It started as an innocent email inquiry in August for wedding services to CSP Worldwide from a "Jane" living in the United Kingdom.
"We’re all going through COVID, and we’re all dealing with life as it is. All of a suddenly I got a request through one of my company contact pages," said Carey Smolensky, owner of CSP Worldwide in Buffalo Grove. "I respond to it and make mention that there’s a wrong phone number submitted, please provide the correct one and we’ll get back to you, very basic."
What Smolensky didn’t realize at the time was that email would be the first of many emails he would receive from a mysterious Jane living in London.
“It started in a very generic way,” Smolensky said. “But it became more inflammatory and harassing and accusing me of living a double life.”
Jane’s emails accused Smolensky of creating a fictitious profile on LinkedIn under the name Josh Karta.
“I realize your life must lack passion and that’s why you took to approaching women on LinkedIn. Only you will know exactly why you have deceived me,” Jane wrote in her emails to Smolensky.
She threatened to “expose him” if Smolensky did not provide her with a “full and honest apology” adding that she had looked at all of his YouTube promotions, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages. Jane even called Smolensky a "hypocrite” and asked in her emails, “what was the foreign accent all about? Rehearsing for a new acting role?”
Jane’s emails alarmed Smolensky so much that he googled the name “Josh Karta” and quickly discovered that someone had stolen many of his photos off his social media accounts of CSP Worldwide, his company.
“It’s a threat to my identity because my face is my image, is my brand, is my reputation,” said Smolensky, who is an easy guy to find on social media because he’s an event planner, speaker, author and singer whose motto is “Living Life with Passion and Helping Others.”
“At first I felt bad for this woman who seemingly was being taken advantage of,” said Smolensky, but Jane’s emails also scared him. He went to the Buffalo Grove Police Department and filed a police report. Smolensky said the police told him there was little they could do but warned Smolensky that this could be an extortion scam in the making and recommended he contact the FBI which he did.
Smolensky also reached out to NBC 5 Investigates. We were able to track down Jane in the UK and let her know Smolensky’s photos had been fraudulently taken off his social media accounts.
How Did Jane Get Connected to Josh Karta?
Jane told NBC 5 Investigates it was their shared experience in finance that first piqued her interest in Karta. He also had pictures of himself at charity events which led her to believe he was a genuine, caring business person.
“His LinkedIn page looked legitimate,” Jane added. “He’s had quite a few followers, a few thousand followers if I remember rightly so, so yes I didn’t think there was any reason in not connecting.”
That connection grew into a budding relationship. Karta told Jane her eyes were beautiful.
“Yes, it was flattering, and we chatted quite a bit,” Jane added, but in the back her mind, Jane knew she needed to see him to make sure Karta was who he said he was and suggested they FaceTime each other.
“I saw him when he was walking downtown in Miami. He looked exactly like the person in his profile pictures. So, I absolutely had no doubt in my mind, because I saw him.”
Jane believed that Karta was legitimately interested in a relationship with her. But then came what Jane described as her red flag.
“He asked me if I could help somebody receive some money. He said he was having difficulty getting it to his friend account," Jane said. "That really unnerved me, and I said I needed to think about it.”
Jane told Karta no and cut off the relationship but then decided she really needed to figure out who the real Josh Karta was. That’s when Jane took the photos off Karta’s LinkedIn profile page and found Carey Smolensky in the U.S.
“At the time I realized that his pictures belonged to somebody else, I genuinely thought that Carrie Smolensky was in one way doing the dirty on his wife and he was this other person,” Jane told NBC 5 in a Zoom video call, adding that she started following all of his social media accounts and even emailed his wife of more than 30 years.
But what was even more troubling to Jane was she was sure she saw Carey Smolensky in the FaceTime call she had with Karta.
How Could Jane Believe She Saw Smolensky on a FaceTime Call?
NBC 5 Investigates reached out to security researchers John Christmas and Matt Jakubowski.
“Without seeing the video, it’s hard to say for sure," Christmas told us. “It’s super easy to have taken a video of Carey walking around Miami and talking and FaceTiming and with how bad, especially during this pandemic video conference qualities are, lips often don’t sync up to the audio or the quality overall doesn’t look good.”
In fact, there are many online videos of the real Carey Smolensky FaceTiming from many cities, including Florida.
“Yes, there could have been a video of him speaking in Miami already. So, they use an existing video of this person speaking," Jakubowski said. "You cut the audio, you insert your own audio to fit the situation. It’s a little more complicated that way, but again with video conferencing and FaceTime, you account for glitches, you’re okay when it cuts out for a second and this could have been a 32-second clip that was repeated multiple times, but because it’s just a glitch right there, no big deal it’s normal.”
Both security researchers recommended that before connecting with anyone on LinkedIn, users need to take the extra step of verifying who the person requesting to connect is.
“We’re always so afraid to verify that the person we’re talking to is actually who we think they are, or in the case where we don’t recognize them at all, we’re afraid to admit, hey I’m sorry I don’t remember you,” Christmas added. “Don’t be afraid to ask who they are and where you met them."
Back in the UK, Jane regretted causing any problems for Carey Smolensky. “I feel sorry for him, actually. I think he’s a genuine guy. Well, he’s obviously a genuine guy, I mean, I researched everything about Carey Smolensky. There isn’t anything that I haven’t watched or listened to."
Jane told us that she agreed to speak with NBC 5 Investigates because she wanted to warn people of the scam.
“I want people to be very aware that anybody who may appear to be genuine, may not be. Just go with your gut feeling," Jane said. “Because I, as far as I’m concerned, did what I could to try to determine in the beginning if this person was genuine and even on LinkedIn, I reported him, and nothing was done.”
NBC 5 Investigates reached out to LinkedIn. In an email, LinkedIn spokesperson Leonna Spilman confirmed they took Josh Karta’s account down after Carey Smolensky complained and wrote “to keep our members safe from bad actors, we enforce our policies, which are very clear: the creation of fake accounts or fraudulent activity is a violation of our terms of service. Our teams utilize multiple automated techniques, coupled with human reviews and member reporting take swift action to remove them and prevent them from being created."
Spilman also said LinkedIn restricted two million fake accounts before members reported them in just six months last year.
NBC 5 Investigates found no Josh Karta matching the LinkedIn profile. The company he listed told us Karta didn’t work for them and other people had complained. So we were surprised when the person claiming to be Karta answered a call to his Miami phone number. He told NBC 5 Investigates he was Josh Karta, claimed the fraudulent photos were him, complained we were calling him and then hung up.
Fortunately, Jane never fell for his pitch, Smolensky didn’t lose his reputation and LinkedIn took down Josh Karta’s page but not before Karta celebrated a birthday with gold coins and these pearls of wisdom, “I will put a smile on my face and won’t let the trouble of life get me down.”