The scam

by Brian on April 14, 2019

in In the News,Technology

It started with a simple Facebook message. “Hello, Brian, you don’t know me, but are you in Las Vegas right now on a book tour? If not, I think someone is impersonating you!” 

That was odd. I did do a publicity tour in the U.S. when my book, TOTALED, was published in 2017, but that didn’t include Las Vegas and I certainly wasn’t there now. Why would someone want to pretend they were me? 

I probably should have ignored the message but my curiosity was piqued. “What is this regarding?” I wrote back. 

“Can you talk with me briefly this morning?” “Alan” responded, perhaps too quickly. “I am available mostly today! Thanks!!! Facebook phone works well…the icon of the phone above in messenger is all that is needed simply click on it…”

I’m smart enough to know never to click on a link sent in a suspicious message, especially one riddled with questionable formatting and too many exclamation marks. But I wasn’t done probing. What was so important that I should call him?

According to Alan, there was someone out there in the dark reaches of the Internet claiming to be the author of TOTALED, currently on a book tour and selling tickets on Craigslist to some tennis tournament in Palm Springs that I’d never heard of before. 

“Of course I feel stupid but sent the money,” Alan admitted. “But I believe I found this low life on FB and I will get him.”

Before I could ask how exactly Alan was going to “get him,” an email popped up from a Samuel Joseph Friedman. 

“Sam” was also claiming that an Internet impersonator with my name was trying to sell tickets on Craigslist, but instead of a tennis tournament in Palm Springs, it was an art exhibition in New York.

Sam explained that when he asked my nominal doppelganger for verification that he really had the tickets he was offering, Sam received a testy response featuring a shocking lack of punctuation that would put Faulkner to shame.

“If you don’t trust don’t buy I’m an [sic] Wealthy author who’s on tour currently doing meet and greets that’s the only reason I’m selling these tickets I can show you my bank account with my name and you can google my net worth I have no problem with that it’s $100 I’m not trying to scam you no offense. Here’s my website check me out”

The link to my website was real, but me, a wealthy author? I wondered whether I ought to be flattered someone thought so highly of my work.

At the same time as I was being bombarded by Alan and Sam, my wife, Jody, forwarded me a Facebook message she had received from “Amanda.” 

“Dear Judy” – misspelling Jody’s name is always a red flag – “I apologize in advance for imposing. A Brian Blum claiming to be an author is selling an item on Craigslist. Wanted to see if it was a legit transaction. Found your contact on Facebook. Sorry for being nosey, but my intuition errs on the side of caution.”

At least she knew where to put her periods and commas. 

Three messages from three different people, all within an hour of each other, each claiming they were being scammed by someone with my name? This couldn’t possibly be a coincidence.

I decided to play along a bit longer. 

“I can’t find anything about a Brian Blum on a book tour in Las Vegas,” I wrote to Alan. “Can you send me a link to the post?” 

“Where are you currently? Without being specific,” he responded. “BTW, your work sounds fascinating!”

Flattery’s not going to work this time, Alan. 

“Perhaps we should hire an investigator. At least I’m considering it!” Alan exclaimed, again encouraging me to call him. Was this the scam – gain my confidence until I wire him money for a private detective?

Meanwhile, Sam was writing me back. He sent a screen shot from his mobile, but there was something off. The text for his email app’s “to” and “from” was in Portuguese. 

“Are you from Portugal or Brazil?” I asked, trying to be crafty. 

“I live in New York and learned Portuguese whilst at NYU.”

“Whilst?” That’s definitely not the way a real New Yorker would talk. And switching the operating system for his phone to Portuguese to better learn the language, while doable, hardly seemed likely.  

I returned to Alan and reviewed his Facebook profile. It said he was a regional sales manager at a medical technology company. He had more than 2,000 friends and hundreds of posts going back years. 

Creating such an elaborate fake profile would have taken an awful lot of work. Was someone impersonating Alan, too? Or had he been tricked into unwittingly participating in the ruse? 

As “Alan,” “Sam” and “Amanda” realized they were not going to make any headway with me, I was promptly ghosted, as they moved on, I assume, to their next victim. 

A few days later, I checked Alan’s Facebook profile again. There was a picture of him at the tennis tournament. The caption: “TICKETS OBTAINED” in all caps. 

I may never know who the real scammer was or what he or she was after. I was careful and didn’t click on any phishing links. 

Still, if you get a message purportedly from me, selling anything other than my book, or claiming that I’m currently on a book tour doing “meet and greets,” steer clear. 

I first covered this scam (if that’s what it is) at The Jerusalem Post.

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