Photo: Amazon

Back in the day, you used to have to rely on a bad recommendation from a friend or a bookstore clerk to get duped into reading something not worth your time. But thanks to new technology like the Kindle, thousands of terribly written best-selling books are right at your fingertips. What you may not realize is that your purchase of that top-trending digital rag is actually just a small part of a much larger, more insidious scam.

One such scam was recently uncovered by Zack Whittaker of ZDNet—forever known as the Woodward and Bernstein of e-books and fake reviews—and is reported to have made the scammers millions of dollars. Essentially, the grift works like this: A Vancouver-based engineer named Valeriy Shershnyov outsourced the writing of hundreds of “low-quality ebooks,” which cover a wide range of banal topics and are riddled with grammatical errors. He then formed a database of thousands of fake Amazon accounts that would download the e-books for free, boosting their position in Amazon’s rankings. Once these books ranked high enough, they would revert back to their original price and everyone and their mother (read: mostly people’s mothers) would buy them.

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The database of phony accounts (Screenshot: ZDNet)

If you’re a frequent purchaser of trending e-books then this whole scheme probably makes your blood boil. Especially since, as Whittaker notes, Shershnyov broke Amazon’s terms of service but “he hasn’t broken the law.” Meaning pretty soon he could be back at it again under a different name, with a whole slew of newly minted crappy novels.

On the other hand, if you’re the type of person who blindly purchases a book with a badly photoshopped cover about homesteading or the art of cross-stitch just because the little list on your Kindle says it’s popular, maybe an e-book scam isn’t your most pressing problem.

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