How To Make Enemies In The PF Community: A guide to Plagiarism

If you’re an avid reader or participant of the online Personal Finance community, you’re probably aware that Nelson of Financial Uproar blew the lid of a huge plagiarism scandal that is nearly too blatant to be believed. Turns out Finance Fox — a blog that claims over 20,000 views per month and has been featured in national publications like Time and MoneySense — is significantly lacking original content. In fact, the author has plagiarized dozens (dare I say hundreds?) of work by other writers, namely Krystal of Give Me Back My Five Bucks. Since Eddie/Finance Fox has monetized his website and was being paid for some freelance projects, he’s essentially been profiting off stolen content for nearly two years.

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making money by plagiarizing other people’s work is a lot like this

Now, I don’t read Eddie’s blog and I didn’t even really know who he was before “Plagiarism Gate” (term coined by Joe of Timeless Finance), I’m just writing this post because I’ll need to link to it in the future. Plagiarism is one of the hazards of the internet, especially when you run a large blog. My blog has been plagiarized since its inception – on multiple blogs — but I’ve never dirtied my hands with a public-shaming like that happening to Finance Fox right now. Granted, none of those thieving my content run blogs with as much traffic as Finance Fox’s. There’s no point drawing attention to small blogs — even Krystal said Eddie’s 20,000 views/mo was nearly not worth the effort — because you run the risk of driving traffic to their blog only to have the scandal settle in the dust and the perpetrator will continue on their merry way. That’s why waiting for the right moment is nearly as important as taking any action at all.

If you’re plagiarizing my blog and I haven’t come after you, it’s for two reasons:

1. You’re too small to matter.

2. … so I’m waiting until it will ruin you.

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Why plagiarism sucks:

When you plagiarize, it calls into question everything you’ve ever written.

I mean, who just copies one post? No one, that’s who, and Eddie was no exception. Because a copycat probably isn’t going to be caught the first time they steal something, or the second, and probably not the third either. Chances are they’ll get away with it again and again, until they get confident and then they’ll get sloppy, and that’s when they’ll get caught — as our friend Eddie “Finance Fox” learned the hard way.

The internet is forever.

Don’t think that anything you post online then delete is gone and won’t come back to haunt you later. It always can, and it probably will. How damaging it is depends on what you put up and in what context it reappears. You should be willing to stand behind anything you publish, because you’re going to have to face it later.

When Cait tweeted Eddie’s post that was plagiarized from one of Krystal’s, the first thing I did was save the webpages (both Eddie’s AND Krystal’s, because I am thorough!) and take multiple screenshots. This has proven useful in the past so it’s practically habit now. Long story short, I don’t really care if you take something down: if I’ve seen it, I’ve saved it.

If you do bad things, you will suffer bad consequences — even years later.

So now that we’ve established that your bad actions can’t be erased from the internet, let’s talk about how breaking the law and being a jerk will probably end badly for you. Trying to establish a career in personal finance with material that isn’t your own? Good luck. After Eddie’s plagiarism was brought to light, he was dropped as a freelance writer for Bargain Moose and kicked out of the PF online community Yakezie. It doesn’t matter that some of the posts were nearly 2 years old, turns out the statute of limitations on being a thieving jackass never expires. I want to point out that it isn’t even relevant whether or not the articles Eddie wrote for Bargain Moose were plagiarized or not — the fact that his personal blog boasted so much stolen content was enough to get every post of his removed from the website.

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In short, even if you secure a contract or position in freelance writing or personal finance and submit all your own work, the fact that you stole content from another person at another time and published it in a completely different place, DOESN’T MATTER. Furthermore, the fact that you stole content years ago also DOESN’T MATTER.

Blaming it on someone else is cowardly and nearly as deplorable as the crime in the first place

Eddie issued a half-hearted pseudo apology for his plagiarism (no comments allowed, hence this post), where he essentially deflected blame to ghostwriters and tried to downplay his actions. I don’t even want to go into how freakin’ lazy it is to hire ghostwriters because I’m not even a lazy enough person to comprehend how that could be necessary, and that’s not the point here. We understand that there’s only so many ways to talk about paying of debt and saving for retirement, but there’s covering the same topic and then there’s covering the same words. Copy and pasting and entire article from another writer is NOT the same as writing a post on the same topic. Likewise, copying someone else’s style or format is equally deplorable, because frankly that’s just plagiarism with creative word changes.

Oh hey, I see you use colored subtitles and GIFs in every post, where did you think of that?

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In case you didn’t read this wall of text and want the gist of what was said, here are the main points:

  1. Plagiarism sucks, and if you do it, you’re a sucky person.
  2. The internet is forever. Whatever you’ve shared can and will come back to you.
  3. It doesn’t matter when you committed a crime, you’re guilty.
  4. It doesn’t matter if you plagiarized some pieces and not others, you’re guilty.
  5. If you try to build a freelance or personal finance career on stolen content, it’s over.
  6. Everyone hates you, plagiarizer!

I don’t visit your blog to read my writing or the writing of others, I visit your blog to read YOURS.

Anyone that plagiarizes content or style does so because they’re lacking creativity on their own. It’s not something to be rewarded, or at the very least, ignored. If someone’s stealing from someone else, call them out, make them stop, and then unsubscribe.

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Comments

  1. Well, you know, and then after he issued the half-assed non-apology, he posted something to his other blog, which is also mostly stolen content. So I”m thinking he hasn’t really learned any lessons here.

  2. The bottom line is… Either Eddie’s a plagiarizer (HE copied the content from other blogs and passed it on as his own) or he’s a liar (he says on his “About” page that “all the opinions, thoughts, comments, and ideas I share here all come from me”).

    I’m glad I never read his blog to begin with, so I don’t feel betrayed as a reader. (I’ve read the opinions of people who do read his blog, and I can’t believe how willing to forgive and forget some people were, even before Eddie’s blog post.) But as a blogger, I feel betrayed. When this kind of thing happens, it not only makes the plagiarizer look bad. It lowers the perceived credibility of all blogs.

    His readers deserved 1) an honest response (the ghost writer excuse is lazy at best), 2) a quick response (it took an entire week to come up with that not-at-all creative excuse), and 3) the opportunity to respond to his actions via comment on his “apology” post. The cowardice he displayed by turning off comments to that post says it all.

    The victims deserve a personal apology, and they deserve to have their work removed from his blog. He said to a buddy that victims need to contact him to have the content removed when they find it. Um, no. Bloggers in this community shouldn’t have to read through 99 pages of posts on his blog to find stolen content and then go through the trouble of contacting him to request removal.

    Someone commented on Nelson’s post that this should have been dealt with privately and quietly between Nelson and Eddie. BRAVO to Nelson (and Cait at Blonde on a Budget) for exposing Finance Fox publicly as a plagiarizer. His readers, his site advertisers, and the PF community had a right to know.

  3. I’ve had some people steal my content, which is pretty funny since I talk a lot about myself and yet I sometimes see full paragraphs about my life on other blogs. Like you said, it’s usually smaller blogs where it’s just not worth it to post links and drive traffic to them.

    However, I have not (or at least I don’t think I have) had to deal with any blatant content stealing like what I have seen him do. It is just insane and I don’t think anyone can say that it’s only because pf articles are all similar. If there are more than 10 words in a row that are the exact same, it’s definitely fishy.

  4. Surprised you didn’t manage to have this song playing in the background on this post – it’s Lobachevsky by Tom Lehrer (also commonly called Plagiarize!)

  5. Does this mean I’m not a plagiarizer because you visit my blog, even though I use coloured titles? :)

  6. I’m glad he got outed although he apparently doesn’t seem to be very regretful about what he’s done. So many of us take a lot of time to craft our blog and make it our own without the need to steal content from others so it does tick me off when you see someone plagiarize on the scale that he did.

  7. I don’t understand one thing. If I liked something so much that I wanted to have it on my blog too and make it look like it looks at the source, wouldn’t be better to say: ” guys, take a look what I found on Money After Graduation (insert link here). Thanks for your inspiration Bridget, I’ll share my version of this tomorrow”? Some people are just looking for problems, I believe in “if I have nothing to say it’s better to say nothing” rather than… copying, in example.

  8. To think it all started with a tweet from another blogger just makes me wonder how much copying goes unseen and unannounced. And if the blogs that have lifted from yours are too small to even matter, I’m wondering how you (and others) even find out about copycats.

    Oh, and in terms of formatting I wonder if it’s difficult to know when something is a blogger’s “thing” vs. a design trend, especially for someone who doesn’t read that many blogs, or reads a lot of blogs designed by the same person.

  9. Adina J says:

    Like you, I’ve never really followed Finance Fox before this whole fiasco. But his non-apology was outrageously offensive, not only to his readers (which, like I said, I’m not really) but also to the whole PF community as a whole. I think it puts blogging in such a bad light. I mean, c’mon – journalists GET this stuff. I know blogging is a hobby for a lot of PF-ers, but still … way to take blogging back to the dark ages.
    And yes … the internet is forever.

  10. Aren’t your GIFs created from images/videos that belong to others?

  11. Thank you for posting about this! This isn’t one of those situations that should be handled privately. Readers should be allowed to know that their reading stolen content. That way they can make their own decision about the blog.

    I’m always sad to hear about these things. It happens and we all know it but still…sad. Like others said, it gives blogging a bad reputation and hurts everybody involved. And the fact that Finance Fox seems to have not learned anything from this is even worse…

    Oh and I totally agree with you that blatant plagiarism is terrible but I hope you’re only joking when you imply that others posting “colored subtitles and GIFs” in blogs are stealing from you. Because, really? That’s a bit much.

  12. You surely don’t think you invented using gifs in posts!

  13. Well said Bridget! Plagiarism is stealing, even if it’s just words, and stealers should be punished. How disgusting.

  14. Yes. I’d rather generate my own (crappy) content than steal someone else’s. My blog isn’t the best, but at least everything in it is mine.

  15. I was in complete shock when I read Nelson’s post. I met Eddie at the PF conference, and he seemed nice, but his dismal comment (really?! LOL??) and his “I’m sorry, but it’s my ghostwriter’s fault” post barely qualifies as an apology. Very cowardly and disgraceful.

  16. I absolutely love your graphics, first off. Just wanted to get that out of the way.

    Now – it upsets me to find out about a blogger doing something so underhanded. Bigger name bloggers are usually really great at transparency and originality… otherwise, they’d probably not have their traffic. So seeing someone basically rip off thousands of people by way of plagarism? It’s pretty disappointing to me as a blogger.

    I can’t sit here and say I’ve never used someone else’s content on my blog. But there’s a proper way to do it and to give credit. And I definitely keep those standards in mind. If I ever have any concern about whether or not I’ve properly given the source, I link to the webpage for safe measure.

    The personal finance niche doesn’t make the situation any better. Economically-conscious readers won’t take too well to knowing they’ve been reeled into trusting a fraud. A fraud who’s probably been enjoying affiliate income for quite some time now. Shame, shame.

    Thanks for sharing the story. I don’t frequent many PF blogs – only need one or two good, DEPENDABLE sources. ;) So thanks for the news.

  17. The good news is that this might give “Give me back my Five Bucks” more much deserved traffic!

  18. That is insane! I had no idea. Thanks for letting everybody know.

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