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Post date: February 17 1999

Judgment Obtained Against Phony Online Literary Agency

Attorney General Spitzer today announced a judgment against an Internet publishing company that lured aspiring writers into paying hundreds of dollars to get their work published, only to find out that the offer itself was a work of fiction.

The Woodside Literary Agency of Queens has been ordered to stop its Internet publishing scheme, provide restitution to consumers, pay penalties and costs to the state and post a $100,000 bond to protect consumers in future business dealings.

"This is another example of how scam artists are using the Internet to cheat consumers out of their hard-earned dollars," Spitzer said. "Internet users and all consumers must be on guard against unscrupulous businesses."

The judgment against Woodside was issued recently by Justice Abdus-Salaam of the New York County Supreme Court at the request of the Attorney General. The suit alleged the company violated New York consumer protection laws by misleading its clients and misrepresenting its services.

The Attorney General’s office had received complaints from dozens of consumers, many of whom said they lost as much as $400 in fees to Woodside. The company lured would-be authors with glowing evaluations of writing samples, and then imposed steep charges for further review and processing of manuscripts.

Consumers who paid an initial reading fee of as much as $150 were informed that their work was "publishable." They were then asked to pay an additional $250 contract fee.

To lend credence to the scam, Woodside told authors that only five percent of submissions were accepted by the agency. In reality, the company offered contracts to anyone who paid the initial reading fee.

The Attorney General’s Office investigated Woodside after receiving complaints from writers who grew tired of the company’s repeated solicitations through literary-related news groups and bulletin boards.

In an effort to test Woodside’s literary standards, a group of writers actually submitted a bogus writing sample that was filled with nonsensical prose, and grammatical and spelling errors. Woodside later requested the author’s entire manuscript -- and a fee.

According to one Internet user, Woodside harassed writers who attempted to warn others of the scam, even threatening legal action in some cases.

"Most legitimate literary agencies look at a writer’s work for free and only charge a fee if the book, short story or poem is sold. The agent then receives a percentage of the contract agreed upon by both parties," Spitzer said.

Consumers can still file complaints against the company with the Attorney General’s office for possible restitution. The company has already been ordered to pay nearly $15,000 in penalties, restitution, and costs.

The case was handled jointly for the Attorney General by Assistant Attorney General Eric A. Wenger of the Internet Bureau and Assistant Attorney General Jane Azia, Deputy Chief of the Bureau of Consumer Frauds and Protection, with the assistance of Assistant Attorneys General Joy Feigenbaum and Melissa Saren.