The literary prize scammers seem more obviously motivated by money. The fraudster targeting the British awards appear to use the same approach each time, emailing administrators late at night after the winners’ announcement, using addresses featuring the author’s full name followed by the word “writes.” (Emails from The New York Times to those addresses went unanswered.)
As well as the Rathbones Folio and Baillie Gifford prizes, scammers also wrote to the organizers of the Encore Award last June; the Forward Prizes for Poetry, in October; and the Society of Authors Translation Prizes, in February, the organizers of those awards said. Britain’s most prestigious literary award, the Booker Prize, had not been contacted, its director, Gaby Wood, said in an email. “Oddly enough, no attempt has been made,” she added.
Caroline Bird, a winner in last year’s Forward Prizes, said in a telephone interview that Britain’s literary scene was trusting and cozy, and that the scammer was “clever” to exploit that. “It’s not the place you’d ever come across someone on the rob,” Bird said.
But several of the organizers who received the phishing emails said they suspected the fraudster was involved in British publishing, given the person knew who to contact and when to send the messages. Mundy, of the Baillie Gifford Prize, said he wondered whether the scammer might be a disgruntled author “who’d never won a prize and was furious about it, trying to claim what’s rightfully theirs, by fair means or foul.”
Did any authors come to mind? “There’s plenty,” Mundy said with a laugh. “But I’m not naming names.”
Few share that idea, though, for one simple reason: The emails lack a certain literary flair. “The prose was a bit dead, and there was no warmth,” said Patrick McGuinness, the winner of last year’s Encore Award, who had been passed the scammer’s email. “As a literary critic, I would say there was all the right words, but none of the fire.”
Brown, the Baillie Gifford winner, agreed. “I’m not thinking, ‘My God, it’s Salman Rushdie,’” he said. A published author would have put more effort into the grammar, for starters, he added.