For months, an elaborate international catfishing scam operated by grifters posing as powerful women in Hollywood has fleeced thousands from freelance creatives and others in the entertainment industry, and a new report from the Hollywood Reporter includes recordings of two of the calls that set the scam in motion.
Deadline first reported the operation in April, describing the grift as a “global scam” whose victims are seduced “by the promise of a dream career job, offered most often in a call from a knowledgeable and very convincing woman claiming to be a powerful female producer-financier.” The scammer contacted photographers, makeup artists, consultants, and other creative professionals via cellphone, impersonating such entertainment power brokers as former Sony studio head Amy Pascal (pictured above), Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy, Paramount head Sherri Lansing, Homeland director-producer Lesli Linka Glatter, and others.
The woman on the phone is typically armed with both inside information about the Hollywood gatekeeper she’s impersonating and personal details about the intended victim, the better to establish the ruse that she is indeed connected in show business. From there, the mark is instructed to sign a freelance contract and an NDA preventing them from actually vetting the gig with colleagues. The would-be freelancer is then sent to the job location, typically Indonesia, and ends up laying out a bunch of cash for expenses they’re told will be reimbursed along with their fee for the gig. One unnamed photographer told THR he was scammed out of $65,000 after traveling to Indonesia to shoot images he believed would be used for a storyboard pitch to potential film investors after a call by a woman claiming to be Pascal.
According to recordings obtained by THR, the woman is a master impersonator who can render strikingly convincing impressions of each show business executive’s voice. “This woman learns everything there is to know about her targets,” Nicoletta Kotsianas, an investigator from the intelligence firm K2 told the magazine. “She tweaks her voice and accent and sounds like who she is impersonating. That’s why she’s been able to fool as many people as she has.”
The anonymous photographer said he was taken in by the Pascal imposter because she knew his work intimately, as well as details about people with whom he worked closely. “You wouldn’t know these things unless you dealt with these people in very specific ways,” the photographer said. “This gave her immediate credibility.”
Homeland‘s Glatter said she’s been repeatedly impersonated since 2017 and has hired a private investigator to find the imposter, who’s been calling people connected to military interests to consult on fake TV projects. “The fake Lesli had contacted [a consultant in D.C.] to collaborate on a project, but then she started sounding weirder and weirder and the political consultant called my agents to find out if she was real,” Glatter told THR. “People believed there was a real job at the end of this… There is a whole group of military people that were targeted.”
The scam apparently manages to fleece an average of $5,000 to $7,000 per victim, but on occasion the grifters have landed scores of up to six figures. Their organization is believed to be spread across several continents, but thus far has managed to evade law enforcement.
According to THR, the grifters are angling for bigger targets. “As of yesterday, they were targeting a woman who is one of the richest women in the world,” Kotsianas said of an unidentified mark based in New York. “She trumps everyone else we’ve seen so far in terms of how well known she is. They’re getting more brazen.”
Read THR‘s entire investigative profile here.