is this a well-documented scam?
April 20, 2013 10:16 AM   Subscribe

Two people hit it off online. within the span of 24 hours, one of them gets her assistant to contact the other to organise meet-up details, claims that cars are booked for travel and that their airfare is booked - and then suddenly has died from being hit by a car. Is this a well-documented scam?

Someone I care about deeply had this happen to them very recently and they're still reeling from the death. Everything about this situation screams SCAM to me but I have no way of letting them know that - I tried, but they won't believe me. They've shown me the emails and so much about it seems so wrong but again, no way of getting my friend to believe me.

A few things:
* The person's name has a few web profiles (Google+, YouTube, Yahoo Answers) with some sporadic activity over the last year.
* The location listed on the G+ profile does not match the location told to me by my friend, but my friend could have just misremembered it
* My friend showed me a photo they got sent of this person supposedly when they were young. This photo is also on their G+ page with the same note. Looking up the photo reveals it is from a jailbait forum.
* The email address from the "assistant" seems really unprofessional and unlike any other assistant emails I've seen (I've had family with PAs)
* The cars got organised (the company's name escapes me) without any details of pick-up and drop-off organised
* There is no obituary for this person, though this only just happened overnight
* Someone else was apparently in text-message communication with this person and had reached out to my friend
* My friend and this person met on Facebook and their initial communications seemed friendly and personable. I can't seem to find this person on FB.

I feel like if this is a scam it can't be a wholly new one, but I'm not sure if this is a particular M.O of a particular person or not. My friend is hurting and all the evidence I have that's closer to the scam end of this is the jailbait-photos-forum but I can't tell them this now.
posted by divabat to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
If money is involved, its a scam.
How was travel booked? directly with a real travel outfit?
posted by TheAdamist at 10:20 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds very much like a scam, if only for lulz
posted by Unified Theory at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2013

Response by poster: My friend didn't book any travel - this person was going to come to my friend's area and claimed to had booked a flight that morning.
posted by divabat at 10:22 AM on April 20, 2013

It sounds scammy. You might want to call the local police and ask how to help a friend in this situation.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:23 AM on April 20, 2013

There's a term for this: your friend has been catfish'd. While the specific details are likely made of whole cloth, this type of thing has recently been very well documented, in a movie, a followup TV series exposing different variants of this type of scam, and in news articles about celebrities being taken in by similar scams.
posted by eschatfische at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [13 favorites]

Response by poster: No money was exchanged.
posted by divabat at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2013

Reminds me of a maxim about eBay that I read here once ... which I would argue applies beyond eBay:

"if there is any doubt, there is no doubt."
posted by Unified Theory at 10:24 AM on April 20, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think it depends what the nature of everything is.

If online dating? YES SCAM or definitely sketchy/bad/to-be-avoided

If it's about a job? Probably depends on the kind of job. I'm the assistant to someone who works in the entertainment industry and travels all the time on relatively short notice for professional type purposes. I would think nothing of calling up some random producer, booking travel, flying her somewhere on only a few days' notice, etc. (Though obviously the "hit by a bus" thing has not happened so far.)

Re your concerns:

- listed locations change. Up until November, I lived in New York. Then I moved to California. I am only remembering to change all my social networking details sporadically, and for something like G+ which I don't use, I probably never will unless Google does that automatically.

- I have seen TONS of professional correspondence from people with totally unprofessional emails. I am a personal assistant, and I use my regular email to correspond on business. My regular email is nondescript/professional, but my boss never asked about that or commented on my email address as an aspect of the image that she projects to the world. And I work in a situation where the image my boss projects to the world is EVERYTHING.

- re cars, I have no idea what you're talking about. Like, your friend never told this assistant where to pick her up, but suddenly a "car" was "booked"? Yeah, that's sketchy, because ummmmmm a car needs to know where to go. Laws of physics and all.

Those comments have no bearing on the legitimacy or lack thereof, since again, in my opinion this depends on the nature of the relationship and a lot of external factors you haven't mentioned.

If anyone is asking your friend for money, THAT would be an unequivocal scam and of course she should not contribute.
posted by Sara C. at 10:25 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Wait, so the issue is that this person was coming to visit your friend, but now they're not because they're supposedly dead?

I fail to see what the question really is in this situation, if nobody is coming to visit her now, no money is changing hands, and there is no tangible result of what happened.

Maybe she was catfished as a prank. Maybe this is real. Maybe there is a huge misunderstanding. Maybe it's a very long con. But short of any real life impact, what is there to do, really?
posted by Sara C. at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Are there no other pictures than the single one from a jailbait forum? that also sounds super fishy to me.
posted by TheAdamist at 10:27 AM on April 20, 2013

Response by poster: It's taking a major emotional toll on her.
posted by divabat at 10:28 AM on April 20, 2013

I feel like if this is a scam it can't be a wholly new one

It's not; your friend was catfished. Catfishing is done by individuals, not organized crime groups, so I don't understand why you would expect to have heard of the M.O. Catfish scenarios don't typically involve money, they're usually either about trolling or finding an emotional connection by hiding behind a more attractive face.

Besides this kind of is a well-documented scam-- ever heard of Lennay Kekua?
posted by acidic at 10:30 AM on April 20, 2013 [3 favorites]

Knowing whether this is real or not real is not going to make those feelings go away, and I would expect that discovering that she was catfished and this person was never real will feel a lot worse than the grief that a facebook acquaintance has suddenly passed away.

(FWIW if the person was literally hit by a car, my guess is that something like that would make local news. So maybe read the local paper's website?)
posted by Sara C. at 10:30 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

nth-ing the Catfishing verdict.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:33 AM on April 20, 2013

I have heard about this a lot on websites describing scams from Russian dating services targeting US or European men (or "mail order brides" type dating services, though in the modern internet age, I could see it happening via Facebook also). Typically there is romantic communication for a while, online and sometimes by phone, with exchange of photos and romantic plans, then someone dies. Then usually there is a call within the next month or so from a family member of the deceased, asking for money, etc. Or maybe the person actually survived the accident but is in the hospital and has medical bills to pay. I can't find the link now, but there is a website with a list of Russian women, their photos, and a description of the scams that maybe you can Google. Usually airline tickets have already been bought, etc. Often the woman has bought the airline tickets already to visit the US, then the accident happens. Sometimes it's a family member who is in the hospital instead of her.

This can be solved easily by your friend -- call around the person's town and see if there were any fatal car accidents. Or call the assistant back and ask where the accident happened, then follow up that way. If it's not a scam, the assistant should be able to help. If the assistant is MIA/uncooperative, then it's probably a scam.
posted by htid at 10:37 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mod note: OP, don't drop people's names in this thread and please stop threadsitting, thank you.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:45 AM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Too late re the name dropping. I won't repeat the name, but search for her name in the comments to this youtube video and search for the second instance. It indicates she's (happily?) married, as of three months ago. If that doesn't jive with what your friend knows, it could be evidence that something fishy is going on.
posted by htid at 10:55 AM on April 20, 2013

One thing that occurs to me re your now-deleted name-dropping is that it seems strange that someone with such a small social media footprint would reach out to someone online and arrange cross-country travel to meet at short notice.

You say your friend met this person on Facebook, yet she doesn't have a Facebook profile that can shed any light on what happened? That seems odd, to say the least.

If this is a dating thing, that's basically every red flag ever invented, right there.
posted by Sara C. at 11:11 AM on April 20, 2013

Ha. That's a good one.

The "dead" person is telling us all they are a fake right in their name. I bet the person(s) behind this have heaps of fake profiles they employ to interact online.

I'm sure it's some sick sad prank for attention OP, and you shouldn't worry about it too much unless someone turns up looking for money from your friend.

Also, my favorite story about Internet scams, very relevant to your friend, HERE.
posted by jbenben at 11:18 AM on April 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

I suspect that the request for money is still to come - a "relative" asking that a portion of the costs be reimbursed.
posted by yclipse at 11:25 AM on April 20, 2013 [5 favorites]

You will be doing your friend an enormous disservice by pretending that there is even a 1% chance that this person/situation is real. It is frankly impossible. Online clues (or the lack thereof) are not going to convince your friend. You need to TELL your friend, in no uncertain terms, then comfort him/her, and then watch some full episodes of Catfish until you can laugh about the whole situation. (Seriously: the show has its problems, but for someone clueless about this stuff, like your friend, it will be very, very eye-opening).
posted by acidic at 11:27 AM on April 20, 2013

Incidentally, the victim in the story I linked to successfully sued the woman who scammed her.

Not that I'm saying your friend should sue!

There's a lot of background that comes out as a result of the suit, which might give your friend some comfort. It's worth reading about.
posted by jbenben at 11:37 AM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nthing your friend being the victim of Catfishing. It is indeed well documented. There is a show called Catfish as well as a movie of the same title which the show is based upon.
posted by Yellow at 11:43 AM on April 20, 2013

Someone else was apparently in text-message communication with this person and had reached out to my friend

Is that "someone else" still in communication with your friend? Establishing a sense of shared grief and loss, perhaps? Maybe hinting at wanting to meet up sometime to console each other? And is that "someone else" maybe slightly less exciting and attractive than the "original person," but now has a line of communication with and shares the intense emotional experience of loss with your friend?
posted by erst at 11:56 AM on April 20, 2013 [19 favorites]

Looking up the photo reveals it is from a jailbait forum.

This fact alone makes it clear that the communication going on here is not honest.
posted by medusa at 12:24 PM on April 20, 2013 [2 favorites]

Earnest and basically honest people do not understand the concept of constructing elaborate lies for nothing more than their own amusement. And yet such scammers will point blank admit that this is what they do:
Some who have never had any direct contact with me whatsoever and some who have and think they know me at all like to say I'm the world's best online scammer EVER. Every decade or so I get a taste to pose as a man (and up to 20 other people simultaneously) and reel me in some juicy middle-aged woman flesh for purposes they never quite explain. It sure ain't money or sex
Your friend was likely a lonely person who needed to feel connected to something. The person on the other end was looking for a reason to entertain him/herself and likely felt that your friend was someone who wouldn't have liked him/her and just wanted to "use" the fictional character for affection, so in some sense felt like he/she was pre-emptively "getting back" at your friend.

The best you can do is explain that real human beings do no suddenly "hit it off" with strangers on the internet and decide within 24 hours to book a flight and car to go see that person.
posted by deanc at 1:29 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

Just because money (or whatever) has not changed hands yet does not mean friend is not being set up for something for later.
posted by Michele in California at 1:44 PM on April 20, 2013 [1 favorite]

You can try to find the deleted facebook page on the internet archive.
posted by 445supermag at 2:25 PM on April 20, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I talked to my friend about my findings and about this thread. She's still processing it all, but is thankful for the information.

Thanks for the help everyone, especially on where this may lead (i.e. the potential request for money) so that we both can keep an eye out.
posted by divabat at 4:41 PM on April 20, 2013

Money isn't the only risk. There is also identity theft or worse. These people are dangerous. Do not communicate with them further at all.
posted by empath at 12:37 AM on April 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

There was a very similar story in the NY Times recently.
posted by lulu68 at 7:15 PM on April 21, 2013

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