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


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.

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

We’re pleased that Amazon and other sites have taken action, purging thousands of fake ratings and reviews from Hugh Howey’s books over the past few months. These purges do not go far enough, however. Hugh Howey has perpetrated a massive fraud. A fraud that is likely the largest in the history of publishing. A fraud is so massive and elaborate Hugh Howey makes “A Million Little Pieces” author James Frey look like a beloved saint.

As our reporting of Howey’s fraud grew traction, we noticed many of these early fake accounts began to quietly disappear. 387 disappeared over a two-month period in fact, largely we suspect due to Hugh Howey himself deleting the fake accounts to cover his tracks. To date, nearly a thousand such accounts have quietly disappeared in all. The more recent purges seem to be due to sites like Amazon identifying the fraud we’ve pointed out and taking action. Google Hugh Howey Fraud Zon Alert to see others who have joined our efforts to expose this fraudster.

The fact is Hugh Howey defrauded people the world over. His multilevel scams and schemes go back to his earliest works of Zombie fiction, most of which have been pulled from Amazon and other stores in recent months. Fortunately, Zon Alert researched, analyzed and catalogued every review of those works before Hugh Howey was able to completely cover his tracks.

Based on our analysis, every review of those early works was created using fake accounts. Fake accounts set up for the sole purpose of promoting Hugh Howey. Not only did the fake accounts write multiple reviews of Hugh Howey’s self-published works, they also mentioned Hugh Howey in other reviews they wrote, in Listmania lists, in So You’d Like to guides and on customer discussion forums.

It was from those reviews that we, along with the Amazon insider on our team, were able to track and identify hundreds of similar fake accounts used by Hugh Howey to promote his self-published works and act as his own fan club.

During a period of time from early 2009 to mid 2012, Hugh Howey created fake accounts daily until he had amassed thousands of accounts. To date, Zon Alert has identified over 3,500 accounts created during this time period and used to promote Hugh Howey. Not just at Amazon or Goodreads but at sites across the net. If there is a site where people talk about books Hugh Howey and his fake accounts were there to talk up his books.

These accounts numbering in the thousands pre-date any actual or legitimate following of Wool and yet they were all talking up and promoting Hugh Howey. Point of fact:
Wool 1 was published July 30, 2011
Wool 2 was published Nov 30, 2011
Wool 3 was published Dec 4, 2011
Wool 4 was published Dec 25, 2011
Wool 5 was published Jan 14, 2012
Wool Omnibus was published Jan 25, 2012

And yet fake accounts were talking up Hugh Howey from early 2011 on and the numbers grew until they encompassed nearly all of the fake accounts Hugh Howey set up by December 2011.

The scale of the fraud suggests Hugh Howey didn’t act alone and likely enlisted his wife and others in the scheme. In analyzing the writing styles used, there seems to be a few regular tropes like the teen who doesn’t use proper grammar, the soccer mom whose kids loved it too, the bibliophile who supposedly reads a hundred books a year but has never read anything so great. Underneath the standard tropes though what’s being said is clearly orchestrated, organized and planned. Often it’s the same message, just with slightly different wording, even when what are supposedly a few different people are espousing the virtues of Howey.

Something else we encountered but didn’t understand until recently was how Howey’s fake accounts were used to attack other authors. At first we thought this was just something that happened randomly but as we tracked the accounts and the attacks a larger pattern emerged.

A pattern of reinforcing his self-manufactured negativity was the most involving. Certain accounts were used to write bad reviews of the authors’ books. Others were used to reinforce the negativity. They added negative comments or discussions that were in turn voted up or reinforced by yet more Hugh Howey accounts.

A standard treatment was to use his multiple accounts to write reviews complaining about bad grammar, spelling mistakes and such about how poorly written a book was. Next, he’d use other accounts to make comments or discussions thanking the unhappy reviewers for saving them from buying the book.

Essentially, it was open season on any author who could possibly be considered a Howey competitor and just as often any author Howey seemed to dislike for whatever reason.

It’s time this fraud ended. Google Hugh Howey Fraud Zon Alert and send the results to sites where Hugh Howey continues to operative his scams and schemes.

The Epic Fraud of Hugh Howey

Hugh Howey buys fake reviews from Fiverr.com and many other places. In reviewing Hugh Howey’s Amazon reviews, it was easy to spot the many thousands of fake reviews, even with the many deceptive practices reviewers were using to seem legitimate, such as supposed real names and verified purchases.   Because it’s cheaper to buy short reviews, most of Hugh Howey’s fake reviews are often short, about 50 words as this is one of the lowest price points for buying fake reviews. These short fake reviews don’t really say anything about the book. The fake reviews are there only as online endorsements to get people to buy a book.

Because it’s essential that five-star reviews line the first page, real reader reviews are pushed down as fast as possible. Hugh Howey does this by not only buying reviews but by using influencers to get others to write reviews. Hugh Howey relies as much on influencers as he does review-for-hire writers.

The Hugh Howey influencer scam works like this. Hugh Howey provides incentives for friends, family, and associates to promote Hugh Howey. Cash mostly but also mentions in his blog, write ins for discussion groups, promises to recommend to his publisher and agent, and on and on. The job of the influencers is not to talk about Hugh Howey but to get other people talking about and mentioning Hugh Howey.

“The Joneses” movie shows how scams like this work and Hugh Howey is a pro at this scam. If you’ve ever been on a discussion board, on Facebook, on Twitter or anywhere where someone out of the blue works Hugh Howey’s name or his books into the discussion you’ve encountered this scam. The mentions are designed to seem real but are anything but. The mentions are bought and paid for with cash, with promises, and with Hugh Howey being a few levels removed from the scam.

Influencers also are used to get people writing reviews of Hugh Howey books. As most of the influencers have established themselves at major discussion boards and sites like Goodreads and Amazon, it’s easy for them to work their scam to get discussions turned to Hugh Howey and his books. They also try to work Hugh Howey’s name into the discussion title so his name is seen even if you don’t get suckered into participating in the influenced discussion.

The massive fraud of Hugh Howey and how he was outed for fake reviews has been widely talked about. The fraud of Hugh Howey is so massive it doesn’t just involve a few fake review or even a few hundred, it involves thousands of fake reviews.

One of the places Hugh Howey bought fake reviews was from Gettingbookreviews.com, a company outed by the New York Times as a review-for-hire company. According to the New York Times, Gettingbookreviews.com was paid to write 4,531 reviews for authors.  http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/26/business/book-reviewers-for-hire-meet-a-demand-for-online-raves.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

The massive number of fake reviews for Hugh Howey’s books is staggering and it would seem that a significant portion of his earnings go to buying fake reviews. Even more disturbing is the fact that buying fake reviews isn’t Hugh Howey’s only fraudulent tactic. Fake reviews are just the beginning.


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.

What is a fake review?

Amazon is overrun with fake reviews. We’re tired of it and decided to do something about it. To us, a fake review is

  • Any review written by an author’s friends, relatives or acquaintances, especially reviews requested by the authors themselves to push up their ratings.
  • Any review written by the author using fake names or puppet accounts, especially when the author has many such accounts.
  • Any review bought and paid for, especially those from less-than-reputable or questionable companies.
  • Any review swapped or traded between authors.
  • Any review bought by promising readers free kindles or paying readers any other kickbacks.

If you’re as tired of fake reviews and unethical authors as we are, help spread the word about our blog and stay tuned for future posts.