Yes yes, we all had a lovely break last week, imagining what it would be like if The Rock competed on The Great British Bake Off. Oh yes we all had a good laugh. But this week it’s time to delve deeper into the seedy world of the scammers who pretend to be The Rock for financial gain.
One of the ironies I noticed after The Rock tweeted last week’s column about scammers was that people pretending to be Dwayne Johnson kept retweeting Dwayne Johnson’s warning about people pretending to be Dwayne Johnson.
Scrolling through the many replies to his tweet, I was able, as the Americans put it, to ‘reach out’ to some of the people who have been duped by people posing as The Rock or another celebrity.
I have taken these people at their word and am fully aware that if I were to be scammed by people online while investigating the people who have been scammed online by people who pretend to be The Rock, it would be the most ironic thing that has ever happened – with the exception of that time I found 10,000 spoons when all I needed was a ruddy knife!
Most emails are rubbish. Ours isn't
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One of the first conversations I have is with a woman whose anonymity I will preserve. (I will call her Louise.) She has had a couple of people approach her on Twitter, pretending to be The Rock. When I ask Louise why The Rock would approach her, a stranger, totally out of the blue, she says, “I am a Specialized International Political Scientist. I thought he read one of my comments to Trump and thought to contact me. I have over 10 actual letters and 20 emails from President Obama and a Christmas card. It would be normal to me for a celeb to want to talk with me.” One Rock scammer told her that he owned an NGO that helped children with disabilities, and needed money from her. (The Rock is the highest-paid actor ever, and earned $124 million in 2017.) While talking to him, she opened a new tab and researched The Rock. She questioned this man on his knowledge of the man he claimed to be. She asked him about his movie co-stars, as a sort of a test. He passed. (She applied this test to the other man pretending to be The Rock, and he also passed. Think about that for a second.)
At “the final step”, Louise made each of them phone her. Both of them did. One of them failed to speak and the other man, whose phone number was apparently Brazilian, confessed to not actually being The Rock and being based in Nigeria. He didn’t want money, she thinks – just attention. She copies to me some of the things one of the fake Rocks said: “My dear you are very beautiful this is me Dwayne Johnson, my official verified account here okay my fans have been indeed supportive to my works all this while so I am in Dywane Johnson [sic] showing them some love by getting to reach out to them here from my private messenger. … Okay then I tried to know more about you but I don’t like coming in here because I get messages from fans and admire [sic] do you have Hangouts on your cellphone we can talk more better over there.”
When I ask Louise for further clarification on one of her points, she accuses me of trying to mess with her, and blocks me.
Jean, another woman who speaks to me on Twitter, noticed one day that Dwayne Johnson was following her on Twitter. She saw that it wasn’t his page with the blue tick but he messaged her to tell her she was on an “elite list” and that everyone on the list had been fans of his for a long time. Management had control of his other page, he said. He was very lonely, he said. He told her that he and a woman had been talking for a long time, and that after he bought her a flat and a car, she threatened to share his information unless he paid her $10,000.
“My dear you are very beautiful this is me Dwayne Johnson”
“I had my doubts of course,” Jean tells me. “I asked him to call after a few days and he did, he sounded just like Dwayne.” It was difficult not to believe him, she says. He never asked her for anything until recently, when he said he’d love to send her some things but it would cost her $700 for them to get to her securely. Jean said she was uncomfortable – she’d never heard of mail costs like that – but asked for the man’s information in order that she could send the money. She told him that she was going to communicate with the official Dwayne Johnson page – the page that bore the blue tick. “He instantly lost his mind,” she says. “He said he fucking told me he had nothing to do with that page and that I was being stupid.” She told him she was sure that the real Dwayne Johnson wouldn’t treat anyone this way. Taking a leaf out of his book, she lied and told him that she had spoken to the real Dwayne, who told her that he was not going to be sending her things and that she should stop engaging with the man pretending to be him.
After this message, everything went silent and he blocked her.
Jean copied the information the man had sent her and filed a report on him. Hopefully he won’t try to trick anyone else or take their money, she says. But when a scammer is able to prey on the goodwill of gullible fans like this and convincingly impersonate The Rock over the phone, he will be able to con a good many people.
Fortunately, neither Louise nor Jean went so far as to send bank details to either of these scammers, or travel anywhere at their behest. This wasn’t the case for Erick Angeles.
Erick shares with me a number of screenshots of the conversations he had in late August with a Twitter account by the name of ‘@Dwaynej87168465’.
After he asked @Dwaynej87168465 whether he would be at Universal Studios in Hollywood, the conversation ran dry.
This was a close call. But, even though he had already been scammed in the past by someone pretending to be The Rock, Erick was willing to believe that ‘@Dwaynej87168465’ was the real Dwayne Johnson. This is remarkable, when you hear the story of the previous scam to which he had fallen victim.
Another man pretending to be The Rock – @TheRockPrivate – got in touch with Erick and said that he wanted to deposit money into Erick’s account. For this he would of course need his bank details. Erick provided them. @TheRockPrivate deposited two cheques, each between $800 and $900. This particular scam appears to involve obtaining the bank routing number of a fan, depositing some money as a superficial indication of credibility, then withdrawing this money as well as some of the fan’s actual money. “As long as they get your bank account, you’re screwed,” Erick says. He noticed that the fake Rock let the money sit in his account for a while before trying to withdraw it. His bank notified him of the suspicious activity and froze his bank account immediately.
I ask him why on Earth The Rock would be sending him money. “Because he always helps people,” he says. “This is a good learning curve for me not to trust anyone when it comes to money. I want other people to be aware that scammers are everywhere.”
His story gets even more bizarre. Only two months earlier, he had also been fooled by a fake Ellen DeGeneres, who told him on Twitter’s messaging system that he could come to her house and then to her show, if he paid $303 to someone called Mr Gomez Smith. “What is your address so I can take UBER to your home,” Erick asked her. Telling him the address, fake Ellen DeGeneres said, “Don’t share with anyone else please.” He replied: “I’m a man of honour, I was an Eagle Scout before.”
Getting an Uber to the California address, Erick pressed the speaker on the gate. The security asked him what he was there for. I’m here for Ellen DeGeneres, Erick said innocently. There’s no Ellen DeGeneres here, they told him. He immediately realised he had been conned. “Luckily the Uber driver was kind enough to wait for me,” he says.
After being fooled a number of times, he tells me that he has learned that celebrities are actually too busy to engage in these kinds of bizarre treasure hunts. “They have no time for people like me.”
When a woman called Pinkster C started following Dwayne Johnson on Twitter, it took less than 24 hours for fake accounts to start trying to befriend her. One – ‘@Dwayne74285872’ (an account that seems to have been deleted) - said he needed “a loyal fan” to help collect $780,000 from a suitcase left in a secure location. If they collected it, @Dwayne74285872 said, the fan would receive 20% of the money. (The Rock was too busy with shows to collect this suitcase money himself, he explained.) If Pinkster C continued to help him, she was told, she wouldn’t just receive 20% of the suitcase money; she’d also get extra things like signed pictures and cars.
Initially, Pinkster C thought that this person could plausibly be The Rock. What made her realise it wasn’t in fact The Rock was that he was talking about money in a suitcase. When other fake Dwaynes approached her, she took a zero-tolerance approach and blocked all of them. “As you can imagine I’m not silly and knew these people weren’t The Rock,” she says.
Brandy T, another Rock follower I approach on Twitter, has been dealing with celebrity impersonators for more than a year. One – ‘@Vindiesel8797’, an account with 12 followers – told her he was Vin Diesel and that he was going to be sending her $500,000 and a gold necklace to keep – because he couldn’t trust his own people. “I thought it sounded like BS but played along,” she says.
When this scammer asked her for bank details, she spoke to her bank, who told her to give him only the deposit information. He deposited $788 into her account, telling her that she could pass it onto an orphanage in Africa. “It was such a dumb scam,” she says. “I might have been born at night but I wasn’t born last night.” The bank tracked the money to Thailand. Her bank account has been frozen, the police are investigating him, and she is waiting to hear when the matter will be closed.
Brandy tells me that at the moment about four people pretending to be The Rock are trying to contact her. One of them is ‘@Therock_Ballers’. One kept telling her she was pretty and tried to lure her to a hotel last year. He told her she could bring her family but had to rent the five-star room at her expense. He also asked if she would buy him an iTunes card. “I had my family sitting here and they were having quite the laugh at this one,” she says. When I ask her why she continues to engage with these people, she says, “Because I feel if I get them on here I can report them and maybe be able to stop the scamming somehow.”
Exactly how Pinkster C’s suitcase stunt or Brandy’s hotel room stunt would have generated money for the scammer is unclear. Exactly how any of the scams work is unclear. But there must be method to the madness, and the scammers must lure in a sufficient number of people, otherwise they wouldn’t persevere, springing up out of crevices like weeds.
I will continue to investigate this matter over the coming weeks. My plan is to approach one of these scammers, pretend I believe one of them to be The Rock, and see how things pan out.
I will, of course, keep you updated.
Stay hungry, stay humble.
(Illustration: Dan Evans)