Author and TV producer Lee Goldberg has a post on his blog about James Strauss, a "convicted con artist and fake TV writer."
Goldberg has received many emails with horror stories from people saying they've been conned or harassed by Strauss.
A recent one was from a young filmmaker asking whether he should do free work for Strauss in exchange for help breaking in to the business. Since Strauss has zero real Hollywood experience and has stiffed screenwriters, conference organizers, and many others, the answer is a loud NO.,
In 1998 Strauss pleaded guilty to defrauding a teachers' retirement fund out of $400,000. He was sentenced to 21 months. In addition he was accused of embezzling more than $20,000 from a Santa Fe Business while out on pre-release from the other case.
Unfortunately, there are many like him out there, swindling aspiring writers and others.
If you are unsure about anybody offering you services like matching you with producers or publishers, public relations, promotion, editing, publishing help, etc. do your homework before you hand over money or agree to work for free! Here's what to do:
1: Google their name, the name of their company and anything else you know about them. Go past the first page of results. Smart crooks often set up fake websites full of endorsements for themselves, but under different names.
Many times they'll have a headline like, "Is X a scam?" and in the body of the site say, of course not! They use SEO to drive these sites to the top of Google results, pushing genuine sites down to page 2 or 3 or 4.
In the case of a bogus publisher, I Googled the names of the books they had supposedly published and none were listed on Amazon, nor did any of the alleged authors have websites.
2: If they feature endorsements, follow them up. Ask for complete names and contact details. If all you can get is quotes like, "X got me a big Hollywood deal!" -- Annette F., Detroit...well, that's not enough!
It's true that some people who give an endorsement don't like to give their full names and email addresses but the person in question should be able to give you at least a few who are willing to be contacted via email.
3: If the endorsements also feature photos, do a reverse image search.
First, go to https://images.google.com/ and click on the camera button and upload the image (you can usually click and drag it off the page on the person's website). Or you can drag and drop it into the search blank on the Google image search page.
Then also use TinEye, the simple instructions are at www.tineye.com. Both are free to use and sometimes an image source pops up on one but not on the other.
If you're dealing with a con artist, the image may turn out to have been sourced from a stock image site. That turned out to be the case with one subsidy publisher I looked into a couple of years ago.
4: Ask for specifics. For instance, if they say they can get you in the door at a studio, ask whom they deal with there--who is their contact?
That may be enough to scare them off.
If they're brazen they may say, "Spielberg, of course!" Don't be afraid to email that supposed contact, tell them what you've been told and ask if they have a relationship with the person making the claims.
5. Spread the word. If you find somebody is deceiving people, spread the word via your blog, Facebook, other social media and to relevant groups (like writing groups) and organizations.
Be sure to stick to the facts. Don't say, "X is a con artist and fraudster!" Instead, say, "X offered to connect me with producer Y, yet when I got in touch with Y I was told they have never heard of X." Or, "The pictures of supposed satisfied clients on X's websites turn out to be stock photos purchased from iStock."
The reason for being careful to stick to the facts is that scam artists often like to threaten lawsuits. I had a few threatening letters from Tate Publishing, for instance, before they went bust and two of the principals were arrested. But because I'd stuck to the facts, there was nothing to sue me about.
Usually they're bluffing, but getting into even a bogus lawsuit is no fun. The facts should be damning enough. The reason I can characterize James Strauss as a con artist is that he's been convicted of embezzlement. Is he still conning people right now? I don't know but I'd sure avoid getting involved with him in any way, based on his past and the continuing complaints.
Let the buyer beware!