It Takes a Thief

I had a confluence of my past jobs come together last week and I both helped stop a theft, and made a new friend in the process. In this blog post I will not be using names or book titles because I opened a can of worms and started an investigation and don’t want cyber-criminals narrowing down who started the ugly ball rolling.

For my next next novel I am researching cybersecurity, espionage, and spycraft. Believe it or not, the novel will be a light-hearted mystery, but I want a certain character to have a dark, mysterious past. To that end, I ordered a book from Amazon that was supposed to be a sort of ‘cybersecurity for morons’. The book arrived, I opened it and immediately noticed that it was obviously self-published. There was no formal copyright page with ISBN number, there was no publisher’s name on the spine or back cover, and the interior formatting was clean but awkward.

My auditor senses were already on alert when I noticed that the text included a duplicated letter sent to the author from the US Government but it was addressed to someone other than the author listed on the cover of the book. I looked up the name on the letter and discovered that HE was an expert in cybersecurity. The author of the book was a SHE. Not a big deal. Cross-gender pen names exist. Even I use one occasionally. There may have been a valid reason for that author to do it. I went to the back of the book to look at the author’s bio. Maybe there I’d find a clue, like “Mr. Expert writes under the name Ms. Nobody”. Nope. Nothing. No bio at all. What I did find, though, on the last page, was a note at the bottom encouraging readers to reach out to the author at HIS website. The name of the website matched the name on the government letter. Curioser and curioser.

The props and research materials I use to inspire my mysteries and thrillers. Firearms are plastic toys, not real.

I opened up a browser, found the website, read a little bit, and confirmed that the book in my hands was not one of the expert’s published titles. I went to Amazon and looked up the expert’s actual book, even though the title and cover were completely different. The Amazon listing allowed for a “Look Inside” the book, so I did. Very quickly I found that the two books were word-for-word the same.

I contacted Amazon and had a nice chat with ‘Stanley’, who asked me to return the book to them at their expense while he turned the case over to his managers. He promised that the book’s listing would be pulled from the Amazon website and they would start an immediate investigation. Cool!

I also sent an email to the expert, not using the website link (they asked for far too much personal information like my phone number) but rather just the info@ email address listed on the page. In my letter, I informed him of the security breach and theft of his intellectual property (IP) and the actions I had taken.

From there I started posting the tale on Facebook, to let others know that piracy and theft isn’t cool. A number of my friends in the publishing business wished me luck getting Amazon to care or even really pay attention. I shrugged. I’d done my part. I took photos of the pirate book’s covers and indisputably copied pages, just in case Amazon or the pirate made the book disappear, then I returned it by Canada Post.

The next day I got an email reply from the expert thanking me most sincerely for discovering the theft and bringing it to his attention. He said he would look into it immediately. The following day the offending book was still available on Amazon. I suspected that my publisher friends were right. Then I got another email from the expert saying that his lawyers (plural!) were reaching out to Amazon to have the book removed and to pressure Amazon into giving them the thief’s contact information so they could start the process for having them charged for copyright violation and theft of IP.

Later that day the offending book was no longer available. I guess having the US Government as a client and a team of lawyers at your beck and call makes a difference. I went ahead and bought the expert’s actual book because it really was quite good and I still needed a brief education in cybersecurity.

Now, some have said it was lucky that I caught the anomalies in the pirate book, but really, the luck was only in me choosing the cheaper “rookie” book. After that, it was actually my experience as an auditor that got me looking closely. My professional background includes dealing with counterfeit cash (with instruction from a former secret Service agent), emergency responses, investigating financial anomalies, and even a brief undercover investigation of a foreign former police officer.

It’s time to not only write what I can research, but to also write what I know, especially the clandestine and investigative stuff. This whole experience has become fuel for the research fire, of course, and after going through all this, I know why the story’s murder victim was in that place at that time. As a writer, how could I possibly ask for anything more? 🙂

That’s it, that’s all, folks. Thanks for reading.

Ciao for now.



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