A scammer has tricked a literary award out of £30,000 prize money by posing as a winning author. Rathbones Folio Prize fell victim to ‘sophisticated’ fraudsters masquerading as the winner of the 2020 award, author Valeria Luiselli

The charity behind one of the UK’s most prestigious literary awards unwittingly handed over £30,000 prize money to cybercriminals posing as the author who won the 2020 accolade. Rathbones Folio Prize gave the scammers who were masquerading as the prizewinning author Valeria Luiselli, the money to the fraudsters’ account via PayPal.

Previously known as the Folio Prize and the Literature Prize, Rathbones Folio Prize is the only literature award open to all works of fiction and non-fiction originally published in the English language. The organisation behind it operates as a registered charity independently of its sponsor, Rathbone Investment Management, with the aim of bringing “outstanding works of English language literature to public attention”. Minna Fry, executive director of the Rathbones Folio Prize said: “The Folio Academy Foundation was targeted by sophisticated cyber criminals in March 2020, which resulted in the loss of funds intended for the 2020 Rathbones Folio Prize winner, Valeria Luiselli.

“The police were informed at the time, as were key industry colleagues.” She added: “[Ms. Luiselli] was awarded her prize money in full, and the lost funds were absorbed by cost savings elsewhere within the charity.

The episode, first reported by industry publication the Bookseller, was not an isolated incident – numerous literary awards have been targeted in similar ways, according to the magazine.

Last November, a fraudster impersonating Craig Brown, winner of the 2020 Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction, made an unsuccessful attempt to claim the £50,000 prize money, also via PayPal.

Another literary awards, the Forward Prizes for Poetry, which rewards recipients with sums of up to £10,000, was also approached via email by someone professing to be a winner. The foundation behind the awards contacted cyber-crime reporting centre Action Fraud about the hoax. Ms Luiselli was the first female writer to win the Rathbones Folio Prize since its inception in 2013.

The judges described the Mexican author’s novel Lost Children Archive as a “singular, teeming, extraordinary book”.