Australian satirist, Bryan Dawe, has been duped by online scammers claiming to be a young female Palestinian photographer, whose gear had been purportedly destroyed in an Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
The Tangier-based Australian, a writer and artist best known for performing mock political interview skits with the late John Clarke, thought he was doing a good deed by using his profile to help replace the gear of fake photographer, Sarah Murtaja.
But it was later revealed that Murtaja’s photos were captured by other Gaza-based photographers, and the young Palestinian is probably a creation of a criminal syndicate. Dawe fortunately clued on to the scam moments before wiring the money away, enabling him to issue refunds, however the scammers sought revenge.
In May 2021 Dawe was moved by a heartfelt Facebook post written by the person, or people, claiming to be a young photojournalist asking for assistance to replace her destroyed photography gear. Her post included a picture of a smashed Canon 5D III and a note that Israel ‘prevented the introduction of financial aid into Gaza’, so she ‘created a donation campaign through PayPal, and I hope for the good people to donate even a little bit’.
Inside Imaging dug up the original post:
‘I am Sarah Murtaja from #Gaza City, I lived through 4 wars that #Israel launched against us, where I work as a #photographer, I photograph life in Gaza!
On 05-15-2021 I left my photography job because of the brutal Israeli bombing around us during the last war on Gaza in early May, which ended a few months ago, resulting in destroying my own #Canon 5D III #camera, which is priced at $2800. This is due to the indiscriminate bombing of warplanes on civilian facilities.
The associations did not compensate me, because Israel prevented the introduction of financial aid into Gaza, where I created a donation campaign through #PayPal. At the request of my friends, and I hope for the good people to donate even a little bit, in order to buy a new camera and return to the work of photography to uncover Israel’s crimes and continuing to portray Gaza’s life to the world
Thanks to the good people, I have raised $2154 so far and I’m still collecting the rest of the money, and I won’t need much because the donation is collective. $15, $30, or maybe $50 would be much appreciated.
Remember that your donation is not for me personally, but rather represents your support for the Palestinian people.’
The Facebook post garnered more than 269 shares and 600 comments, including several from individuals confirming they supposedly ‘donated’. The Sarah Murtaja profile is incredibly active, with numerous new posts each day showing ‘every day life’ in Gaza. There are hundreds of photos – possible more than a thousand – published since June 2021, and the account has over 1000 followers.
Sourcing the photos and writing the captions would be a monumental job for one individual, suggesting more than one person is behind the account, and it’s difficult to ascertain why the account exists. The donation scam from June 2021 hasn’t recently been re-invigorated or promoted via the account, with the last two posts randomly promoting a YouTube account dedicated to cute cat videos. Besides that the account’s feed is mostly pictures of every day life in Gaza, along with anti-Israel occupation posts.
So it’s understandable why Dawe was moved by Murtaja’s story and, ahem, ‘her’ photos.
‘Her photos displayed a human side of Gaza and Palestine missing from the normal media portrayal of death and destruction,’ Dawe said about the photos accompanying the post to the Sydney Morning Herald. ‘The photos told another more heartening narrative of young kids trying to survive and live their lives among the chaos of an ongoing war.’
Dawe proposed creating hundreds of special edition prints by adding ‘my digital art to the existing photos’ including both their signatures to sell through a Melbourne art shop. ‘This would hopefully attract interest to her cause and make up the money she was requesting’. It worked – around $3000 was raised, and the scammers must have been quite thrilled with what had almost fallen into their lap.
‘Having reached more than the amount required – friends also donated to ‘The Gaza Project’ not asking for prints or cards – I was ready to forward the money to the PayPal account.’
The 74-year-old satirist said just prior to transferring he found out that Paypal did not operate in Gaza, despite Murtaja requesting the money be transferred via the payment platform. ‘Naturally, a very loud bell rang’.
A Google Image Reverse Search, now re-branded as ‘Google Lens’, revealed the images were shot by other photographers. Inside Imaging ran a few through the system, and found them attributed to other photographers such as Gaza photographer Ibrahim Faraj.
The satirist contacted customers to offer refunds, as well as notifying the various publications that their photographers’ images had been stolen. In October an Adelaide-based cybersecurity expert confirmed Dawe was scammed, The Herald reports.
Unfortunately for Dawe, it didn’t end there. He continues to be harassed by the online fraudsters, being sent a deep fake sex video purportedly showing him in an effort to extort money.
In response Dawe shut down his social media accounts in December, but The Herald reports a fake Facebook account is now set up and remains active in his name. The fake Dawe account is incredibly persuasive, and is currently pushing another donation scam. This one’s for elderly indigenous Australians, and unfortunately appears to have duped many and garnered thousands of dollars of donations.
The only slight giveaway suggesting the account is linked to the same scammers is a post supporting Palestine using a similar writing style with hash tags as the Murtaja post.
‘On August 5, two weeks ago, #Israel launched a fierce war on #Gaza, unfortunately, there were many civilian casualties. I supported Palestine on #Facebook with posts and photos, unfortunately #Meta deactivated my account without warning.’
Dawe’s friends have exhausted all options to have the account shut down, but Meta is yet to take any action.