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Hollywood insiders have issued a warning about an ongoing catfish scheme.
According to Deadline, several industry figures have fallen victim to an “elaborate global scam” that has cost them thousands of dollars. The ruse is reportedly steered by an unidentified woman who poses as a high-profile producer that lures men in with the promises of a dream job.
Here’s how it works: the woman contacts men within the industry, claiming she was referred to them by one of their colleagues or acquaintances. To seem more legitimate, the woman reportedly name drops well-known Hollywood figures or casually mentions individuals who the unsuspecting victims know. The imposter also requires the men to sign non-disclosure agreements to prevent them from contacting their colleagues to confirm the alleged referral. The NDA also prevents the men from verifying the job offers with the production company.
After they are presented with contracts and fake wire-transfers, the men are asked to cover certain costs until the money comes through. Some of the victims have reportedly lost up to $150,000.
In some cases, victims are put up in hotels, and driven all over Indonesia under the guise of location scouting or for the purposes of planning security on a shoot there. Victims are asked to cover chauffeur charges. The amounts bilked range from $3000 to $50,000. The victim list started with aspiring hair and makeup artists from the UK; more recently, the list has swelled to include stuntmen, bodybuilders, bodyguards, social media influencers and assistant directors. There are also former Navy SEALs and ex-servicemen who routinely take jobs around the world and often find themselves fronting cash for which they are reimbursed. Only here, the scammers scatter once the money changes hands. The reimbursement never comes, nor does the promised employment.
Some of the victims claimed the woman would make sexually suggestive comments during their phone conversations, presumably to inspire the men to bring down their guards. One of the targets was Hollywood director Mike Smith, who was contacted by the scammer with a lucrative job offer. Though Smith admitted that he saw several red flags at the beginning, he couldn’t resist taking the gig.
“It was set in Nicaragua during the Contra scandal, the whole Oliver North thing. She said it had amazing writers and an amazing cast. ‘Before I can tell you about it,’ she said, ‘I want you to sign this NDA.’ Things felt a little weird right off the bat. This kind of thing doesn’t usually happen like that. But everyone she was referencing seemed spot on,” Smith said. "This is a very elaborate scam and we don’t know if she is doing information gathering and selling it to foreign governments, or if it is mainly about scamming people out of money. She didn’t ask me for money, at all […] I don’t know what sick thing she’s up to. She has scammed people from art department heads to stunt coordinators, security operators and DPs. I’ve heard people have been scammed out of millions of dollars in total. I wasn’t taken for money because I made it clear, I’m a director and if you want me to come someplace to talk, you’re paying me to come.”
Other men who spoke to Deadline weren’t so lucky.
Several of the victims, as well as the women who the scammer pretended to be, have pursued legal action; however, due to the fact that the scam is likely being conducted overseas, federal agents have not successfully identified a suspect.
Attorney Mark Mermelstein has filed a lawsuit against the unknown con artist, with GoDaddy Inc. and ProofPoint listed as third parties.
Mermelstein said the filing of the lawsuit was a necessary step to gain subpoena power against GoDaddy, which the plaintiff believes has been selling to the scammers Internet domain names that are very close to the identities of the producer-financiers being impersonated. ProofPoint provides email security services for the email server used to impersonate his client and may have information helpful to uncovering the identity of the perpetrators.
“This is a big problem that has to stop. The only way scams work is if people remain in the dark. It looks like this variant of the scam began with hair and makeup people in the UK, and then it evolved to victims in Hollywood that have included actors and trainers,” Mermelstein said. “The basic scam is the same, involving people who are impersonating Hollywood folks with money, inducing people to get on a plane to Indonesia on spec and under the illusion they will be getting their big break. The victims spend money there on false promises.”