By Caitlin Kelly
Not good, guys. Not good at all.
Here’s a recent and truly shocking scam perpetrated in a world I know somewhat, that of photographers and other creatives:
It all started with an email from Wendi Murdoch. She claimed that she had found us through a personal recommendation from a senior editor at Conde Naste Traveler. We had just finished talking with Conde Nast Traveler about doing some Instagram featured work on both my (https://www.instagram.com/humminglion/) and Zory’s (https://www.instagram.com/zorymory/) accounts, so the timing made sense. Flattered, I kept reading her pitch about needing some up and coming photographers to help capture the essence of China for an upcoming exhibit centered around the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.
I had a rough idea of who Wendi Murdoch was: a Chinese American art philanthropist and shrewd businesswoman who made waves with an expensive divorce from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.
The photographer flew from San Francisco to Jakarta — of course on her own dime and time — and ended up losing $7,500.
How can anyone be so stupid? So gullible?
Hah! Read a new book, Duped, by veteran journalist Abby Ellin about the liar she almost married. Ellin is nobody’s fool, but was also — and who hasn’t felt this way? — lonely and ready for romance with a handsome and accomplished man who wanted to marry her.
Her gut told her some of his stories felt really unlikely, but (and I know this feeling too, as a fellow career journalist), some stories are both unlikely and true. And no one really wants to keep cross-examining a man who professes love to you.
In 1998, I answered a personal ad in a local weekly newspaper from a man who said he was a lawyer. His “housekeeper” was on the phone with me, as was his (real) mother, Alma.
Here’s his story in the Chicago Tribune, where he deceived many local women before moving to New York and starting again; there, he pretended to be a doctor.
I dated him for four months before (thank God) randomly meeting a former NYPD detective-turned-private-eye who discovered within a day what a bad guy he really was. It was a terrifying experience as this guy stole my mail, used my credit card, forged my signature in front of me…and became so frightening I slept for a week at a friend’s house.
Best of all?
The cops wouldn’t take my case and the district attorney literally laughed it off as “no harm done.”
How do these creeps operate so effectively?
–– Use some elements of checkable truth that victims will recognize and find comfortingly familiar
— Flatter victims by admiring something about them
— Learn their specific weaknesses and fears and exploit those
— Count on victims getting blamed for their stupidity and being too embarrassed to alert police and push for arrest and conviction
— Make sure much of it is deniable as a “he said/she said”
— Manipulate their emotions by confusingly flipping from loving and attentive behavior to aggressive and threatening, throwing victims into mystified anxiety and fear
— Threaten victims with retaliation
— Count on victim’s discomfort with appearing cynical and untrusting, even when red flags are flapping!