Academic integrity series: 8. Beware of Hijacked or Cloned Journals

Posted on November 10, 2023

Selecting a journal to publish in can be one of the most challenging aspects of the publishing process, especially for early-career academics and researchers. There are a lot of journals available with a wide variety of scope and coverage within each discipline and subject area. In addition to predatory journals, there are also cloned or hijacked journals that you should look out for. The websites that have these journals will look quite legitimate, but there are some clear signs that one can look out for to see if they are real or not. In this article we will cover: a description of what hijacked or cloned journals are; how the articles are hijacked or cloned; how to identify a hijacked or cloned journal and how to avoid falling into the trap. Unfortunately, hijacked or cloned journals can be difficult to detect, even to the trained eye.

What are hijacked or cloned journals?

“Hijacked journals are duplicate or fake websites of legitimate ones utilizing the title, ISSN and other information of the reputable journal to try and attract authors. They are often created by a malicious third party to fraudulently offer academicians the opportunity to rapidly publish their research online for a fee” (Clarivate, 2023). This means that hijacked journals imitate peer-reviewed journals. Sometimes, hijacked journals inflate their Impact Factor or CiteScore. Hijacked journals are not indexed in citation databases meaning that the content that researchers submit to these journals will not appear either on Scopus or Clarivate’s Web of Science, as an example.

How are journals hijacked or cloned?

  • A malicious third party creates a duplicate website of a legitimate journal using its ISSN number, title and other content. This is a violation of the legitimate owner’s intellectual property.
  • They take over the website of a legitimate journal that is no longer being published and use it to solicit submissions.
  • The fake website’s developers then solicit manuscript submissions through emails to lure authors into publishing in the hijacked journal, pocketing the author fee or sometimes the research paper.

How do I identify a hijacked or cloned journal?

  • Check the website for inconsistencies or “red flags.”
  • The email address of the journal may be commercial (e.g. Yahoo or Gmail).
  • There could be a weak website with a simple navigation and submission form (no registration and sign-in required).
  • The submission process may involve filling in a simple unsecured form and uploading your file.
  • The peer review period is relatively short (e.g. 2 weeks or a few weeks).
  • There is a fake journal editorial board that has no designation, university address or contact information.
  • Look at the copyright validity – if it is outdated then it means it is unmaintained.
  • The colour scheme of the website is not user-friendly (using bold colours).
  • Try downloading or viewing the articles on the website. If it is a paid-for article, the response on the website will be telling and of a low quality.
  • Check the archive of the journal. If it is claiming to be an open-access journal but it is charging access fees, be weary of it. If you can access the PDF articles, check the quality of the articles and archive them. Hijacked journals create fictitious archives.
  • Inconsistencies in publication fees/article processing charges are also a sign.
  • The DOI (Digital Object Identifier) should be replaced by the DOI number that begins with 10.xxxx when you click on the DOI. Click here for an example.
  • Do a Google search to see what has been said about the journal on academic blogs and forums such as Scimago Journal, Country Rank (SJR) and ResearchGate.

As a researcher, what can I do to avoid falling into the trap?

  • When looking to publish a manuscript, use the Scopus or Web of Science database(s) to redirect to the journal website. Do not Google search the journal.
  • Preferably, search for the journal name on the library website to directly link to the journal website.
  • Apply the ‘how to identify a hijacked or cloned’ tips above if you find yourself unsure whether it is real or not.
  • Consult your department’s Information Specialist and they will assist you.

What tools can assist me to check and verify the authenticity of journals?

You can use the following tools to assist you in checking for real websites and links to authentic journals. The retraction watch hijacked journals checker contains the links to the duplicate journals.

Remember to reach out to your department’s Information Specialist if you are uncertain. If you want to learn more on this topic, please click on the articles listed below.

Catch up on the other Academic integrity series titles:
  1. Plagiarism prevention
  2. Referencing tools
  3. Where to publish
  4. Deepfakes
  5. Predatory journals
  6. Fake news
  7. Open Access Publishing
- Author Lesego Makhafola

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