Predatory Publishing Scams Cost Authors Thousands

Academics and other specialist writers targeted by predatory publishing firms: Internet Scambusters #747

Predatory publishing is the term for a nasty scam currently targeting academics and other professionals.

Firms solicit articles for specialist online publications and then charge the authors hundreds or even thousands of dollars for actually publishing them.

In this week’s issue, we pass on the advice that universities and the Federal Trade Commission provide to avoid this costly and time-wasting trick.

Before we begin, you may want to spend a moment looking at this week’s most popular articles from our other sites:

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Now, here we go…


Predatory Publishing Scams Cost Authors Thousands


There’s nothing quite like the pleasure of publishing something you wrote, especially if you know that others will find your work useful and interesting.

And it’s even better if you’re actually invited by the editor to write for a seemingly respected professional publication that you believe your peers will read.

But if this happens to you, watch out! You could be on the receiving end of a predatory publishing scam.

In Watch Out for These 7 eBook Scams, we  warned about things like poetry competitions and vanity publishing where would-be writers pay to see their work in print.

But predatory publishing for specialist journals takes the scam to a whole new level. If you’re a professional or academic of any sort, you could be a target for this trick.

The scam hinges on what’s called “open access” publishing, which refers to articles that have no restrictions on who can access them for free and, often, re-use the contents.

Some online publishers have been accused of bombarding potential authors with spam to solicit open access articles, and misrepresenting the reputation of their publications.

In a recent lawsuit against one online publisher, the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) claimed the firm, which publishes hundreds of online journals, failed to disclose to potential authors they would have to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars to see their work published.

The publisher allegedly had also misleadingly claimed its journals were indexed on leading professional databases and that articles would be reviewed by leading experts in their sector, when this generally was not true.

Worse, authors didn’t know they would have to pay until after they had written and submitted their work and they had been accepted for publication.

This last step — acceptance — is crucial because, once an article has been accepted for publication, the author cannot then offer it to other journals. So, they’re “trapped” into paying for publication.

Difficult to Spot

“Unscrupulous publishers can be difficult to spot,” the FTC warns. “They often make themselves sound legitimate by overstating their reputation or by using journal names that sound similar to the names of reputable journals.”

The situation is so serious and widespread that this type of predatory publishing actually merits its own entry in the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.

It’s important to stress that charging people to publish their work is not illegal. But it’s certainly unethical not to tell solicited authors they’ll have to pay until after they’ve written and submitted their work.

Another organization that has sounded the alarm about this type of activity is Philadelphia’s Thomas Jefferson University.

It says excessive fees give rise to potential conflicts of interest and warns: “This growing industry is causing problems for academics.”

Another academic, at Denver’s University of Colorado, has published his own list of organizations he believes are “potential, possible, or probably predatory.”

His list mysteriously disappeared this past January but is now back online (at the time of writing), though, apparently, it is no longer being updated. Sadly, it contains the names of literally hundreds of publishers.

How to Avoid the Scam

We certainly can’t vouch for the accuracy of this list. Nonetheless, we can tell you what both the FTC and Jefferson University advise potential authors to do to avoid being caught up in a predatory publishing scam:

  • Check if any of your colleagues or peers in your professional sector have published with the journal you’ve been invited to write for.
  • If you’re connected with a university, check with your college librarian about the publication or publishers. If he/she hasn’t heard of them, that’s a red flag.
  • Establish if the journal is, indeed, included in one of the reputable academic indexes. “Predatory publishers usually are not,” says the University. “They may try to distract or confuse you by listing a fake impact factor or creating false metrics to rank their journal.”
  • Ask for information about the firm’s publishing process. If they can’t describe this in some detail, beware. For more info on publishing best practices, check out this Open Access Scholarly Publishers Association article: Principles of Transparency and Best Practice in Scholarly Publishing. The Association insists that all scholarly articles should be peer reviewed before publication.
  • Ask up front if there are any fees before you accept the invitation.

Says the FTC: “A legitimate journal will tell you up front whether it charges publication fees or not. If a journal doesn’t mention fees, don’t assume there aren’t any – contact the journal or publisher and ask about any fees.”

Although predatory publishing scams may seem to relate to a very narrow area of activity, the growth of the Internet has led to a rapid rise in the number of publications covering just about every area of specialist interest, even hobbies.

So, if you ever receive an invitation to write for a journal or magazine, make sure you take the time to check the publication and establish at the outset if you’ll be asked to pay for the publication of your work.

Alert of the Week

“We’ve noticed significant changes in your account activity,” says a new email alert that seems to come from online payment processor PayPal.

And the subject line reinforces the message, declaring: “Your recent transaction has been declined.”

Of course, it doesn’t say what the transaction was because the authors of this particular message have no idea.

It’s a random spam-scam email they hope will encourage recipients to click on the link to log in to their PayPal account to supposedly put things right.

But the link will present them with a fake PayPal sign-on page so the scammers can steal that information and then drain whatever cash is in the account.

Whenever you receive any email about problems with your account, always go directly to the correct website to check it out — never click on links or use web addresses given in emails.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!