BBB Warns Consumers to be Wary of Scams When Purchasing Electronic Books

December 21, 2011

Pittsburgh, PA., Dec. 21, 2011 – The growing popularity of purchasing electronic books for devices such as Apple’s iPad, Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook has inspired scams by various unrelated firms. The Better Business Bureau of Western PA is warning consumers that these scams not only target readers, but also authors and authorized book publishers.

According to the American Association of Publishers, electronic book sales are growing exponentially. For the first eight months of 2011, electronic book sales totaled $649.2 million. In February, sales of electronic books eclipsed those of traditional paperbacks and electronic readers have been a hot gift item this holiday season.

“The convenience of being able to carry and own multiple books in a compact format is very appealing to readers of every demographic,” says Warren King, President of the Better Business Bureau. “Consumers need to be cautious when making electronic book purchases if they want quality reading materials without unwanted advertising, plagiarized content or malware.”

Some scams target consumers, offering worthless material at a low price that inspires impulse purchasing. Others target authors or authorized publishers by pirating books published legitimately elsewhere. Common scams include:

  • Electronic books filled with useless and often poorly written information sold at a low cost. Malware is sometimes attached in order to obtain credit card information.
  • A single book is given different editorial spins and then sold under different titles or authors’ names.
  • Material is plagiarized from websites and blogs, then packaged into an electronic book and sold.
  • Writing competitions that offer to publish winners’ work digitally. Although the contests include entry fees, the cost to publish digitally is minimal.
  • Electronic readers spammed with ad-laden works and hotlinks to both commercial and malware sites that load viruses onto your machine.
  • Electronic book purchases and sales used to build up credentials for bogus sellers and buyers on auction sites.

To avoid electronic book scams, the BBB advises:

  • Take a good look at the website that offers the item. Does it have a BBB logo? If it does, click on it to see if it’s legitimate (a BBB dynamic seal will take you to the company’s BBB Business Review).
  • Make sure that the site is secure when you place the order: Look for https:// at the beginning of the site’s URL (website address) on the page where you enter payment information.
  • Stick with authors you already know or those who have an established reputation.
  • If you decide to buy from an unfamiliar author, see if you can download a free sample first to test the quality. Some sites allow you to preview a book before you buy it.
  • Don't be taken in by great reviews that accompany cheap electronic books. They may be genuine or the writers may have been paid to produce them.
  • Do a search on the book name or author to see what other people say or how many other books the author claims to have written.
  • Don't click on links inside an electronic book unless it's by an established, reputable author and sold through a legitimate website. It’s advisable to visit the author’s website using your internet browser, rather than using the link.
  • If you believe you've been scammed, seek a refund. You should also register your complaint with the seller's customer service department. If all else fails, do other readers a favor by writing an honest review of the book.

Check a company’s BBB Business Review before you make a purchase by visiting or by calling 412-456-2700. Report any scams you may encounter at BBB’s Scam Source.


About the BBB System

BBB is an unbiased organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. Businesses that earn BBB accreditation contractually agree and adhere to the organization’s high standards of ethical business behavior. BBB provides objective advice, free business BBB Reliability ReportsTM and charity BBB Wise Giving ReportsTM, and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. To further promote trust, BBB also offers complaint and dispute resolution support for consumers and businesses when there is difference in viewpoints. The first BBB was founded in 1912. Today, 128 BBBs serve communities across the U.S. and Canada, evaluating and monitoring more than 4 million local and national businesses and charities. Please visit for more information about the BBB System.