Recently, as co-editor of my journal, I received a manuscript submitted for publication. The author had recommended two reviewers along with their Gmail accounts and affiliations. I was curious about the affiliation of one of the reviewers. I looked this person up and discovered they had a different email address than that provided by the author. So I used
the email address that I found to contact the reviewer (reviewer 1). For the second recommended reviewer (reviewer 2), I also looked up a current email address and used the one I found instead of the Gmail address that was provided by the author.
Reviewer 1 responded with the comment that the title of the manuscript looked similar to a manuscript review that he/she had been asked to confirm for another journal (journal 1). Reviewer 1 asked me to contact the editor of journal 1. After contacting the editor of journal 1, I discovered that the author had provided bogus email accounts for the recommended reviewers.
The editor of journal 1 became suspicious of the reviews when he received a review within hours of the request to review the manuscript. It was at this point that the editor of journal 1 discovered that the email addresses provided were bogus.
Reviewer 2 declined my request to review the manuscript. To test that the Gmail provided by the author was bogus, I sent a request to review the manuscript to reviewer 2’s bogus Gmail account. Within hours I received a review. I then called reviewer 2 to confirm that he/she had not provided a review. He/she had not, and was very concerned that a Gmail account was created using their name.
In summary, this author has been creating false email accounts for suggested reviewers which are going to unknown individuals who are providing reviews under false pretences and giving inaccurate information as to their identity and affiliation. The outcome of this is that my fellow co-editor and I have banned this individual from publishing in our journal. The author has also been banned from publishing in journal 1. Does COPE have any additional advice on this case?
The Forum agreed that this was a serious form of misconduct and may even be criminal, as the author was impersonating the reviewers. The advice was to contact the author’s institution and inform them of the situation, explaining the author’s inappropriate behaviour. Other advice was to look at the peer review of previous submissions/publications from this author in case they also involved fraudulent reviews. The Forum suggested that good practice is always to check the names, addresses and email contacts of reviewers, and especially those that are recommended by authors. Another suggestion was for the editor to write an editorial on this issue.
The editor reported that the author had his papers published in another journal. The editor plans to write to the other editor asking him to check the reviewers on the manuscripts.