“I decided that if I could do a collaboration with ‘Sarah’, adding my digital art to the existing photos, I could make prints and gift cards available as a special edition. This would hopefully attract interest to her cause and make up the money she was requesting,” Dawe said.
Hundreds of cards and prints were made up and sold through a Melbourne art shop, each bearing the signatures of Dawe and the woman claiming to be Murtaja. He even created a Vimeo video to promote their venture.
“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,” Dawe said.
But on the day he was due to transfer the funds — about $3000 — Dawe learned from an article posted on Facebook that PayPal did not operate in Gaza.
“Naturally, a very loud bell rang,” the 74-year-old said.
Dawe then did a reverse Google search of the photographs sent by Murtaja and discovered they had been appropriated from Palestinian newspapers or international photography agencies.
After realising he had been duped, Dawe contacted customers and offered refunds, while also notifying several publications that their images had been stolen.
A cybersecurity expert based in Adelaide confirmed in October that Dawe had fallen victim to scammers, who continued to hound him for payment.
A deep-fake sex video that purported to feature Dawe was then used to extort him.
“Tell Bryan if he doesn’t contact him today, he will create a sponsored ad, and send pictures and videos to all Bryan’s friends,” according to messages received by Dawe on May 26. “I advise you to mediate to solve this problem, what do you think?”
For the past year, Dawe has been inundated with messages from friends and followers asking if he’d been hacked.
The satirist said he was forced to close all social media accounts in December last year, and now only uses encrypted message apps to communicate with friends back home.
“I don’t trust anything any more. I take the Edward Snowden approach towards everything now,” he said, referring to the former US computer intelligence consultant who leaked secrets from the National Security Agency.
But despite shutting down all his social media accounts, Dawe’s name and image continues to be used on fraudulent Facebook posts, which now promote a charity for Indigenous elders.
He’s convinced the same criminal syndicate is responsible, but is baffled how their posts remain online.
Dawe said friends in Australia, including Kelly Sims in Tasmania, had repeatedly contacted Facebook to have the matter investigated.
Sims confirmed she had used all “modes and mechanisms” on Facebook to make a complaint to the technology giant.
She then asked the company to remove a fake Facebook account that used Dawe’s name and images, according to a separate report she filed in May.
But Sims, and Dawe’s other friends are yet to receive a response from Facebook, or its controlling entity Meta.
A Meta spokeswoman said the company was unable to comment on Dawe’s case until it was provided with a URL of the fake accounts.
The spokeswoman insisted that Meta was “committed to safeguarding the integrity of our services”.
“We strongly encourage people to report suspected fake accounts and scam posts, so we can review and take the appropriate action,” the spokeswoman said.
Dawe remains unconvinced.
“It’s breathtaking. They’re prepared to take the money, but when something happens to go wrong, Meta is not prepared to take any responsibility.”
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