Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

Summary: eBooks have one feature that can't be found in print: the ability to have live hotlinks embedded in the text. And that presents an open field for scammers.

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With somewhere on the order of one million titles available through the Amazon Kindle store, you can be assured that there is likely something for everyone's reading tastes to be found. You can be equally sure that no one at Amazon has read every title on their virtual shelves.  Nor should they have to; while history is replete with incidents of people trying to bowdlerize the content of reading material, there have always been bookshops that were willing to fight the good fight and make available content that some segment of society has found objectionable.

But eBooks have one feature that can't be found in print; the ability to have live hotlinks embedded in the text.  And while, for the moment, e-readers have only minimal browsing capabilities, every major e-reader has an app that can run on your phone or computer.

Now I'm not concerned that publishers are embedding malicious hotlinks in their text; my tinfoil hat isn't quite that tight, but the Kindle store also supports a thriving community of what used to be called "vanity" publishing.  Self-publishing your books to the Kindle store is now easily done, as was outlined by our Larry Dignan back in January.  And the issue here is that the eBook can contain more than just text.

This was brought to my attention, in a very annoying, but much less malicious fashion. At my fiancée's request, I downloaded a wedding related Kindle eBook that focused on something she's interested in.  It turned out to be a 10 paragraph common sense list that had very little to do with the topic, but also had a bunch of hotlinks to a "special bonus for kindle readers" which linked to a scam ‘change your life if you read this free document' site with a "charge me for a subscription every two weeks" poorly disguised link.

The eBook is completely valueless, unless you possibly need to pay for advice that tells you to make sure your wedding venue is large enough for your guests, the links are a scam, and this one "author" has about two dozen of these titles, at $2.99 each, all of which have the same vague content description (which I didn't realize until I did a little research after discovering the content of the eBook I purchased),  listed on Amazon. So not only does buying this Book open you up to being scammed, you also get the added joy of paying someone to take a shot at scamming you.

Based on Larry's Kindle publishing experiment blog, I expected something that fit the guidelines that were mentioned, at least in terms of length (10-30K words), with content that had seen some sort of approval process.  Instead I got a thousand words of vacuous advice and hotlinks to online scams.

Amazon quickly refunded my eBook purchase price after an email to customer service, so I suffered no harm.  But I realized that other buyers of this tripe might not be so fortunate.  You need access to a computer to request a refund and it needs to be done within 7 days.  And for less than $3 there are quite a few people who would simply chalk it up as a learning experience. But the links embedded in the document could just as easily have gone straight to a malware loaded site that relied on social engineering, an extremely successful technique, to get you to click on something that you shouldn't.

When I contacted Amazon about these issues their spokesperson first clarified that while Larry's article had been about self-publishing a Kindle Single, the eBook in question was not a Single and that singles do all require a certain length and price, and are editorially curated.  They have their own special Kindle store found here. (www.amazon.com/kindlesingles)

Amazon also let me know that they have a process in place to identify problematic content, which included customer feedback, and upon evaluation, the title that I had purchased had been removed from the Kindle store. However, there still remain 23 eBooks by the same author, all with the same vague Editorial Description, and all likely to have similar useless content and hotlinks that I found in the one I had purchased. Update: Amazon has removed all titles by this author.

Although I don't expect Amazon to employ a corps of readers to evaluate the content of the eBooks that are found throughout the Kindle Store, it might behoove them to disable the ability to hotlink content from within these documents to minimize their potential as a vector for malicious software attacks.

Topics: Mobility, Amazon, Hardware

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19 comments
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  • The links inside the book are the scam?

    What about actually buying something that has 1 page of content for 3 bucks?
    The problem with all the self-publishing marketplaces is that you get very poor content submissions and unless the community is actively trying to identify these and mark their quality ratings accordingly is going to be harder and harder for those with good books out there to make a sale.
    In my company we've published close to 200 books (College Guides, good ones too, not scams) in the Amazon bookstore and even though we've sold hundreds of them we haven't been able to find a review yet.
    Somehow I get the feeling Amazon could have done a better job with requesting feedback after a purchase, specially for an emerging marketplace like this. You can tell they don't care by the way feedback and reviews are completely absent from the author's publishing tools (that's why I said 'find' a review instead of 'get').
    raul.vejar@...
    • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

      @raul.vejar@...
      It is good to see some detailed information on this topic which is very rarely discussed on the internet!
      <a href="http://www.3cpromotion.com">gadget personalizzati</a>. thanks very much!
      jackfolla
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    good
    Roykate
  • sooner or later, childhood's end

    I think it's great.
    The collective unconscious that is public opinion may, sooner or later, wake up to the abuses of international, free, and anonymous access to information and come to recognize the happy computing experience offered in the advertisements for the fiction that it is.
    CaptOska
    • Free as opposed to...

      @CaptOska
      ...The commercial laden TV that we pay for (cable or satellite), or the ad laden magazines we pay for, or the ad-covered buses we pay to ride on, or the billboard laced roads we pay to drive on?
      And we DO pay to see that information. Few of us leech off of free wifi hotspots, so we pay to get onto the internet. Just how much ARE we supposed to pay for that information, and isn't advertised but free a better way for information than forcing people to pay for each site they visit? Talk about alienating the lower classes...
      Zorched
  • I Totally Agree

    There is a small place for links in an ebook - footnotes, and references. But the risk is so large that it is better to have the links converted to plain text so that we can copy and paste, or retype if we really want access to them. This would make them useless to scammers, Amazon should be parsing every link in an ebook lokking for malicious or inappropriate links. We have similar problems with distributed PowerPoints and PDFs. But in this case, we could be talking about a low price childrens book that links to porn. Banning the links is the only solution - or at leasst requiring the user to manually enable them on a book by book basis. Either way, this is way to dangerous to allow to continue.
    syxtim
  • Message has been deleted.

    prof.ebral
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    Amazon have the adopted the standard Internet "We don't care unless someone complains, then we'll do the legal minimum". Whereas they should have a publishing system that:

    1. Electronically weeds out spamlinks
    2. Demands a publishing deposit, that is lost if complaint and investigation show evil intent.

    My biggest complaint is less subtle - Kindle ebooks used to be half the price of paperbacks ... now they are often the same price or higher. That's a corporate scam that makes me almost sympathetic to the pathetic worm who scammed you!
    Heenan73
  • That is why I love Sony PRS-505

    and want to buy Sony PRS-650 (which, apparently, is not manufactured anymore).

    You do not have any unnecessary WiFi capability in Sony e-books, you do not have any unnecessary URL links in an book as a consequence of the above, you just have a book, like a regular one - no intrusion from anywhere.
    Solid Water
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    hmm..a lot of ebooks that I download have hotlinks and since I'm usually buying them for research purposes, having the link to a subject right in front of me works great for my purposes. I've never run across a scam website link, but if I was to hover my mouse over the link and it came up with a website that didn't look right, I imagine I'd probably write down the address and maybe check it out later on my PC. It would be a major hassle for me to have to look at footnotes or an index in the back of the book every time I wanted to check out a referenced website....just my op though
    kvsmith59
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    After refunding your $2.99, did they do the same for everyone else who purchased the same title? I suppose not.
    BuckeyeTom
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    Do people actually click on those links? Or read those "free" documents? I often wonder how those scammers catch their pray - what type of person buys into this crap?
    curVV
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    Aren't you the guy that didn't have any problem with Apple recording your location surreptitiously?
    Peter Sabin
    • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

      @Peter Sabin

      Nope. Never even commented on the topic. Check the author; there are different people who publish on this blog link.
      David Chernicoff
  • Turn Off Hotlinks?

    I have a book on Kindle, it has hundreds of Internal links when I just spent two weeks correcting after converting my eBook from PDF to a Kindle. Those hotlinks go the extra mile that few ebook authors provide. I find your recommendation to turn off all hotlinks to be short sited.
    Sickthing
    • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

      @Sickthing

      I don't believe the comment was short-sighted, though perhaps too severe. At the very least Amazon should allow hot-links to be diabled, with that setting the default. Authors who wish to use hotlinks could then simply preface their content with a note to enable the capability.
      David Chernicoff
    • RE: Turn Off Hotlinks?

      @Sickthing
      I agree with you. I also have several books on Kindle with hot links. They provide extra value to the reader - something a paper book can't do. To expect Amazon to protect people from themselves is ridiculous. Just don't click any links if you're afraid and install nanny software if you're concerned your kids might run into something offensive.
      rwilson78209
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    Crooks, cheaters and other morally flexible people must be praised. They faithfully apply the much-loved rules of free enterprise -- the alleged foundation of democracy.
    Rudy Haugeneder
  • RE: Amazon Kindle eBooks targeted by scammers

    Short-sighted?

    Now this 'trick' has been publicised, every spammer from here to kingdom come will be republishing 'out of copyright' 'classics' with spamlinks on every line.

    The ability to disable is the very least we should be able to do, before the kindle becomes one more spam-mobile.
    Heenan73