A scam is making the rounds in the Instagram influencer and photography community, and it’s so elaborate that you can understand why people fell for it.
Someone purporting to be Wendi Deng Murdoch, the former wife of media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is fleecing thousands of dollars from hundreds of unsuspecting Instagram influencers and photographers.
The scam begins when “Wendi” contacts the photographer from an email with the domain dengmurdoch.com, professing to be impressed with their work, and that they got their details from someone reputable in the industry.
In the case of two photographers who’ve told their story, Wendi got their details from Pilar Guzmán, the editor-in-chief of Conde Nast Traveler.
Wendi asks the photographer if they’d like to shoot her in Jakarta, Indonesia, and she even sets a phone meeting to talk about the project which is for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
“There was even one conversation that she put me on hold and I could hear her pretend to talk to her nanny in the background about a tutoring project for one of her daughters. The act felt so real,” Carley Rudd, who was embroiled in the scam in early-January, explained in a blog post.
Wendi, and her supposed New York-based assistant named Aaron Gersh, tell the photographer to book their own flights to Jakarta, but promise to reimburse the costs after the project is finished.
A fake, but detailed non-disclosure agreement is even sent. The photographer makes their way to Jakarta, and that’s where the trouble begins.
For Rudd, she was told by Gersh that she needed to pay $1,400 in cash for an expedited photography permit, again promising to reimburse the money, complete with fake wire transfer receipts. She was skeptical, but obliged.
“I was alarmed by their disorganization and the price seemed high but knew it came together last minute and had run into needing international photography permits in the past,” Rudd wrote.
The same request, albeit $1,100, was made to Henry Wu and Zornitsa Shahanska, who have a blog together called This Life of Travel. They also saw red flags when they went on the trip last November, but persisted.
“Aaron gave us a final call to tell us apologetically that we’d have to pay some photography permit fees or ‘bribe’ fees to some of the local government there due to corruption,” Wu wrote on the site.
The photographers were picked up by a driver, who helped them get the money exchanged into Indonesian Rupiah. They were instructed to hand the money to the driver.
In the case of Rudd’s driver, he took a long detour away from the hotel, eventually stopping at a gas station, proclaiming the tires needed checking.
“At the gas station he handed off the cash in a plastic bag to someone with a backpack behind the car. He never checked his air pressure and got back into the car,” Rudd wrote.
“We tried to make conversation and ask about the route and ETA to our hotel but he spoke very very little English.”
The photographers make it to the hotel, only to be given the constant runaround by Wendi and her assistant when it comes to the actual shoot in the coming days, or told to pay up more in new “permit fees.”
In the case of Wu and Shahanska, they ran into a German photographer at a Chinese temple, who said he was also asked by Wendi to complete the same project. They eventually figured out it was a scam.