***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.
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…
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 email@example.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.
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:
List of Contributors:
(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
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.
Unsurprisingly, all of “their” accounts have been deactivated as of this 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.”
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!