I've ghostwritten several smaller books and web articles and I've noticed that they will often be published under a made up author's name.

I know that a pseudonym isn't illegal, but these make-believe authors are often claimed to be medical professionals or to have years of experience in a relevant field to the subject.

It's got me wondering whether or not it is legal to do this. I would have thought saying you have a PhD in Psychology to sell books on depression would be illegal. But what about minor lies? What if I write a guidebook to NYC and claim the author was born in the city when he (or I) wasn't?

  • My academic wife (she is a professor) says that she doesn't think it is illegal, just immoral for someone to claim qualifications, etc. and that it happens all the time.
    – Tave
    May 10, 2016 at 17:04
  • Where do you live and where do you intend to publish? Laws are not the same all over. (You might get a better answer on Law.)
    – Monica Cellio
    May 11, 2016 at 0:35
  • "best seller" is a made up credential. There's no logical explanation for what a "best seller" is. Any author can claim their work is a "best seller". I imagine any claim is fine as long as it doesn't cross into "practicing without a license" area.
    – Scott
    May 11, 2016 at 3:56
  • I don't intend to publish anything, but I'm mostly interested in what the situation would be in the USA (as that's where most of my work gets published), although I would also be interested to see how this would work in the UK.
    – Chester
    May 11, 2016 at 8:51

1 Answer 1


Claiming qualifications that you lack in order to drive up sales of publications probably would constitute a violation of the deceptive trade practices act of many states. I can see multiple sections of the Colorado version of this statute that would apply to the practices that you describe and many (but not all) states, including California, have similar statutes.

If someone got a bee in their bonnet about the practices of the people you ghostwrite for, they could be a in world of hurt.

These violations can be enforced by the attorney general's office or by private individuals if they are part of a significant class of consumers harmed by the practice (not necessarily in a class action lawsuit). Lawsuits can lead to injunctions, money damages, minimum statutory damages per violation, and attorneys' fees awards against the offender. Usually, there would not be criminal penalties.

For example, in Colorado, which isn't terribly remarkable but is probably more pro-consumer than many states, some of the things that are classified as deceptive trade practices under Colorado Revised Statutes § 6-1-105, as as follows (with selective omissions of cross-references):

(1) A person engages in a deceptive trade practice when, in the course of the person's business, vocation, or occupation, the person:

(a) Knowingly passes off goods, services, or property as those of another;

(b) Knowingly makes a false representation as to the source, sponsorship, approval, or certification of goods, services, or property;

(c) Knowingly makes a false representation as to affiliation, connection, or association with or certification by another;

(d) Uses deceptive representations or designations of geographic origin in connection with goods or services;

(e) Knowingly makes a false representation as to the characteristics, ingredients, uses, benefits, alterations, or quantities of goods, food, services, or property or a false representation as to the sponsorship, approval, status, affiliation, or connection of a person therewith;

(f) Represents that goods are original or new if he knows or should know that they are deteriorated, altered, reconditioned, reclaimed, used, or secondhand;

(g) Represents that goods, food, services, or property are of a particular standard, quality, or grade, or that goods are of a particular style or model, if he knows or should know that they are of another;

(h) Disparages the goods, services, property, or business of another by false or misleading representation of fact;

(i) Advertises goods, services, or property with intent not to sell them as advertised;

(j) Advertises goods or services with intent not to supply reasonably expectable public demand, unless the advertisement discloses a limitation of quantity;

(k) Advertises under the guise of obtaining sales personnel when in fact the purpose is to first sell a product or service to the sales personnel applicant;

(l) Makes false or misleading statements of fact concerning the price of goods, services, or property or the reasons for, existence of, or amounts of price reductions;

(m) Fails to deliver to the customer at the time of an installment sale of goods or services a written order, contract, or receipt setting forth the name and address of the seller, the name and address of the organization which he represents, and all of the terms and conditions of the sale, including a description of the goods or services, stated in readable, clear, and unambiguous language;

(n) Employs "bait and switch" advertising, which is advertising accompanied by an effort to sell goods, services, or property other than those advertised or on terms other than those advertised and which is also accompanied by one or more of the following practices: (I) Refusal to show the goods or property advertised or to offer the services advertised; (II) Disparagement in any respect of the advertised goods, property, or services or the terms of sale; (III) Requiring tie-in sales or other undisclosed conditions to be met prior to selling the advertised goods, property, or services; (IV) Refusal to take orders for the goods, property, or services advertised for delivery within a reasonable time; (V) Showing or demonstrating defective goods, property, or services which are unusable or impractical for the purposes set forth in the advertisement; (VI) Accepting a deposit for the goods, property, or services and subsequently switching the purchase order to higher-priced goods, property, or services; or (VII) Failure to make deliveries of the goods, property, or services within a reasonable time or to make a refund therefor;

(o) Knowingly fails to identify flood-damaged or water-damaged goods as to such damages;

(p) Solicits door-to-door as a seller, unless the seller, within thirty seconds after beginning the conversation, identifies himself or herself, whom he or she represents, and the purpose of the call;

(q) Contrives, prepares, sets up, operates, publicizes by means of advertisements, or promotes any pyramid promotional scheme;

(r) Advertises or otherwise represents that goods or services are guaranteed without clearly and conspicuously disclosing the nature and extent of the guarantee, any material conditions or limitations in the guarantee which are imposed by the guarantor, the manner in which the guarantor will perform, and the identity of such guarantor. Any representation that goods or services are "guaranteed for life" or have a "lifetime guarantee" shall contain, in addition to the other requirements of this paragraph (r), a conspicuous disclosure of the meaning of "life" or "lifetime" as used in such representation (whether that of the purchaser, the goods or services, or otherwise). Guarantees shall not be used which under normal conditions could not be practically fulfilled or which are for such a period of time or are otherwise of such a nature as to have the capacity and tendency of misleading purchasers or prospective purchasers into believing that the goods or services so guaranteed have a greater degree of serviceability, durability, or performance capability in actual use than is true in fact. The provisions of this paragraph (r) apply not only to guarantees but also to warranties, to disclaimer of warranties, to purported guarantees and warranties, and to any promise or representation in the nature of a guarantee or warranty; however, such provisions do not apply to any reference to a guarantee in a slogan or advertisement so long as there is no guarantee or warranty of specific merchandise or other property.

(u) Fails to disclose material information concerning goods, services, or property which information was known at the time of an advertisement or sale if such failure to disclose such information was intended to induce the consumer to enter into a transaction;

(v) Disburses funds in connection with a real estate transaction in violation of section 38-35-125(2), C.R.S.; . . .

(y) Fails, in connection with any solicitation, oral or written, to clearly and prominently disclose immediately adjacent to or after the description of any item or prize to be received by any person the actual retail value of each item or prize to be awarded. For the purposes of this paragraph (y), the actual retail value is the price at which substantial sales of the item were made in the person's trade area or in the trade area in which the item or prize is to be received within the last ninety days or, if no substantial sales were made, the actual cost of the item or prize to the person on whose behalf any contest or promotion is conducted; except that, whenever the actual cost of the item to the provider is less than fifteen dollars per item, a disclosure that "actual cost to the provider is less than fifteen dollars" may be made in lieu of disclosure of actual cost. The provisions of this paragraph (y) shall not apply to a promotion which is soliciting the sale of a newspaper, magazine, or periodical of general circulation, or to a promotion soliciting the sale of books, records, audio tapes, compact discs, or videos when the promoter allows the purchaser to review the merchandise without obligation for at least seven days and provides a full refund within thirty days after the receipt of the returned merchandise or when a membership club operation is in conformity with rules and regulations of the federal trade commission contained in 16 CFR 425.

(z) Refuses or fails to obtain all governmental licenses or permits required to perform the services or to sell the goods, food, services, or property as agreed to or contracted for with a consumer;

(aa) Fails, in connection with the issuing, making, providing, selling, or offering to sell of a motor vehicle service contract, to comply with the provisions of article 11 of title 42, C.R.S.;

(cc) Engages in any commercial telephone solicitation which constitutes an unlawful telemarketing practice as defined in section 6-1-304; . . .

(gg) Fails to disclose or misrepresents to another person, a secured creditor, or an assignee by whom such person is retained to repossess personal property whether such person is bonded in accordance with section 4-9-629, C.R.S., or fails to file such bond with the attorney general; . . .

(jj) Represents to any person that such person has won or is eligible to win any award, prize, or thing of value as the result of a contest, promotion, sweepstakes, or drawing, or that such person will receive or is eligible to receive free goods, services, or property, unless, at the time of the representation, the person has the present ability to supply such award, prize, or thing of value; . . .

(ll) Knowingly makes a false representation as to the results of a radon test or the need for radon mitigation; . . .

(ss) Violates any provision of part 33 of article 32 of title 24, C.R.S., that applies to the installation of manufactured homes; . . .

(hhh) Knowingly represents that hemp, hemp oil, or any derivative of a hemp plant constitutes retail marijuana or medical marijuana unless it fully satisfies the definition of such products pursuant to section 12-43.4-103(15), C.R.S., or section 12-43.3-104(7), C.R.S. . . .

(iii) Knowingly enters into, or attempts to enforce, an agreement regarding the recovery of an overbid on foreclosed property if the agreement concerns the recovery of funds in the possession of: (I) A public trustee prior to transfer of the funds to the state treasurer under section 38-38-111 , C.R.S.; or (II) The state treasurer and does not meet the requirements for such an agreement as specified in section 38-13-128.5, C.R.S.

(2) Evidence that a person has engaged in a deceptive trade practice shall be prima facie evidence of intent to injure competitors and to destroy or substantially lessen competition.

(3) The deceptive trade practices listed in this section are in addition to and do not limit the types of unfair trade practices actionable at common law or under other statutes of this state.

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