Wolchek Shame Alert: College interns duped by artist - a con artist

All Erica wanted was a college internship, but now she's on the hook for ...

"Maybe $30,000 to $40,000 at least," she said.

Erica thought she was interning for an artist. He turned out to be a scam artist.

Last spring, Central Michigan student Erica saw an ad on a popular internship web site. It's for articulate gallery of San Diego.  The ad said they are looking for part-time paid interns.

"He said $300 a week," she said.

The artist who ran this gallery told Erica through internet messaging that his name was George Stone.  

The artist said he painted all these beautiful works of art. Erica's first task was to set up a website advertising his artwork for sale using the jpeg images he provided.

"They actually looked good which drew me to the job more actually," she said.

Within days Erica says he was getting orders for his work.

"Then he said okay, 'We'll process orders now but I need you to create a few merchant accounts,'" she said.

The artist helped Erica set up accounts with Bank of America, PayPal, Capital One and Square.

Then, in came the credit card numbers. George Stone convinced Erica his paintings were selling like crazy and these credit cards belonged to customers who were purchasing his artwork.  She believed him.  

Her next job on this internship?  Take money out of the merchant accounts to pay the printers.

"Whenever money would show up it would just get wired out to whatever printer he was using," she said.

Almost every day, Erica was using Western Union to wire the money to one of two main "printers."  A woman in Philadelphia and one in Ohio. 

It added up to tens of thousands of dollars for "printing" costs. The credit cards were coming in and the money was going out.

After five weeks, Erica realized something was very wrong.

"A lot of these orders come back as charge-backs which means they're not legitimate," she said.

The people that owned the credit cards were slowly discovering all the bogus artwork charges on their accounts. And the banks were holding Erica responsible.  

"I didn't even know they were stolen credit cards at all," she said.

Erica was framed in a masterpiece of a scam.

She filed a police report and contacted the Problem Solvers.  

"I don't know what to do," she said. "I just want the creditors to back off because it's not my fault."

FOX 2's Rob Wolchek went to work. His first step was to find out where the money went. It was time for a road trip.

"So this is Garrettsville, Ohio, where a lot of the money was wired to," Wolchek said.

Erica was taking money out of the merchant accounts and sending it to the artist's printer.  Someone named Elizabeth Brass. She or someone using her ID picked the money up at a Rite-Aid drugstore. The only Western Union place in town.  

Wolchek then went to Elizabeth Brass' trailer park. 

"I'm looking for Elizabeth Brass. does she live here," Wolchek asked.

"Nope," said the resident.

Wolchek: "Did she used to live here?"

"I couldn't tell you, we moved in July," he said.

Wolchek headed into the manager's office and they told him Beth Brass moved to Costa Rica towards the end of Erica's five-week internship ordeal.

And in fact, George Stone the artist, even said in one of his instant messages  "Yes, my printer is off to Costa Rica now."

Wolchek contacted Elizabeth Brass online and she said that she was a victim of a scam artist. He told her he was doing this story and the correspondence immediately stopped.

But the artist hasn't stopped. He is still at it using a different name.  

Just last week, he found this ad on an internship website for the John Daniel Memorial Gallery. It's almost the exact ad Erica answered.

So, Wolchek has an intern, a college student Alani, who applied. 

She immediately hears back from the artist, John Daniel.  She's got the job. The pay is $300 a week.Just like Erica's internship.

In fact, everything is the same.  John Daniel sends her jpeg's of  "his" original artwork and wants her to set up a website.  He even includes a photo of himself and a bio.

"John Daniel is a first class student in his university days, a former Verizon clerk (very impressive) and author of many artworks," it said.

"Hi John, I finished the website," Alani tells him. She provides a link for his approval.  Within a minute he tells her to publish it so he can start selling his artwork.

John Daniel is very persistent, trying for days to get Alani, Wolchek (and his) intern, to open merchant accounts.

Of course, FOX 2 and Alani was not going to do that. Instead, they messed with John Daniels' head. Wolchek had Alani start Yahoo messaging him some personal questions.

"What's your wife's name," Alani asked.

John answers reluctantly. He wants to know about those merchant accounts.

What are his kid's names?

"John and James," he wrote.

"How sweet,  how old are they."

John says his kids are young - and what about those merchant accounts?

"Tell me if you got an email from square. All caps."

Wolchek: "Don't be so bossy. And put a frowny face."

"Say when do you have time to do your painting," Wolchek said.

"Well he's starting to get mad," Alani said.

"Say, 'How am I going to get paid,'" Wolchek said. "We did no work.  We made a whole website for him."

John Daniels demands they set up a Square Merchant account.

"I'm a little bit worried," Alani wrote. "I'm only 20 years old and I don't want to get involved with anything that will get me in trouble."

"How do I know you're not going to send me stolen credit cards," Alani said.

He wrote: "I will make sure you are well protected.  I promise."

He promises.

We make him pinky swear. He is not amused.  But he's still greedy.

"Tell him "pinky swear."

John Daniels is angry.

"Write have you ever heard of Rob Wolchek?"

John Daniels say no: "No, not at all."

 "He's my favorite TV reporter," Alani wrote.

"Can you Western Union me some money?"

With that, John Daniels is furious, typing in all caps and demanding FOX 2 set up his merchant accounts so he can sell his artwork.

"John I think you are a scam artist. Rob Wolchek is going to put you in the Hall of Shame."

With that, John Daniels stops typing.

And one more note. You know the "original artwork" John Daniel and George Stone claimed they'd painted - turns out they really are great 

Because Wolchek found out, some of them are really by famous artists like one by Edgar Degas and this another  by Vincent van Gogh.  

That's a classic and that's a Shame Alert.
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