Why these catfishing accounts are dangerous.

***This article is a collaborative effort from multiple sources, some of which choose to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation. If you have an experience to contribute, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will update my article.***

You all know how I feel about catfishing accounts, and some have said without reason. To those people I say: Read all of this. This is your reason.

Here is a prime example of how bad it can be when this stuff goes unchecked, when frauds are able to conduct business under false personas, shake people down until someone notices, and then reinvent themselves as a new person — just to do it all again to a new set of victims.

Note: This is a long blog and it’s quite a twisted journey, so bear with me, but this is a crucial article that anyone involved in the indie community needs to read. As scary and disturbing as this situation is, there is hope. This woman has an obvious pattern to the way she conducts business. My hope is that anyone who reads this will be able to recognize these signs whenever the fraud undoubtedly reinvents herself and tries to do this again to innocent indies. Unless she goes to jail before she can do it again, that is.

Yes, it’s that serious.

This is not gossip or shit-stirring – this person has a history of identity theft, unethical practices trying to game Amazon’s publishing system, and charging authors hundreds for work that she does not do, then retaliates with bogus bad reviews and threats of ‘blacklisting’ if they dare speak against her or ask for a refund.

How does she get away with it? Easy! When the heat is on, she disappears from one alias and reinvents her scam and network of fake accounts under new identities. Each victim who comes forward typically brings with them two lists of names: the list of aliases that this scammer operated under while she was swindling them, and a list of people they know who were also conned and subsequently bullied into silence by this woman.

Notice: We do not take this lightly, and we want you all to see exactly how and why we are so confident in publishing this article. I will include sources, screenshots, and links to the information that my team has uncovered and you can draw your own conclusions, but I have the feeling it will be similar to ours.

Our story begins in December 2016, long before I realized how deep this rabbit hole would take us and how far back this whole thing went. A fellow indie author, JJ Melvin, reached out for help in one of our groups. Her debut release was fast approaching and she needed help getting the word out. Naturally, the indie community stepped up like it often does (we’re not all bad!) and some PAs, readers, and authors offered to help.

But then something strange came up. JJ already had a PA – Karen Jurgensen, who had been hired to run multiple promotions on multiple platforms and to help JJ release her book and build an audience.

(The photo she used. Not actually her. We’ll get to that.)

Karen was a paid PA and her fee was steep. There’s nothing wrong with charging what you think you are worth in this industry – that’s the beauty of freelancing. The problem comes when you charge someone for something and you don’t deliver. Karen claimed to be running daily paid promotions for JJ but never provided proof that she actually ran them, despite saying she would.

Eventually, JJ disputed the payment to Karen. Instead of responding to the dispute, or providing proof that she did provide the services that she said she did, Karen made a public Facebook post about it, rallying her friends and threatening to ‘blacklist’ JJ.

Virginia Johnson came to JJ’s defense on the post. JJ ended up with vindictive bad reviews on her new release that were in relation to the drama with Karen and not the content of her book. A little while later, the first one-star review showed up on one of Virginia’s books.

Surprise surprise, it was by the same reviewer that attacked JJ. Virginia outlines this whole situation nicely with screenshots in this blog post here.

A quick browse of the anonymous reviewer profile leads us to yet another nasty review, in which the author addresses the reviewer as Lucy Sparks.

We recognized Lucy as one of the names who defended Karen and got nasty in the post about JJ. So, we decide to do a little research… you know, to see how much damage this bad PR is going to do to JJ. The thing is, all these accounts on Karen’s status seemed fake and didn’t have very many followers (relative to most veterans in the indie community) so we were all trying to figure out why they were throwing their weight around like they’re JK Rowling. Or why they so vehemently defended someone who hadn’t done her job. Was Karen a stellar PA in the past and just had a bad day? What’s the deal with this crowd?

So, quick jump to Lucy’s page, and this is where the super weird spiral truly begins.

That identity theft thing is a real kicker. Wait for it…

So, she released a book… authors do that… what is so weird about it? Click the link.

The problem is, there is no book. Not only that, but there are no promo posts for her own book following that June 16th one. The only posts she made were a couple of shared posts that (surprise surprise) her buddy, Karen, was promoting.

The funny feeling was starting to grow. Something felt fishy and we were pretty certain that Lucy was a pen name of either Kate or Karen, but couldn’t confirm it and there’s nothing wrong with having a pen name anyway. Using that pen name to increase the perceived size of your bully squad is pretty shitty, but whatever. And the bum link for the book could be explained by unpublishing for whatever reason. Really, we didn’t have too much to go on even though our guts were telling us there was more to it than that.

So, our search continued on to Karen’s business partner, Kate Stone. Kate has an author page as well as a design page, Kate Stone Designs. Not uncommon, lots of people are multi-faceted in this industry.

Her real face. Not her real name.

We hit up her author page. Since she’s Karen’s partner, then her stuff is probably the best example of what their promotions efforts can achieve, right? Basically, we’re on a mission to find some proof that these ladies are legit.

We find a book release event promoted for Karen, so we click to see what kinds of events a person should expect from PAs who charge hundreds like Karen does.

Looks normal enough, if not for the super low attendee count. But wait…

The event never happened. It was created, people were invited… then nothing happened on release day. Weird, right? Maybe Fb erased everything? Unlikely, all things considered. We follow a hunch and click the link advertised in the event description.

No book. Just like Lucy’s disappearing novel. We go back to Kate’s author page because there is another book of hers advertised there.

Click the link and…

Shocking.

The books have product links, covers… but they all have been pulled. The whole thing is very sketchy. Her design page looks more legitimate, but it’s very difficult to decipher which clients are real and which are spoof accounts.

At this point, what it’s starting to look like is that a person, or pair of people, or a few people, are using fake accounts to spoof customer testimonials for themselves, and fake books that they put up for pre-order in order to hype up/show potential clients that they have an active roster/ranking books. Through several people who we have talked to who worked with them, at this point we know that they charge their real clients quite a bit of money, and their process of guaranteed reviews is one that does raise some red flags, even though they claim that it is all safe and legitimate through Amazon. There’s not much else we can do, though. Some light internet investigating definitely pointed to this theory, but what can one really do about it? We advised people to avoid them and that was that.

Until they did it again.

Another author was hit, and here’s the situation as it was explained to us: “She was promised a full edit of 132k book, a cover, graphics, marketing, an event, website design, sales and reviews. Her book had to be uploaded to kdp tonight. No edits. She had it up for pre-order… Not 1 sale. Zero. No event planned, her release is Tuesday. No responses to emails. No graphics have been made. She told Kate the cover was too busy. They wouldn’t fix it. The website wasn’t finished and she paid $599.”

We had to stop it. This was happening to too many people. That’s when the light Facebook investigation turned into a full blown project. We had to figure out who these people were. They weren’t behaving like this was their first rodeo, and we were more and more convinced that Karen and Kate were actually the same person.

So, we looked up the domain info on Karen’s website, writesuccessnow.com, as well as Kate’s katestonedesigns.com.

Aha! Connections. Progress. Same name on both sites, same email for both sites. It did seem odd that a “Keith McDonald” would use an email like “marketingdiva”

Keith McDonald was a familiar name. He was mentioned on Kate Stone’s design page.

So… were Kate and Karen BOTH Keith? Did they all work together? We kept digging and Keith turned out to be a real person with an actual book on Amazon, so his patterns did not match those of the others. We decided to investigate the marketingdiva@outlook.com handle and (pardon the expression) HOLY SHIT.

We found the blog of an author that described almost exactly what had happened to the authors that we know. His post went up in May 2016 (before Kate/Karen came onto the scene), and since they went by different names and use different emails now, we didn’t catch this blog in our first scan.

It’s worth the read.

He has a follow up here.

He mentions their vindictive bad reviews on his books after their falling out. A look into this gave us the icing on the cake – the same account that left poor reviews for him was the same that left poor reviews for our friends.

So, we had another legitimate connection in addition to the email address and MO. Kate/Karen were likely Leah/Erin, and probably the same person. We suspected that what happened was this person operated under BookmarketingDiva/Leah/Erin until too many people caught on to their scheme, then cancelled or renamed their accounts in order to start over. A search of the names that Josh C. Cook lists in his blog showed that many of their old accounts had been deactivated, unsurprisingly.

We contacted Josh to learn more about his interactions with them. One of the leads he gave us was the one to top all others. Cassandra Manchester – Keith McDonald’s fiancé. A lengthy conversation with her and all the pieces start coming together. She’s actually met the person who is behind all this and has had this woman in her home, and helped her out when she was down on her luck.

Her name is actually Stephanie Lasch, but this is a photo of her, according to our source who met her.

Karen, Kate, Lucy, Dana, Leighton, and Stephanie – they are all the same person. There are many more profiles and we will do our best to list known aliases at the bottom/update as more victims come forward.

To further prove that they are all the same person that is simply using alt accounts to build hype, I investigated their Twitter accounts.


Notice how they all stopped tweeting right around the same time? Yeah, that was a couple days after Virginia released her article calling the bullies out. Little did Virginia know, the “bullies,” were all one person. So, like any other fraud, she tucked her tail and hid, like all frauds do when they are exposed, and the Twitter accounts went silent.

We were told that Erin Kirchner, a name Stephanie used, is a real person. Stephanie stole her ssn and used her name to conduct business, purchase domain names, etc. The Domain names were bought using Erin Kirchner’s stolen ssn. Source didn’t know until they got the bills, PayPal dismissed it so fraud couldn’t be flagged.

Keith McDonald is also a victim of Stephanie’s. She used his information to register her sites, which explains why his name is on the domain registry for KateStoneDesigns.com and WriteSuccessNow.com. To make matters even worse, Leah/Kate/Lucy/Karen/Stephanie also tell people they have a P.I. firm to scare people away from looking into them. The sketchy part about that is that Keith and Cassandra actually work for a P.I. firm. So, it wasn’t enough to steal their identity, but she had to try and use their career as a bullying tactic.

So, in the end, all of the hype built around Karen and the “amazing work,” she does… It’s all from her. She has built a tiny empire since she took on the new persona of “Karen,” in August. By pumping out ten page books, then shuffling between accounts to make these books look like they have a lot of hype, she has been able to swindle authors out of hundreds of dollars(each). After she has succeeded in getting a few authors on the hook, she cancels the fake books before they go live. If any of those people are brave enough to go after her, she has a team of minions(All of which are her, and a few new clients that haven’t been fucked yet) that she uses to attack them.

Though, to be fair, she hasn’t totally screwed every last person over that she’s come into contact with. Turns out, sometimes she uses the money given from the author to preorder a ton of their books to create the illusion that the book is doing well, then cancels the preorders and gets the money back after interest has been sparked(She’s not the first to do this either). Which is sort of like patting yourself on the back, or liking your own status.

When I made my article about catfishing accounts in the community, I wasn’t referring to pen names. I was referring to this. This right here. People that can take advantage of many people, then just create a new persona when shit falls through.

Oh, and this is her backstory, apparently. LOL.

Yeah, fucking okay.

Then, she has her business listed to this address.

Which, when googled…

Apparently, she stopped working at her “Fortune 500,” company to become a PA/cover designer that works out of the center of the financial district in downtown LA in the former Bank of America building. Right.

Finally, see if you can spot the similarities in the services she offers.

To this service. It takes a keen eye.

So, basically, she takes word documents and runs them through grammerly, which is a free extension for Chrome and Word, then charges people $100 bucks. What a deal!

All of Stephanie’s aliases:


Leah Hart

Kate Stone

Aurora Swift

Karen Jurgensen

Leighton Miller

Lucy Sparks

Kendall Sparks

Dana Carrington

Stacey Keene

Natalie Kingston

Elizabeth Kerrigan


List of Contributors:

Virginia Johnson

Lila Vale

Aaron Speer

Josh Cook

Cassandra Manchester

(and many more that would like to remain anonymous, fearing that this woman is dangerous)


As for me, I could give a shit less. What is she going to do? Give me some shitty reviews with her fake accounts? lol. Have at it. Reviews are reviews. =D

UPDATE: 

Since writing this article, Stephanie has removed Keith McDonald from his own author page. He was unaware that she was still an admin on the page, and decided to post my article to it, which prompted her to spitefully remove him. Then, she deleted his page altogether.

Also, a lot of people are starting to come forward to talk about how they were conned, and this is starting to seem bigger than I thought.

Update Two:

Unsurprisingly, all of “their” accounts have been deactivated as of this update.

Final update: 

A lot has been uncovered since doing this article. Leah Hart actually happens to be Stephanie Lasch, and she has a warrant out for her arrest in Minnesota. She has been in a lot of trouble in the past, and if you’re interested in getting your money back, or pursuing charges against her, there is an abundance of information that can be found on her by simply typing her name into Google.

This video is her bullshit attempt at garnering sympathy, as well as getting even more money. Give this lady an Oscar.

Video Description: “Spoiler alert! This video is a commercial for a book written by “Aurora Swift.” Aurora is one of many alias of one Steph lasch, AKA Stephanie Guyer, AKA Jaine Timms, AKA MIA, AKA MacKenzie Meyer, AKA Sheenagh Hanthorn, AKA Stacy Keen, AKA Kendall Hansen, AKA The Mankato Swindler, and probably a growing list of aliases that she has yet to think up.

As sad as Mia’s story is, she is only telling one side of the story. What she doesn’t tell you is that in her brick and mortar spa she was over charging and double charging her customers credit cards. She also over charged and double charged a large number of small businesses which were expecting, books, website design, and marketing info. She was charged for her crimes in Lino Lakes MN. The judge gave her a sentence of 50 days in jail, which she had already served. She was never charged with her crimes over the internet to many small business owners.

She is on probation for 10 years and recently moved to Arizona where it appears she has started her internet crimes up all over again trying to sell candles and soap.”

Further reading: Here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

As long as she is out of prison, and has access to the internet, she will continue doing this to unsuspecting people. The only thing we can do is get the word out. Stay safe out there, authors!

29 thoughts on “Why these catfishing accounts are dangerous.

  1. Thanks for the article Kyle….. it just sucks that people like this are able to breath the same air as the rest of us. God willing Karma will have it’s way with this bitch!!!

  2. first, I saw the post Virginia originally did. honestly I didn’t see anything outside of you all so I thought it was for the most part contained. seeing the magnitude of this persons manipulation and deceit is much more elaborate then I would have assumed from the first go around.

    we both know that scams go around all the time, the level of the scams vary but the amount of money being taken and this is the only time we’re hearing of this. there are people out there so desperate to make it as an author that they are willing to drop that money and take what they can get and not ask questions when it’s sub par. they question if it is them, if their work is shit. but they never go back to the reason for the bad reception being who they hired for promotion.

    that old adage if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
    and never buy reviews, ever.

    here’s some advice for authors who don’t want to go through this.

    you want reviews. spend $50 and put your book on netgalley and you’ll get honest to goodness feedback/reviews.

    if you need someone to assist you in helping you with day to day, ask a friend or family member. find a reader who likes your stories and offer them future ones. ask a blogger if they know anyone, sometimes bloggers don’t mind becoming PA’s even for no compensation. I’ve had a couple offer me and all they wanted were free paperbacks for themselves and to giveaway.

    ask people you really know before you jump into throwing out $100’s of dollars, never EVER be ashamed to ask for referrals from your friends/other authors.

    most importantly, go and introduce yourself to bloggers. when I first started out I went and introduced myself to them. I didn’t try and push anything. I even said if they needed anything for a giveaway or event to please keep me in mind because I’d love to help. I made legitimate friendships and they helped me all on their own.

    moral of the story, build your base before you put any money out… there are no easy best seller answers out there… you get there with help from readers and your peers.

  3. Thank you for the heads up Kyle I am passing this around. I have not been affected in any way but I blocked the names on FB any way. I am old enough and wise enough at my age to check and double check everything out before I commit to anything. I know your post will be a value to others. Great job!

  4. I read her (Late Jurgensen) post where she whined about the author questioning her work. That red flagged her immediately for me. I have never seen any professional PA go so hard on a begging for sympathy/support rallying post. I’m not an author but I hang with y’all and this sort of post is out of the norm.
    What a crazy twisted mess you unveiled.
    Thank you for sharing & exposing this.

  5. Sadly everything about this blog is true, but I felt it was important to assist in getting the truth out there. To everyone who has shared their encounter, or those I’ve reached out to and even those who have passed my name along, thank you. The backlash from this woman won’t be stopping anytime soon, and I’m glad steps have been made to ensure those who fear her destructive ways remain anonymous.
    For a little more back story my fiance had wrote a book and attempted to publish it with Tate publishing. We never got what they promised and sadly the book didn’t go far, in fact still have copies in our bedroom. Leah, back in late 2015 was being paid to drum up fans and numbers on twitter and Instagram and even on his author page on Facebook. Yes she held up her end up the bargain on that part and even helped him go over his 2nd and 3rd book. We together had met in her person, she was staying at the Duruy Hotel right in Phoenix, at least that’s where we met her. She claimed her and her husband had sold their house in Seattle and were looking for a new one in the Phoenix area. He was a trucker that got a job locally and she wanted a horse property. Now I must admit 2016 was a big blur for me, between my 2 jobs, my daughter who is now 10, and my mother who has CML (that’s a story for a different day) I can’t believe it’s 2 weeks into 2017.
    So in the early part of March, early in the morning, she contacted Keith, she claimed her battery in her Ford Expedition had died and needed a jump, she was in a Wal-Mart parking lot and been there all night. I offered to go out to her, she was only a few miles away, but before I could leave claimed that someone helped get her vehicle started. Her reasoning for staying in the parking lot all night was due to in part that her husband had already left for his job, and basically left them out in the cold with no money. She had also made claims her husband had made threats to her with a gun. Of course we have big hearts, and would do anything to help protect a child, especially 2 little boys and 1 more on the way. So we helped get her an extended stay, helped hide her from her husband so she could file for divorce, and found ways for her to work and still have a place for her money to go. She had no problem paying us back for what little we spent on the room, and even paid for it every week.
    So to save time, I’ll fast forward a little. Between March and September 28th when everything slowly starting coming out a few major things had happened. Leah was reporting that she was working with an Erin Kirchner who lived in Phoenix. She claimed Erin was deaf and would be helping her during her maternity leave. Keith’s book was going to live on Amazon but needed a refresh in editing because of transferring issues. Leah claimed that because she was on maternity leave that he should check with Erin on doing this for him. Yes the editing to add the bold got done, and the book got launched with a new cover and title. Leah was working with him to sell his book on createspace, and informed him that Erin would be going to Las Vegas to sell his book. Sadly this isn’t true, we have no clue what happened to the books or money to this day. For some reason Erin always had a reason not to send the money from the profits due to being at other conferences, to a supposed fiance rearranging her office, to being in Florida to help her grandmother after the hurricane.
    September 28, 2016 would mark an important event for all of us. She offered to promote our investigation company. I am still new at doing p.i. Work and Keith has is own unique talent with the company. But of course with every business the owner must approve, so we set up a meeting on this day. He listened to her ideas and towards the end of the meeting he made a suggestion that allowed him to see the real persona. He wanted to build a case file on her soon to be ex-husband to have and to protect her if anything should happen because of this man. He then suggested to give Keith some information about her to have a file on her since she would be assisting the company. A standard procedure by him, and her reaction what not what he was expecting. He expressed that she leaned back and in a direction away from him with a look of disgust at the idea of turning any information over. The meeting didn’t last much longer, he even brought it up a couple more times and her reaction was a retreating one. This prompted him to start digging into her, and what he found was not good. She eventually and willing claimed Erin was real and had her information and gave Erin’s SSN over. In my discoveries I found the real Erin living in Minnesota and made contact. This is how I was able to pass along what information I could remember about the identity theft. Yes Erin worked for Leah, for a whole week, and eventually got a bill, but because it got dismissed, the local police won’t do anything. I’ve worked with her to get more evidence on the claim and will be reaching out to her again so that she can share if she’d like.
    Over the course of the last few months I’ve tried everything to figure out her real identity and it appears her real name could be Leah Hart, there’s only a few ways to find that out and it’s something I’m looking into. She’s told a lot of stories, which she appears to be good at the short ones, but isn’t consistent. Our most resent possible backlash happened while I working on this comment. Keith posted this article on Facebook, on his author page. The only other person who had admin privileges was the Facebook user Leah Hart. We assumed that the user was deleted and so was the admin privileges, unless it got switched to Kate Stone. Within 5 minutes of posting, he was removed as an admin and the page was deleted. We are currently working to submit information to Facebook to get it back, but in the mean time, he has lost his rights to his page, his ability to promote his book, on a page he setup on his Facebook. Now we get to sit back and see how many more bad reviews he’ll be getting. As more things are discovered, or deemed to be a necessity to share, it will be be made available. As an added note, I’ve made sure not to include anything about her 3 sons, they do not deserve any backlash, they are innocent in all this and we wish them no harm and good karma in their life.

  6. I’ve known my copyeditor for 65 years (she’s my sister but doesn’t hold back because of that). I research for other help. Get endorsements from writers you know,
    Thanks for doing all this legwork that confounds me…old lady that I am.

    Mitzi

  7. Thanks for posting this. I hate to say it but I have been one of her “victims” from a scam that she started around Christmas. I hired one of her alias (Leighton Miller) after high praise from Kate Stone to be my PA and paid her for a full year of services. I was pretty suspicious by now because the services were not coming through at all and I was smelling a big rat but this morning I received a PM from “Leighton” telling me she had quit because of the high pressure and viciousness of the PA world and that I should contact PayPal to get my money back. When I went online looking for her pages they were all gone. I went next to Kate Stone’s pages and the same thing happened. I have already contacted PayPal but I am not holding my breath. It is sad that someone is taking advantage of a group of people who don’t make that much money to start with. I will be glad to tell you the full story that started with a very generous offer from Kate Stone–or so it seemed. Twisted!

      1. Unbelievable! After I shared your post with one of my publisher’s writers one of them told me that she had just received a friend’s request from one of the aliases listed. Disheartening.

    1. Hi just wondering if you got your money back through PayPal? I am friends with one of the people she sent the same message to. My friend got her money back.

  8. I saw some of this happening to JJ and I could tell something fishy was happening. I was Facebook friends with Karen. I don’t know her. I’m an author and don’t think much of friending PAs, readers, or other people in our community of authors. However, her posts were getting progressively more negative. Then she “outed” JJ for being a bad client. I did my own research and came to the conclusion that Karen was the one in the wrong and immediately unfriended her, thinking she was just not a person I wanted to be associated with. I had no clue it went this deep. Thanks for the article. It answered a lot of questions. And it’s a warning. We need to be careful, keep our eyes open, and watch each other’s backs.

    CE

    1. A few people are actually gathering evidence on the woman to make a case. I have a lot more on her that I haven’t released, because I don’t want her to be aware of just how much we actually know, or how we will find her if she tries to start up again before she ends up in jail.

  9. Wow I was conned big-time as well, for half a dozen books. When she said she spilled baby’s milk on her scanner I even sent a Christmas bonus to help her fix it! Thank you so much for exposing her, and sparing me more time and effort.

  10. Cassandra – Her real name is Stephanie Rae Lasch (nee Ahlbrecht). She’s originally from South Dakota. Leah Hart is an aliases. I hope that helps you in your searching.

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