The Rathbones Folio prize has revealed that it paid £30,000 prize money to scammers posing as the author Valeria Luiselli, who won the award in 2020.
Publishing industry magazine the Bookseller revealed on Wednesday that the Folio, which is awarded to the year’s best work of literature regardless of form, was scammed by “sophisticated cyber-criminals”. The scammers posed as the Mexican author Luiselli, who had won with her novel Lost Children Archive, and requested that the £30,000 payment be made through PayPal.
Minna Fry, the prize’s executive director, confirmed that the funds were lost and that “the police were informed at the time, as were key industry colleagues”.
“Our winner Valeria Luiselli was awarded her prize money in full, and the lost funds were absorbed by cost savings elsewhere,” she added.
The prize is run by a charity and is independent from its sponsor, Rathbone Investment Management. Fry said the investment firm “have supported us through this incident and helped us to put in place additional safeguarding measures”.
This is not the first time a book prize has been targeted by fraudsters. A spokesperson for the Baillie Gifford prize for non-fiction, worth £50,000, confirmed that it was also targeted in November, but no funds were paid.
“Someone emailed pretending to be the 2020 winner Craig Brown and asked us to pay the prize money via PayPal,” a spokesperson for the prize told the Bookseller. “It was very obviously a hoax as the tone of the email was unlike Craig.”
A spokesperson for the Forward prizes for poetry, worth between £1,000 and £10,000, also confirmed they had been targeted after the winners were announced in October. The scammers attempted to pose as Caroline Bird, the winner of the £10,000 prize for best collection, and asked for the prize money to be sent to a PayPal account. The attempt was reported to the UK’s cybercrime centre Action Fraud and PayPal, and other poetry prizes were warned to stay vigilant.
When Margaret Atwood’s much-anticipated and then unpublished novel The Testaments was longlisted for the Booker prize in 2019, scammers repeatedly hacked the email servers of her literary agency, Curtis Brown, and unsuccessfully attempted to convince the Booker judges to send back parts of the manuscript. On Thursday, the prize confirmed that neither the Booker nor the International Booker for translated fiction had been targeted since.