The MEAA has warned its members that a sophisticated scam targeting performers and crew has reached Australia and that at least one Australian stunt performer has been defrauded of thousands of dollars.
The scam is believed to have trapped at least 10 victims in Australia. The union has advised its members to take extra precautions when dealing with people purporting to be high-level Hollywood executives.
The ruse involves a skilled impersonator with detailed knowledge of yet-to-be-released Hollywood screen productions made in Australia, with accomplices based in Indonesia.
The international operation was first revealed by The Hollywood Reporter last year. The latest victim is a MEAA stunt member who was approached via email by a person impersonating American producer Jon Jashni.
“When I received the email, my gut said ‘as if,’ but the content of the email was convincing,” the stunt member, who asked not to be identified, said.
“They were not only able to name the last production I worked on but my role, the stunt I had performed and the unit I worked with. The film hasn’t even be released. I thought I had done all the checks and the paperwork looked bona fide.”
The member also spoke to the scammer and took a number of precautions, including checking that the projects linked to the producer matched information available online and that the voice of the person he had spoken to matched recorded interviews.
He was given a non-disclosure agreement and a reimbursement contract to sign. He also received a travel itinerary and standard employment contract.
After flying to Indonesia he was met by a driver and was asked to cover incidental expenses but was given receipts and was assured of reimbursement.
When he began to feel uncomfortable, the scammer contacted him and pretended to patch a call to Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, a veteran Hollywood producer.
“I heard what I believed to be both Jon and Kathleen on the line,” he said. “They were strong, aggressive and believable. I Googled Kathleen Kennedy interviews and the voice I was hearing was hers.”
K2 Intelligence is a private investigation firm that has been investigating the fraud. Its investigator Nicole Kotsianas told the MEAA the scammer is a first class mimic and can switch between personas in a single conversation. The targets are people from the entertainment industry and include crew, performers, and social media influencers.
“I know of at least 10 victims from Australia,” Kotsianas said. “These people are from all areas, performers, crew, military security specialists and social media influencers. For every victim there could be another 100 people approached.”
The fraudster is able to mimic 15-20 high level American entertainment industry personnel including Kathleen Kennedy, Amy Pascal (former Sony Pictures chairman) and Stacey Snider (former 20th Century Fox Film chairman/CEO).
The operation dates back to 2016 and has targeted industry members from the UK, Europe and the US. In all the cases the victim is asked to fly to Indonesia, where a designated contact collects the money for expenses and issues receipts. Often the amount scammed directly from the victim, excluding flights and accommodation, is between $5,000 and $7,000.
Other MEAA members have reported receiving calls or emails from a person purporting to be Jon Jashni that identify minute details about their recent work.
MEAA recommends that if members are approached by a party unknown to them that they request a video conference before making any travel or money transfers.
“We need to ensure we are telling our colleagues about this scam,” said MEAA Queensland regional director Michelle Rae. “Our best protection is to be aware and prepared. Spread the word and tell your mates.”
Any MEAA members who are contacted or have been affected by the scam should get in touch with MEAA Member Central, from where they can be referred directly to K2 Intelligence.