IF you want to work in Hollywood and Amy Pascal, Kathleen Kennedy or Stacey Snider come calling, you pick up the phone.
Or answer the email. Or cross the country, or the world, to take the job.
They are some of the most powerful woman in the world of entertainment. And they have been inadvertently placed in the centre of an elaborate scam which has seen Hollywood hopefuls made grand promises and sent on career-making work assignments — only to be cheated out of thousands of dollars.
Scammers posing as top Hollywood producers, led by a mysterious, savvy thief dubbed “the Con Queen of Hollywood” have cheated a steadily-growing list of victims out of tens of thousands of dollars.
It’s sparked a worldwide hunt for the woman who lures her victims in with promises of work, then leaves their pockets empty and career dreams in tatters.
Described as a “crazy evil genius” who has been pulling the scam for more than two years, a year, the Con Queen of Hollywood’s dodgy dealings were unmasked by industry bible The Hollywood Reporter after an extensive investigation by the magazine.
But the culprit, who impersonated people like powerful film producers Pascal and Kennedy, and 20th Century Fox CEO Snider, is still at it. She’s believed to be part of a compact but clever criminal organisation which has swindled its many victims out of at least $US50,000 each time.
The scam? Impersonate the Hollywood heavyweights and offer their victim the chance to be involved in a creative project in Indonesia. Get the target to stump up the costs of travel and transport, assuring them of course they’d be reimbursed.
Then take the money and run.
HOW IT WORKS
Among the victims was a freelance photographer, reeled in after receiving an email from a person pretending to be Pascal, asking if he’d be available to travel to Indonesia to work on some documentary films she was developing.
The photographer had worked all over the world and had been in the business long enough to know Pascal was the former co-chair of Sony Pictures Entertainment.
He couldn’t find a company website for Pascal Pictures, but she’d told him she was reinventing herself after having her private emails disclosed during the 2015 Sony hack scandal.
She knew his work and his previous clients. Her offer — to collaborate on and develop two short documentaries to be sold in LA — sounded exciting.
After speaking on the phone to “Pascal” he signed a contract and heading to Jakarta.
“She said she was still very close with everyone, working actively with them,” he told The Hollywood Reporter.
There were almost daily phone calls for weeks, and during that time the scammer convinced him her offer was legit.
Paying upfront for travel, food, drivers and accommodation and being reimbursed wasn’t an unfamiliar way for a freelancer like him to work.
But almost six months and $US65,000 later, he realised he’d been hoodwinked.
Other victims had similar stories.
Make-up artists, hairstylists, stuntmen, military advisers, photographers and cinematographers from across the world have all fallen victim to the same scenario, the magazine reported.
After travelling to Indonesia on the promise of work, they all handed over successive sums of money to cover expenses — for travel, fixers, translators — to a man on a moped. But it was never reimbursed.
TRACKING THE SCAMMERS
The scam is elaborate in the pains it takes to be convincing.
The scammer apparently is proficient in a number of accents and can sound like the women they’re pretend to be — as audio recordings unveiled by The Hollywood Reporter revealed.
It’s not just the voice that is spot on. Victims say the woman is as knowledgeable and convincing as she is manipulative.
But in all the victim’s cases, nothing truly raised the alarm until it was too late.
Because the rip-offs only amount to a few thousand dollars at a time — although they add up to a lot more — the relatively small amounts aren't enough for the FBI to get involved.
Some of the women who had been impersonated hired an investigator — K2 Intelligence investigator Nicoletta Kotsianis — who has been tracking the scam for months.
“The people being impersonated are a who’s who of Hollywood, as well as high-net-worth individuals in New York,” Ms Kotsianas told The Hollywood Reporter.
Lesli Linka Glatter, a director and executive producer on shows including Homeland and The Walking Dead said she was sickened to find her name being used fraudulently — at least 12 times and counting — since 2017.
“It’s horribly upsetting that someone is making promises and behaving badly in your name,” Glatter said. “It would go quiet, and I would think it was over, and then suddenly it would start all over again.”