to do this was to reset the sales data for the day, the week, the month or entirely. Another way to do this was to flag or remove reviews from an author’s books.

One of the ways B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars got ahead was to associate their books with top professionally published authors. For example, Hugh Howey entered Suzanne Collins, Neil Gaiman, Rick Riordan and other top author names as keywords for his Wool books, ensuring the books would be displayed in the search results whenever anyone searched for these top authors and their books. Thus, instead of his Wool books only being displayed in search results a few times a day, the Wool books were being displayed in search results thousands and thousands of times – and in some cases over 100,000 times a day.

The tactic is extremely unethical because customers were unwittingly being redirected from a book or author they were searching for to a book fraudulently inserted into search results. The tactic was so successful that scammers like B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars went from making a few dollars a day on sales to making thousands to tens of thousands of dollars a day. Meanwhile, the sales of the authors these cheats were scamming from went down dramatically.

In a series of secretive meetings between Kindle executives and various Kindle self-publishing stars from Hugh Howey to Amanda Hocking this tactic and others to get ahead of the system were often discussed and shared. Amazon staffers even rewrote the Kindle publishing rules to ban many of the practices discussed, while continuing to allow B V Larson, Hugh Howey, H M Ward, John Locke, Amanda Hocking and other early Kindle stars to use them.

A key reason for this was the anti-trust litigation involving major publishers and Apple. The fact Amazon staffers were actively looking for ways to punish major publishers and their authors. The fact Amazon wanted its Kindle self-publishing program to dominate the market. Thus, Amazon staffers looked the other way and allowed a select group of authors cheat the system, while simultaneously punishing other authors who tried to use the same tactics.

The Crazed Antics of Cheating Authors

For several weeks, Zon Alert bloggers have tracked the crazed antics of the cheating authors we’ve identified as they attempted to deny any wrongdoing. If we didn’t have full understanding of how these authors operated before, we sure do now. These authors have been working overtime to cover their tracks, to try to discredit Zon Alert and The Fiverr Report.

We’ve seen and heard it all. Every excuse you can think of. These authors and their associates have tried it. The velocity, snark, and feigned outrage has Zon Alert bloggers imagining these authors and their associates as red-faced children telling their teachers the family dog ate their homework. Frequently though it’s more like some five-year-old girl saying “That’s right Johnny did it, Mom. It wasn’t me. I’m your little angel.”

There’s a simple litmus test to distinguish between real writing awards and fake writing awards. Real writing awards are highly selective and have few award recipients. Fake writing awards aren’t selective but hand out awards aplenty.

Real writing awards don’t hand out awards to 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000 so-called winners. Fake writing awards do.

Real writing awards don’t let authors enter their books in as many years and categories as they can pay for.  Fake writing awards do.

Fake writing awards come from award factories. Award factories are cash cows for those who operate them.

One of the many illegitimate awards we’ve identified is the Beach Book award. Beach Book award is run by an outfit out of California that allows an author to enter as many books as they want for as many years as they want as long as they pay $50 for each book entered. The same company runs 17 identical award programs with different names:

Green Book award
Hollywood Book award
San Francisco Book award
Beach Book award
Paris Book award
New York Book award
New England Book award
DIY Book award
London Book award
Halloween Book award
Los Angeles Book award
Great Northwest Book award
Great Southwest Book award
Great Southeast Book award
Southern California Book award
Animals, Animals, Animals Book award
Great Midwest Book award

There’s even a multiple entry form that allows cheating authors like Melissa Foster to enter a book in all 17 award programs at the same time.

The worst fake award factory is Reader’s Favorite, an award cheating author Melissa Foster has numerous fake awards from. Reader’s Favorite has awards in 100 categories and gives out over 500 fake awards every year.

In each of the 100 categories, Reader’s Favorite has four winners each calendar year: Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Honorable mention. Reader’s Favorite also gives out awards to so-called finalists, so there’s a Finalist award as well. In our research of the award years 2009 to 2012 we couldn’t find any book that was entered that wasn’t a gold, silver, bronze, honorable mention, or finalist medal winner. Even if that meant there were 4 so-called finalists along with the 4 so-called winners in each category.

Talk about incentive to keep entering year after year. No wonder cheating authors like Melissa Foster keep entering books in this contest year after year.

One of the more laughable claims we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “My award isn’t fake. My entry fee I paid was real. Real enough for you?” But of course the entry fee was real. Award factories are getting rich from authors who want to cheat.

Another more laughable claim we’ve seen professing how fake awards like these are real is this one: “The winner gets $1500 and a trip to Chicago. How’s that for fake? Look it’s a real award.” We’re sure a so-called winner gets a trip to Chicago and $1500.  The award factories try hard to seem legit. Giving out a few thousand in prize money is nothing after taking in $100,000.

The Melissa Foster Fake Email Correspondence Debacle

In an apparent attempt to discredit this blog, Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey fabricated the following email correspondence which is being circulated on various blogs by Melissa Foster and her author friends in an attempt to hide guilt and apparent attempt to defraud:

From: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.Best regards,Fiverr Legal Department
There are several variations of this fake email floating around, all of which are originated by Melissa Foster.  These fake emails invariable are followed by variations of requests to remove links to our blog so as to “keep from driving traffic to their site.”
     Clearly, the authors we’ve identified are desperate and trying to do anything they can to hide the truth instead of admitting their guilt. They clearly don’t want anyone to visit this blog and learn the truth.
     Here’s another variant of the same posted by Melissa Foster to Cheryl Tardiff’s blog (another author we outed for buying numerous reviews):
From Melissa Foster:Karma is a b*tch, and the owner of that website is about to find that out. A concerned citizen contacted Fiverr’s legal department and received the following verification of the false accusations. Please share this publicly and stop the hatred! I’ve removed her name to protect her from being attacked as we were.See, most people ARE good xoxFrom: Fiverr Legal
To: K (Name removed to protect from future attacks)
Sent: Monday, September 23, 2013 6:56 AM
Subject: Re: Sharing Private Fiverr Correspondence OnlineDear K,Thank you for reporting this. This blog is a complete fake, including the “employee” who was never employed at Fiverr and the information provided in the blog, thus there is no breach of privacy since it is not real information…the users mentioned on the blog are not known to us. We do appreciate the fact that you took the time to alert us to this slanderous content.

Best regards,

Fiverr Legal Department

On Mon, Sep 23, 2013 at 3:25 PM, K wrote:
Hello- I just wanted to alert you to the fact that this person is sharing private correspondence that he obtain while employed with your company on his blog. I believe this is against your privacy policy and may even be illegal.

(FULL ACTIVE LINK REMOVED TO KEEP FROM DRIVING TRAFFIC TO THEIR SITE) – See more at: http://cherylktardif.blogspot.com/2013/09/the-history-of-paid-book-reviews.html

The fact that Melissa Foster and Hugh Howey created and spread fake correspondence like this demonstrates not only their guilt but the lengths they’ll go to to try to bury truth. Shame on Foster and Howey!

The Hugh Howey Tirade

Excellent news. Two of our member bloggers have a preliminary publishing agreement for a book on our investigation of the publishing underworld. The book is tentatively titled “Team of Eight: Our 2-Year Investigation Into the Dark Side of Publishing.” They’ll be working for a few months to develop the first three chapters of the book for publication.

The acquisition editor writes in the acceptance letter: “I’m as appalled by this behavior as you are and I congratulate you on your dedication to revealing truth. Your photocopies of emails between authors and [the company you worked at], particularly the brazen nature of M. Foster’s emails, leaves no doubt they knew what they were doing was wrong.”

We’ve previously published extracts from Melissa Foster’s correspondence:

“Chasing Amanda got to #10 on Amazon’s Bestselling Kindle list. Thank reviewers for buying yesterday.”

“Wow, what a few weeks this has been! Can I get 50 more?”

“not all the reviews for Amazon … Goodreads reviewers should rate, add my other books”

“how great it felt to have over 2000 ratings for Goodreads”

“I’m gearing up for a blog tour. … I need more reviews.”

“Can reviewers vote in the Amazon breakthrough novel award?”

“Tremendous gratitude for the Chasing Amanda reviews … now on Amazon’s Top (100) Rated Fiction list!”

More on Foster’s fake writing awards and the official Fiverr Report from September 12.

We are pleased also to report we’ve acquired the complete client list and email archive of the defunct http://www.GettingBookReviews.com. As we begin to analyze the purchases and correspondence in the next few months, we hopefully will be able to identify and correlate more of the accounts used on various sites for paid promotion. What we know so far from a preliminary review of data is over 2100 different buyers bought what appears to be more than 30,000 reviews collectively.

In a rather odd turn, Hugh Howey, who was merely listed here as a review buyer in the official September 12 Fiverr Report on Melissa Foster but made no other mention of, has gone on a weeks’ long tirade professing his innocence. Bizarre behavior for someone who is supposedly innocent, especially as he’s using his ongoing tirade as a promotional vehicle to get family, friends, and other supporters to flood Amazon with favorable reviews.

In discussions on various sites, Howey and his author friends even claim Zon Alert members wrote fake reviews of his books on Amazon. Odder still is that there are no such reviews on Amazon. However, there is plenty of fakery:

Wool has 6084 glowing reviews out of 6251. A supposed 97.3% approval rating, which no real book has. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 130 glowing reviews.

Shift has 722 glowing reviews out of 747. A supposed 96.6% approval rating. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 42 glowing reviews.

Dust has 871 glowing reviews out of 879. A supposed 99.1% approval rating. Since his hundreds of posts and tweets/posts from friends about his innocence, the book has received 241 glowing reviews.

To view the mind-blowing audacity of Hugh Howey, go to Amazon and examine reviews from September 13 to present. You’ll find the 413 reviews we’re talking about. While at Amazon, look at reviews written before this avalanche because that’s where you’ll find the bulk of the abuse Hugh Howey is trying to bury.

Howey has even gone so far as to swear his innocence on the life of his dead dog. Could anyone be any more guilty?

As if using his dead dog to play on other’s sympathy wasn’t low enough, Howey tells his blog readers in the same entry about how he was bullied as a child in middle school and on on, leaving Zon Alert members to wonder how low he’ll go in an attempt to get sympathy and attention.

If you read the entry in Howey’s blog do be sure to examine who the commenters are. The comments coming from real people are often Howey’s author friends. There’s even a comment from none other than Melissa Foster.

Howey’s behavior and weeks’ long tirade is way over the top for someone was merely mentioned as a review buyer. As Shakespeare meant when he said “Me thinks he doth protest too much,” the guy’s guilty as hell. We suspect the reviews purchased from Fiverr are only the beginning and we’ll continue to look for the truth until we find it.