Emma Moore could be a name that you are quite familiar with - even if you don't know it. The name itself is fairly common, and you'll find it on more than a few books listed on Amazon. Until this week, she had dozens of ebooks relating to weight loss, dieting, health, and cooking on the websites. She posted multiple books each month, sometimes in collaboration with other plentiful authors like Nina Kelly, Andrew Walker, and Julia Jackson.
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But there is a big problem: none of those people exist, according to research performed by ZDNet.
Moore was just one of hundreds of pseudonyms used by a type of "catfishing" scheme run by Valeriy Shershnyov, whose Vancouver-based business tricked Amazon customers into buying ebooks that were low quality.
This isn't new, as some scammers will buy fake reviews whereas others will game the system. Until now, it has been difficult to pin down where these books came from. It is one that has been so prolific that people have been making millions of dollars.
Shershnyov did this for two years by using his scam server conservatively so he didn't raise any red flags. The reason he was caught? He forgot to put a password on his server.
A former software engineer, he went on to fund Alteroxity, a company to help authors publish ebooks that are already finished, including the writing and editing, as well as gaining "dozens of honest positive reviews". The company appears genuine, but there are some problems. The co-founder doesn't exist.
Over two years, there had been data for 1,453 low-quality ebooks saved on the database. Most had been written for a few dollars and were littered with mistakes. The topics ranged from strange to mundane, and they were all downloaded by a multitude of email addresses. They used multiple email addresses to publish the ebooks so that if one account was caught, they could continue. These fake purchases would cause the books to surge on the traditional charts, bringing them to the attention of actual readers.
This wasn't just a few accounts - the server had 83,899 fake Amazon accounts. In niche categories, this was enough to crack the Top 100 list.
It is easy to make money this way. You keep generating until Amazon discovers the book is a fake. Then, it just gets uploaded again in a slightly different package. In all, Shershnyov's scheme made $2.44 million since June 2015.
A spokesperson for Amazon said on Tuesday: "All titles related to this issue have been removed, and we're evaluating all our legal options against the perpetrators."
Unfortunately, what Shershnyov did isn't actually a crime, so he likely can't be punished for it.