Are Scammers Using AI to Sell Bad Travel Guides on Amazon?

It's getting easier to scam travel guide buyers online

Amazon logo on boxes.
Travel guide scams are targeting buyers on Amazon.
Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via Getty Images

With the rise of print-on-demand technology, it’s become easier to print and sell books. For a number of authors and independent publishers, this has been hugely beneficial, allowing a wider range of work to reach a potentially wider audience. But there’s a downside to this — with the rise of AI technology, it’s led to a lot of AI-generated books rising on the sales charts on Amazon.

A recent report in the New York Times suggests that this new technology is also being used by scammers to create realistic-sounding travel guidebooks that are not particularly useful — and may be credited to nonexistent writers.

Have bookish scams reached a new market? As Seth Kugel and Stephen Hiltner report, Amazon listings have begun featuring a number of highly-rated books by legitimate-sounding writers that don’t hold up to much scrutiny.

The article cites one book in particular, titled France Travel Guide and ostensibly written by one Mike Steves, whose biography sounds uncannily similar to that of beloved travel writer Rick Steves — and whose author photo appears to have been generated using AI.

Was the book useful? One buyer offered the Times a candid review: “It seemed like the guy just went on the internet, copied a whole bunch of information from Wikipedia and just pasted it in.”

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Systems can be gamed, and — unfortunately — AI text generation makes it a lot easier for scammers to create countless generic books in a short span of time and sell them to unwary buyers.

There are plenty of worthwhile travel guides out there — but if this recent investigation proves anything, it’s a testament to the importance of doing some research before you buy. Or, you know, visiting the travel section of your local bookstore and actually flipping through a few books to get a sense of what to expect from a given travel guide.


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