Amazon has its fair share of problems with scammers. Most of us have probably come across suspicious-looking knock-offs, or products at prices that look too good to be true – don’t get us started on a microSD card scams – but the latest racket to be exposed is something rather different.
Authors have reported that the covers and artwork of their books have been pirated, and used as the covers for notebooks that are then passed off as the original book, complete with the author’s name, but with the content replaced by blank pages.
We were alerted to the scam when we came across a thread on Twitter started by author Rob Manuel detailing his recent experience. Manuel spotted a clone of his book The Very Best of Fesshole: Britain Confesses Anonymously around 24 hours after it was published on Amazon. This cloned book was listed at a cheaper price than Manuel’s original by an ‘author’ going by the name of ‘Rachid Zrika’.
What an odd thing. My book we published yesterday has been cloned on Amazon. OF COURSE I'VE ORDERED IT. Can't wait to read Rachid Zrika's version. pic.twitter.com/iN4LIxR4r8October 28, 2022
Manuel discovered that ‘Rachid Zrika’ had a page on Amazon – it’s now been taken down – featuring a handful of books under that name that were very obviously cloned. Books on Amazon's bestseller lists, including Cat Lady by Dawn O’Porter and a Ballet of Lepers by Leonard Cohen, were both listed as being written by and available from ‘Zrika’, and were being sold at a fraction of the price of the originals.
Manuel ordered a copy of the fake version of his book, and shared a video of what he received.
So I ordered the fake rip-off version of my own book so I could own this unique piece of memorabilia pic.twitter.com/fX3eas4brhOctober 30, 2022
While this fake ‘writer’ is not selling actual copies of these books, they are passing off what are nothing more than cheap notebooks as the original works – and anyone who unsuspectingly purchased one, whether for themselves or as a gift, would be paying good money for what is – almost literally – a hollow facade of the genuine article.
We reached out to Rob Manuel, who told us that Amazon had deleted the clone of his book after he made “a bit of a fuss on Twitter”. He added: “I was worried that it might start appearing in the bestseller lists, as it's cheaper than the real book, so people looking casually would choose the cheap one. And those people would be disappointed with a rubbish notebook.”
Another writer replied to Manuel’s Twitter thread to say that the same thing had happened to him, and added that when he reached out to Amazon UK for help he was given no assistance because he “was only the author, and not VAT registered”.
The verified Amazon account @amazonhelp then replied in the thread, and included a link to a page where authors could report any infringement – but that was the extent of Amazon’s response. We asked Manuel if he’d received any direct communications from anyone at Amazon, and surprisingly he had not, although Amazon did at least take down the clearly fraudulent ‘Rachid Zrika’ page.
We don’t know how widespread this issue is, but it wouldn’t be surprising if other scammers are doing something similar to ‘Rachid Zrika’, and have their own fake author pages.
We reached out to Amazon for comment, and a spokesperson told us: “Nothing is more important to us than customer and author trust and ensuring titles are authentic. We have zero tolerance for plagiarised titles or content, and we invest in people and technology to protect our store from abuse. The products flagged have been removed.”
Analysis: do better, Amazon
Scams such as this one are always troubling, and even more so at this time of year, in the run-up to Black Friday and the pre-Christmas shopping season. In the rush to snap up a bargain, shoppers don’t always stop to check the small print, and can easily be taken advantage of and find themselves out of pocket.
Given that Amazon started life as a bookseller, it’s not unreasonable to expect that when you’re shopping for books you should be getting exactly what you’ve paid for. And while it’s reassuring that Amazon has acted swiftly in this case, it’s also troubling that it only did so when the matter was brought to its attention – who knows how many unsuspecting shoppers have already fallen victim to this particular scam, or similar ones.
The usual advice applies when you’re shopping online: whatever you’re looking for, do your research, check the small print, and be wary of any Black Friday deals that look too good to be true.
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Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison.
Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place.
Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).