Bloggers Beware: Grammarly Scam Alert (edited 12/11/13)

Edit as of 12/11/13:  After writing this post, I was contacted again by Grammarly with an apology and my promised gift card.  I put their link back into the sponsored post that I had originally written upon receiving the payment.

Nick also gave me a free trial of Grammarly that didn’t involve giving them any credit card information, so I decided to play around with it, and it seemed like a decent tool.  Like any computer program, it isn’t perfect, but I liked that it explained grammar rules when it detected errors.  The explanations can help people become more conscious about their writing, and can help them to determine whether the problems detected are applicable within the context.

As a book blogger, I believe in being ethical and maintaining full disclosure, especially in cases where I receive any sort of compensation for my work.  I don’t want to tarnish a company’s good name without justification, and I realize that anybody (including myself) can have a bad day and drop the ball on something.

However, I also don’t want to be the kind of blogger whose opinions can be bought, and above all, I want to be fair to everyone I work with, especially my readers.   I can’t be certain that I would have received any payment for the sponsored post if I hadn’t written a post warning other bloggers to stay away.  As such, I decided to leave this post for posterity, and to allow other bloggers to draw their own conclusions from my experience.

Confession:  I recently fell for the Grammarly scam.

At first, I was hesitant to write this post, because I don’t want to discredit a company’s good name without proper justification.  However, after conferring with other bloggers, I realized that my experiences could serve as a warning and prevent other people from making the same mistakes that I did.

Last month, I received an e-mail from a company called Grammarly offering to sponsor one of my blog posts in exchange for a $50 Amazon gift card.  The text of the e-mail is as follows:

Hi Grace,

I just stumbled across your review of “Fifty Shades of Grey” (which is fantastic, by the way) and thought to myself, “What a perfect fit!” We’re currently looking to sponsor bookworm bloggers like yourself with a small text ad to appear in one of your blog posts in exchange for a $50 Amazon gift card.

In case you haven’t heard of us, Grammarly is an automated online proofreader that finds and explains pesky grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes that are bound to find their way into any writer’s first draft. Think of us as a digital second pair of eyes that saves you the embarrassment of making a silly mistake on anything from book reviews to manuscripts. If you’d like to join our 4 million users and try the premium version of our proofreader for free, let me know and I’ll make it happen!

Please send me the expected publishing date and topic of your next appropriate blog post (ideally something about books or writing) so I can give you the details you’ll need.

Cheers,

Nick

P.S. Let me know if you ever find yourself in foggy San Francisco; I’d love to grab some coffee. 🙂

At first, I thought it was too good to be true.  I Googled the company, and at the time, my search responses seemed to indicate that the company was legit.  (As of 11/29/13, that is no longer the case, as other bloggers have had similar experiences to my own and written about it.)

The first paragraph seemed to indicate that the author had read my blog.  If Nick had mentioned any post other than the one he did, I probably wouldn’t have fallen for his scheme, but my post about “Fifty Shades of Grey” was the most popular post I’ve ever written.  I was flattered and ignored the warning signs, especially the creepy line about grabbing a cup of coffee.  Retrospectively, it sounds eerily like something that Christian Grey would say.  Then again, I’ve been known to grab coffee with someone as a networking opportunity, so I ignored my gut feelings.  This all occurred during the government shutdown, and I wasn’t sure when my next real paycheck would be.  Fifty dollars can buy a lot of books and/or miscellany, so I decided to write a post.

I conferred with Nick about type of post I should write, and was assured that as long as I included the link to Grammarly’s home page, I would be receive my gift card within 72 hours of posting.  After I posted, I received the following e-mail:

Hey Grace,

Thank you so much for getting that up there so quickly. I had originally intended for the mention to go up on http://barriewritersclub.wordpress.com, sorry for being a little unclear about that in my initial message. Would it be possible for you to move the text to a post on http://barriewritersclub.wordpress.com? I apologise for the hassle.

Cheers,

Nick

——————————————————————————————

Nikolas Baron

– Online Partnerships Associate –

This is when I started to get angry. A little unclear?! The Barrie Writers Club is a DIFFERENT FUCKING BLOG. It’s not my blog, and it never has been. I don’t work with them or contribute to them. I had never even heard of it before Nick’s e-mail. They seem like cool people, but THEY’RE NOT ME!!!  Mind you, in our prior correspondence, I had included a link to my blog in my signature with every e-mail that I sent to him, so this wasn’t a misunderstanding.  Also, people who are really from California tend to say “apologize,” not “apologise.”

I sent Nick a very polite e-mail explaining that I was not affiliated in any way with the blog he mentioned. I never received any further responses from him, let alone the promised gift card. Luckily, I hadn’t given Grammarly any credit card information, even though their site requested it.

I removed any mention of Grammarly from the post that I had written, and moved on. I’ll chalk this one up to my own hubris, and from now on, I’ll be much more careful with sponsorships/advertising opportunities on my blog. Hopefully this post helps other people to avoid making the same mistake.

 

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41 comments

  1. I received an email from Grammarly recently. Nick said he enjoyed my review on the Count of Monte Crisco or something along those lines. I haven’t read or reviewed the book so I just deleted it. It might have been a different story if he mentioned a book I actually reviewed. I’m sorry this happened and thanks for raising awareness.

    1. I hadn’t realized it was so widespread until I saw some other bloggers talking about it on Twitter. It’s weird, because it specifically targets book bloggers and writers, and I didn’t suspect it until after I’d written the post.

  2. That’s so creepy. I am a Californian, and I noticed the apologise also. What’s also telling is that the first letter is well-written, but the second lacks the same authoritative voice.

    Thanks for passing along the warning!

  3. Thanks for posting this. I received almost the exact same email, word for word, except referring to my review of Saladin Ahmed’s debut novel. I considered the email for a while but decided it seemed to good to be true, so I deleted it. Thanks to you, I know I made the right decision 🙂

  4. A while ago, I received a letter from them saying I had been nominated by a blogger poll and won a $50 gift card. All I had to do to claim it was write a post blah blah blah. I asked for a link to such poll or even a previous announcement about it, and they were unable to provide so I declined. Right after that, blogger friends mentioned they received the sponsorship letters. If they do pay out, great, but I take offense at being lied to about nominations. Terrible marketing practice.

    1. You’re welcome. It was a crappy thing to have happen, and I’m surprised how many other people have gotten letters from them too.

  5. I wonder if the scam going around is actually affiliated with Grammarly in anyway. That’s interesting. I used the Grammarly website, and honestly only for the 7 day trial to try to clear up some inconsistencies with a novel I was working on, but I generally liked the system. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is just somebody playing off the Grammarly name now that it is starting to get popular…kind of like the scam emails that pretend to be Amazon or something else in order to get your account info. I could also be completely wrong and my assessment of Grammarly could have been totally off base from when I used it. It’s very interesting to see that it’s become so wide spread though.

    1. I have no idea what the actual product is like. I didn’t do the free trial because it wanted my credit card information. However, some cursory stalking on LinkedIn shows that there is a Nikolas Baron who is listed as the head of SEO at Grammarly, so who knows?

  6. This post rang some bells of recognition in my head so I searched my email and lo and behold…similar letter from Nick — one from August, and then a follow-up in September because he hadn’t heard from me.

    I think I dismissed it because he got the title of my blog incorrect — I’d just changed it — and he only offered me a 10 dollar Amazon card, which didn’t seem worth it. For 50 bucks I may have considered it.

    I’ve no idea what he’s hoping to gain by doing this. It’s just weird and creepy and a dick move, honestly.

    (Though, to be fair, the “apologise” makes sense — his Facebook profile says he’s originally from Germany. He could have learned British English before coming to the U.S.)

    1. I’m wondering if he’s trying to improve SEO by tricking bloggers into mentioning that they use his site without adhering to FTC guidelines, because what he actually wanted me to post didn’t include disclosure that it was a sponsored post. Of course, I added it anyway, which might be why I never got paid. Pretty sure that only works till search engines catch on though…

  7. appreciate your posting about this.

    got one of these emails, too. he complemented me on a book I haven’t reviewed (nor yet even read). otherwise, you are right that there is little to set off alerts.

    curious what the endgame could possibly be.

    1. Oh wow. If he hadn’t have named the most popular post I’d ever written, I’d have trashed the e-mail without a second thought. Naming a book you haven’t even read is scammer fail.

  8. That first e-mail looks absolutely legit — I would have pursued it too, if it cited my most popular post! Don’t beat yourself up, and thanks for the warning. My guess is that the end game is 1) search engine optimization via lots of incoming links, and 2) getting people to give them their credit card info, and hoping that they forget to cancel before the 7-day trial is over.

    1. Mhm. I think that such tactics will ultimately hurt the company though. That’s what happens when your representatives are sleazebags.

      1. Agreed! Before I read about this scam on bloggers, I might have thought Grammarly would be a good tool for detecting plagiarism, or suggested it to students who were struggling with basic grammar rules. But now? Now I’m going to tell any students looking for a grammar program to avoid Grammarly. No way do I want them giving their credit card info to such an unscrupulous company.

  9. I received a similar email a few months ago. The amount was very different and I emailed right back stating how I handled sponsored posts and when I would be able to do it. I never heard back from Nick again….

  10. I got one of these too, only it went to an email I rarely check, so it had been in my inbox a couple of weeks. “Nick” has now changed the wording of his little note a bit to remove specifics and is only offering a $20 Amazon gift card. I’m glad I Googled to see if this was legit or not, because it sounded sketchy. Sorry this happened to you, but at least they didn’t get your credit card info!

  11. I recently had the same email, and I’m sad to say I fell for it! I posted my Grammarly sentence earlier today and received my gift card this evening. It didn’t even occur to me that it didn’t follow the FCC Guidelines. I’ve now amended the link to make it a nofollow link.

    I feel so stupid now. I’ve got the gift card sitting in my inbox, and it looks legit (it’s come from Amazon) but now I feel taken advantage of, I had no idea they had done this with loads of other people and it didn’t even occur to me to Google.

    Am I OK now I’ve added the nofollow? I don’t want to go against the FCC guidelines, it didn’t even occur to me, I feel like such a fool. 🙁

    1. You should be fine as long as you disclose that it’s a sponsored post. My issue was not getting the gift card, but it was eventually resolved. 🙂

  12. Hi all, this is not the exact same issue but I wish to discuss my experience with grammarly. I am an academic researcher, I recently paid a huge amount for proofreading a manuscript at short notice, so I thought I’d check out what commercial programs were available. Certainly Grammarly would be a saving on that work so I thought I’d sign up for a 7-day trial. As soon as I linked my paypal info to the account, all I could see was white screens, no matter if I followed links, typed in the address, cleared browser cache etc. This must have lasted for about a week. I’m still interested in the idea of a decent proofreading service so, as the assistant (actually very obliging) suggested I signed up with another e-mail address, but…. the same story.

    I wonder if this current white-out will also correspond to the free trial period? I don’t expect to be scammed as such, as last time they cancelled my subscription within the 7-day limit. But they offered me a significant discount on the year’s subscription. I declined this as I had not tried the service, but I wonder how many do bite, if indeed this is a common experience.

    This whole issue has seemed very suspect to me, as I have never experienced this with any other website, normally if a link doesn’t work, manually typing will.

    Best wishes, Elaine

  13. I got an email this morning asking me to consider writing a blog post that referred back to Grammarly’s infographic about whether men or women are the best writers. Nick is a prolific chappy, isn’t he?
    I shan’t be doing it, and am glad I spotted this post when I googled the terms grammarly along with the word scam.
    Horrible.

    1. Mhm. It was just frustrating that it was so much of a hassle. And even though I did end up getting the gift card in the end, it took so much time and energy to do so that it wasn’t worth it.

  14. Hello Grace, I just stopped by your blog post while searching for Grammarly. I am using its Chrome extension for proofreading from last few weeks. And I was thinking of preparing a review of the product because I was kind of start liking it. But it was a big surprise for me what I found in your post about it. It certainly made me rethink about what I was planning to. Just I’ve one query from you that did you not send any email to the company directly asking about the authenticity of the person who emailed you. He could be a bot who are programmed to send such emails. If you can share their answer that will be useful for people who plan to use it further.

  15. Hi Grace and followers,

    I picked up on Grammarly.com from a Digg.com newsletter a few weeks back. Today I thought to try it in the context of an email to a client regarding a custom made closet . For my totally “custom” letter Grammarly shows plagiarism as one of the detected problems. Ummm… how can that be? I googled “grammarly scam”. Sure enough… plenty of complaints about Grammarly, including on Better Business Bureau website.

  16. I purchased the Grammarly Premium package and have found it impossible to penetrate. I keep getting responses such as ‘This page not available.’
    This outfit will NOT respond to requests of any kind. They should be called ‘Grambandits.’