The United State’s Federal Bureau of Investigations has created a website to seek information for their investigation into the so-called “Con Queen of Hollywood”, who operates a scam that involves victims coming to Indonesia on fake promises of work only to be swindled out of their money.
According to an FBI press release, the bureau is seeking victims “who may have traveled to Indonesia under the promise of a potential job offer from individuals purporting falsely to be well-known entertainment industry professionals.”
What is publicly known about the scam so far have been gleaned from the accounts of its victims told via outlets such as The Hollywood Reporter, which coined the moniker of the scam’s mastermind with their excellent July 2018 feature Hunting the Con Queen of Hollywood: Who’s the “Crazy Evil Genius” Behind a Global Racket?
You should definitely read the Hollywood Reporters’ piece to get a sense of just how incredibly elaborate the scam is, but here’s the gist of it as described by the FBI:
The unsuspecting victim is typically contacted and made to believe that they will receive a lucrative job in the entertainment industry that involves traveling to Indonesia, typically Jakarta, in order to complete a trial run of their services. The initial contact is typically received via email and progresses to telephone calls and text communication. The imposter typically uses vanity email domains, provides realistic “scope of work” documents and non-disclosure agreements, and sets itineraries that appear legitimate and typical for the industry. The imposter also uses information, likely obtained from social media and other open sources, about the entertainment executive and the victim’s previous work to provide a sense of legitimacy and authenticity. Often times, the imposter will indicate the victim’s name was received on referral. Upon acceptance of the job in Indonesia, travel itineraries are set up by the imposter and the promise of a quick reimbursement is made. When reimbursement monies are not received by the victim, the imposter provides various explanations for failure to pay.
While in Indonesia, the victims are met by a pre-arranged driver and are pressured into providing U.S. currency for their services that greatly exceeds the normal rate. The victims are convinced to continue to provide further sums of U.S. currency until the trip is completed or they realize they are the victim of a scam. The victims are not reimbursed for the cost of the travel, the money provided to the drivers, or the cost of their services while in Indonesia.
The FBI says that the fraud scheme started around 2013 and targeted US citizens, with writers, stuntpeople, make-up artists, security providers, and photographers all counting among its known victims.
The press release warns that this is an ongoing scam and advises anybody who is planning to travel to Indonesia for a job in the entertainment industry perform additional research and proceed with caution. They’ve also set up a brief questionnaire for those who have already been victimized by the scam to provide them with more information for their investigation.
In their latest update on the Con Queen, The Hollywood Reporter describes a disturbing new modus operandi for the scam artist: “luring people into sexually charged phone conversations, with no apparent financial stakes involved”. The industry trade publication says the scammer recently began targeting Marvel Studios’ Victoria Alonso, an executive VP of production at the superhero-centric studio who found out in April that somebody had been impersonating her to conduct “lurid fake telephone auditions with aspiring actors”.
The Con Queen has reportedly impersonated a number of other well-known female movie executives over the years, including Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy and former Paramount chair Sherry Lansing as well as other high profile personalities such as Wendi Murdoch, the ex-wife of Fox chairman Rupert Murdoch.
The apparently masterful impersonator has been described as “a woman whose sophisticated research, skill with accents and deft psychological and emotional manipulation have earned her the begrudging respect of her victims and trackers”. However, investigators say the scam also involves a “boss man” who is in communication with the Indonesian drivers and translators involved in the con. He can reportedly speak perfect English and Indonesian and has been known to threaten victims by implying he’d report them to Indonesian immigration for working on a tourist visa (which is a very real threat for foreign entertainers in Indonesia).