author, reading, writing

Authors beware: A new danger for KU authors

Hi all,

Anyone who follows me closely will know my book was removed from Amazon for almost a fortnight after they registered some unusual activity. At first I was at a loss. What was it, where had it come from? But since I have learnt a terrifying truth behind Kindle Unlimited, it is one all authors need to be aware of. It is a KU scam that could ruin your career and put your money into fraudsters’ pockets.

In this post I will detail my own experience, in hope you know what to look out for.

I was running a book promotion, a push to generate interest in my first book. After approaching blogs and book promotion sites I began to run a 99cents promotion on Darrienia, which at that time was number one in two of its categories. Book two is coming out at the end of the year and, despite it being a stand alone novel, I was aiming to attract more readers in the hope they would want to read the second book. I did what any author would, attempt to get the message out there. It worked, with the 99cents offer I see an increase in sales, but also an increase in KU activity. Brilliant right? Not really.

A week later my book was no longer for sale. Confused I logged onto my KDP account but couldn’t access the bookshelf and the ‘Contact Us’ button wasn’t working. After hours of trying to find a way to contact Amazon KDP, posting on the forums asking for help, I remembered having raised a query with them. I found it and clicked ‘no’ on the did we solve your problem link and finally, I was able to send them an email. But the information I got back was concerning.

“We are reaching out to you because we have detected that borrows for your books are originating from systematically generated accounts… As a result of the irregular borrow activity, we have removed your books from the KDP store and are terminating your KDP account and your KDP Agreement effective immediately. We will issue a negative adjustment to any outstanding royalty payments.”
Wow. I looked at my reports and saw the steady stream of KU reads still present, rising and falling over the days as would be expected. But the words ‘systematically generated accounts’ raised concern. I asked for clarification but believe my email went unseen. I email again, detailing all the third-party promotions and sites I have been using in case one of them did something untoward. Days later I receive an email back to say they are investigating and will get back to me within 7 business days. So I wait. I wait and I wait, all the time fearing the worst. Amazon wipe all my KU page reads and obviously as above keep all my sale royalties too. But I didn’t care about this, I still don’t. I was never writing for the money. I had a story that I needed to tell and my entire writing future was on the line.

When royalty payment day came I had still heard nothing. But then something strange happened. I get a phone call from my bank. Someone has charged £100s worth of iTunes to my account.

Alarm bells are obviously ringing.

Back in February I was the victim of identity fraud, but not the kind you see on TV. This person rang my bank pretending to be me but failed the security checks. They did however have my account number, sort code, name, address, mobile number, and date of birth. The bank was great, they contacted Action Fraud and Cifas. I also paid to register with Cifas and a credit reference agency. I got my credit checks password protected and a note on my account stating I have no intention to apply for any loans or credit cards. The next day a letter comes through, someone has tried to open a savings account in my name. I call this bank and alert them to fraud. Next a letter comes from Three about the mobile phone and contract I am trying to take out via their web-store. But because I am now registered as having been a victim of identity theft they are contacting me to ensure the application is legitimate. I call them and once again advise it isn’t genuine. Then nothing. the bank are monitoring my account, I cant have credit checks run without being asked for a password, and silence seems to fall once more. I thought I was safe safe. I was wrong.

The day of this month’s royalty payment comes and £100s are requested from my bank.

My bank were great. I was given new details and the transactions were voided. Then it occurred to me, given the timing surely this was more than a coincidence. What if this odd activity against my book wasn’t a result of the promotions but someone trying to ensure there was money in my account for them to take? I contact Amazon and update them on the events. I ask if their investigation has yielded any information I can pass on to ActionFraud and Cifas and I advise them of the bank’s actions. Suddenly things are held in a different light. I have fraud reference codes and a targeted attack on my bank on the day the payments would have cleared. Amazon take this new information on board and agree to reinstate my account.

Even now I am unsure if the person who attempted to steal my identity in February is the same person who did this, but one thing is certain, it has opened a whole new page on fraud and nearly ruined my writing career in the process.

You may be reading this thinking someone got their hands on my bank statements, or I am careless with my information. Believe me, I am not. Before I switched to paperless statements all bank statements went through a zigzag shredder. Anything with my name and address on gets shredded, even junk mail. The only people who had my bank details were companies I used for direct debits, Amazon, my mobile provider, and of course Paypal. So perhaps I was not careful with my online activity. I like everyone these days have multiple antivirus/ anti-malware tools, ones which protect real time, ones which prevent trojans, adware, flash cookies, malware, etc.  My bank even provide their online banking customers with free software that guards against keylogging and protects the sites you select. By giving them the code from their software they were able to confirm that my computer was not compromised.

The moral of this story is simple. If you see activity in your KU which is against the normal figures contact Amazon immediately, and keep an eye on your bank for small transactions you are unfamiliar with, someone could be testing the water. Don’t assume you’re getting interest in your book, even if you are running a promotion, or pushing KU. It is better to contact them first with concerns rather than suddenly not be allowed to sell with them and then have to prove you have no knowledge of events.

This experience has really opened my eyes. The things that were done I had never dreamed possible, especially with Amazon’s IP tracking. After all, they always know who and where you are. I still don’t know how it was pulled off, and I imagine I never will. I only hope that either the fraud teams, or Amazon catch up to them. The events are too closely linked not to be connected, so whether this is a new fraud specifically targeting authors, or someone exploiting existing victims after researching them further, one thing is clear, they knew me. They knew I was an author and found a means to exploit it for their own gains and very nearly ruined me in the process.

Personally, I have asked if Amazon will remove my book from KU before the end of the 90 day contract considering what has happened. KU was a great idea, but my fear of this happening again is still too real and I am not sure I can ever trust it again.

I hope this information reaches far and wide, it is something we all must be aware of. Who knows how many people have already been targeted, and how their techniques will adapt in the future.

Thank you for reading.

If you are interested in my book, it is back on Amazon, still at 99cents, and can be found here

If you have found this information useful please share the post, this is something all authors with their work on KU need to be aware of.