American Journal of Medicine, internal medicine, medicine, health, healthy lifestyles, cancer, heart disease, drugs

Fraud in Academic Publishing: Researchers Under Cyber-Attacks

Percentage of suspicious e-mails that we received from May 2015 to May 2016.

Percentage of suspicious e-mails that we received from May 2015 to May 2016.

Day by day, researchers receive new suspicious e-mails in their inboxes. Many of them do not have sufficient information about these types of e-mails, and may become victims of cyber-attacks. In this short communication, we review current cyber threats in academic publishing and try to present general guidelines for authors.

Nowadays, researchers often receive suspicious e-mails inviting them to publish the results of their research. The inviting parties use various marketing tricks, eventually disclosing the financial conditions for publishing with them. We decided to count the number of such suspicious e-mails that we received from May 2015 to May 2016. One of us (first author) received about 400 of them and the other (third author) received about 650. We classified them in three categories: Calls for submitting a paper to questionable journals, scam e-mails, and phishing e-mails. Figure 1 shows the percentage for each of the categories. The calls for papers are easily detected, because they use their journals’ name in their e-mails and present their URLs. Scam e-mails request sensitive information and promise a big prize or business opportunity. Phishing e-mails use URLs and request that prospective victims log in to suspicious web sites.

Top Scam in the Scholarly World and How to Avoid It

As can be seen from the graph, researchers receive many e-mails that “call for papers” from the journals that promise fast review and publishing,1 claiming that they are indexed and have a high impact factor. One can assume that almost every researcher who has published in recent years has received such calls for papers from a questionable journal soon afterwards. These fraudulent journals have the following tactics:

  • 1.Cybercriminals want to earn money from unaware researchers, so they register a web site and launch a journal by using content management systems. It is, unfortunately, neither complicated nor takes long to prepare such a site. People with basic skills in web design can set up such a web site within 2 or 3 days.
  • 2.After launching a web site, they try to index their journals in indexing centers. Thomson Reuters Impact Factorand Scimago Journal Ranking2 are the popular recognized and transparently operating entities for ranking journals. Failing that, they often use bogus metrics and indexing companies. These generally have no clear ranking methods and will assign ranks to journals—for a price.
  • 3.The last step is to send a huge number of calls for papers to researchers from all over the world. Cyber criminals can easily collect lists of e-mails for this purpose from web sites by using readily available web tools. Cyber criminals can also scan a legitimate journal’s web site to gather lists of e-mail addresses of researchers who might be amenable victims.


Any “call for papers” that uses misleading metrics should be avoided out of hand. The Table shows a list of these bogus metrics.34

We also recommend using the Alexa database ( to detect fraudulent journals. Most of these introduce themselves as reputable international journals. Alexa lists the countries of the visitors to each journal web site. According to our observations, reputable journals have visitors from more than 3 countries. Questionable journals generally have visitors from only one country. Often, their details are not even available in Alexa. So using Alexa can help researchers detect reputable journals as long as one remembers that the result is not always correct for legitimate journals that are just starting out.

To read this article in its entirety please visit our website.

-Mehdi Dadkhah, MSc, Glenn Borchardt, PhD, Tomasz Maliszewski, PhD

This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

Comments are closed.