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Open Access Publishing Support: Avoiding Predatory OA Publishers

What is a predatory publisher?

Scammers are everywhere, and unfortunately, academia is not exempt from their presence. Predatory publishers, also known as fraudulent, opportunistic, or pseudo publishers, will masquerade as open access publishers while in fact they are operating on an aggressive, profit-driven business model. They often use deceptive and unethical tactics to attract authors, including fake editorial boards, hidden charges, fabricated impact metrics, and claims of "quick peer review".

The methods that predatory publishers use are sophisticated and constantly evolving, and can cause confusion and skepticism over whether a publication is a legitimate, high-quality product or an outright scam.

Below are tips on identifying and avoiding predatory publishers to empower authors to protect their work and uphold scholarly integrity when publishing open access.


What are common predatory tactics?

Like other scammers, predatory publishers are constantly revising their phishing strategies so it is vital that you be attentive to warning signs and to do a careful assessment before submitting a publication to a suspicious publisher. If you do inadvertently submit to a predatory publisher, you might lose the opportunity to publish your research in a reputable outlet later, since technically your work will no longer be considered original. You also run the risk of losing all APC charges.

These scams typically start with direct emails, which have become so sophisticated that they can bypass spam filters. They can also look remarkably genuine: scammers will mention some of your previous publications (based on public information in sources such as ORCID or your Google Scholar Profile) and praise your contribution and impact in the field. They may refer to a special issue, track, or series of books that would perfectly match your expertise. Sometimes, the publisher or title will sound familiar, since some scammers mirror the title of known journals and organizations and even use their ISSN and impact metrics.  This modality of hijacked or cloned publications makes it even harder for academics to assess whether a publication is legitimate. The URL includes words of the fabricated title but lands on a fake website. In the past, the website might contain typos and have a very simplistic design and little information; however, scammers are improving the look and functionality of their websites to such a degree that even experienced scholars and researchers have been fooled. 

There are many types of predatory approaches, but more and more, a combination of the following are present:

A classification of five different types of predatory publishers with icons. 1) Impostor/Hijacker (masked face icon): Intentionally uses misleading branding and adds minor variations to existing publications or clones websites that appear affiliated with legit publications. 2) Trojan (Trojan horse icon): Has a visually appealing website, but upon closer inspection, everything seems different from what it looks. Stolen, plagiarized, or gibberish content populate the website. Publication history, frequency, and article quality seem off. 3) Phisher (laptop with a hook icon):  Aggressively recruit through emails and mailing lists. These predatory publications lure you in with promises, then charge hefty fees and demand advanced payment. 4) Papermill (papermill icon): Mass production of shoddy work made to order, often using machine learning or plagiarism. Unlike other predators, papermills are meant to deceive readers and editors, not authors. 5) Unicorn (purple unicorn icon): his approach falsely promises numerous benefits and fake services such as fast peer review, indexing in databases, impact factors, etc..

While predatory publishers' tactics are constantly evolving, knowing how to identify some common red flags is a good start: 

  • The scope of the publication is unclear or very wide.
  • The publisher advertises speedy times from submission to publication.
  • The language specifically targets authors.
  • The communication either hides information about charges, or places extreme emphasis on that, rather than on the publication process.
  • There is a lack information about the editorial board, or the list of members does not specify their affiliation, contact information, and/or attributions. 
  • The description of the submission handling process is lacking or insufficient.
  • Vague or no information about retraction, corrections, errata, or plagiarism.
  • Past publications are of questionable quality, available elsewhere (duplicated), or unavailable.
  • Inconsistent frequency of a journal or conference publication.
  • The publisher either retains the copyright of published research or fails to mention copyright at all.
  • Information regarding the archiving and preservation of journal content is missing.
  • Displays unofficial impact factors and metrics. 
  • Unclear ownership or responsibility.
  • Poor or non-existent article editing.

Avoiding predatory publishers

To avoid falling for predatory publishers, the following is recommended:

  • Always perform extensive checks when you receive a call for publications through email. Start by searching the journal, conference, and publisher in various search engines and through online forums or blogs to find out more. Go beyond a superficial Google Search since most predatory publishers are indexed and well-ranked on search engines, using black hat techniques to increase the website ranking.
  • If the publication describes itself as an OA journal, always check whether it is indexed in the Directory of Open Access Journals (DOAJ), even if the website carries the DOAJ logo or states that it is indexed.
  • Consult the Beall's List of Potential Predatory Journals and Publishers. 
  • Consider using the Think, Check, Submit checklist to identify trusted publishers. 
  • Be attentive to the red flags described above and any other suspicious signs, as predatory practices are becoming increasingly sophisticated. 
  • When in doubt, ask our team for advice. 
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