Easily Fooled

The Los Angeles Times reports that a jury today convicted the notorious fraud Christian Karl Gerhartsreiter of murder. He's a guy who went around claiming to be a Rockefeller, a bond trader, and a Hollywood producer (he even claimed to be TV writer/producer Christopher Crowe, who is a real person). His frauds weren't very sophisticated, particularly if you happen to have a computer and an internet connection. But I know how easy it is for some people to be fooled.

Recently, I was a guest at a writer's conference and one of my fellow speakers/panelists was a guy who claimed to have written for scores of acclaimed network TV shows and a big upcoming movie. Based on his experience, he'd been invited to speak at writer's conferences, seminars, and libraries from coast to coast, including some nice paid gigs in Hawaii and Mexico. I'd never heard of him…and the instant I met him, I knew something was off.

For one thing, I knew one of the writers of the big, upcoming movie he claimed to have worked on…and I knew writer/producers on most of the shows he said he wrote for…and when I mentioned their names, he was evasive or said he came on the various projects before or after my friends were there. I might have bought that, screenwriting is a pretty nomadic business, but everything he said on his panels and in his talks about writing scripts and working on episodic series wasn't just wrong, it was inane. Even in our personal conversations, he said some pretty stupid stuff about the business. 

So I looked him up on IMDb. No credits. I googled his name, with the titles of the series he said he worked on, to see what came up… and the results I got all came from his website and the conferences he'd spoken at. Now my B.S. meter was in the red zone.

So I contacted my friends on the shows that he said he worked on. Not one of them had ever heard of him. 

So I called the Writers Guild of America's credits department and asked for his credits. They told me he wasn't a member and had no writing credits.

Clearly, the guy was fraud. And not a very sophisticated one either if a mere google search could unmask him. 

Now that the Guild was alerted to the guy, they investigated the issue in more depth, and sent him a strong cease-and-desist letter. 

What I don't get is how so many conferences, libraries, and seminars could have invited this guy to speak, and paid his way to tropical locales, without doing even the most basic check of his credentials. In this day and age, if a guy says he wrote for some of the most acclaimed shows on TV, you should be able to easily confirm it with a simple Google search.  And if you can't, that should be a big, fat, red freaking flag.

I alerted the conference organizers about this guy's fraud, and they said they'd always suspected something was off about him, but he seemed very knowledgeable and was so likeable that they let it go. They won't make that mistake again.

But it's not the conferences, libraries and seminars that booked him that I feel bad for…it's all the attendees over the years who paid to get this guy's bone-headed advice on writing for TV and movies. They're the ones who got taken. 

6 thoughts on “Easily Fooled”

  1. Lee…. you either meet or receive e-mail from the *most* interesting people. Is it because of where you live or because you have some secret powers that attract them? And yes, as well, good luck on you new book!

  2. Good for you. You invested considerable time and effort to protect students. Years ago, when I was teaching fiction workshops, I became aware of instructors with minimal publishing and editing credentials. They often had charismatic gifts they used to stir hope in aspiring writers. They were often intensely popular but usually didn’t help their students.


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