The woman whose photos were stolen and used to defraud men of thousands

adore Janessa two-fold

A former adult star's stolen images have been used for over ten years to defraud people out of thousands of dollars. What's it like to unknowingly be the target of so many romance frauds?

Spoilers are present in this article.

Vanessa receives messages from men who think they are in a relationship with her almost daily; some even believe she is their wife. They claim they sent her the money to cover daily costs, medical bills, or to assist family members, and now they're upset, bewildered, and some of them want their money back.

But everything is a lie. These men are unknown to Vanessa. Instead, since the middle of the 2000s, online romance scams have been using her photos and videos—which were taken from her previous life as an adult entertainer—as the bait. Through fake online profiles that used Vanessa's name or likeness, the victims of a romance scam known as catfishing had their money extorted from them.

The deluge of messages detailing lost money and ruined lives has had an impact.

We won't use Vanessa's last name to protect her identity, but she says, "I started getting depressed and blaming myself — maybe if my pictures weren't out there, these men wouldn't be getting scammed.".

Vanessa spent about eight years working as a "camgirl," streaming pornographic content live over the internet using a webcam. She chose to create an alter ego named Janessa Brazil because she was initially somewhat shy. I won't feel embarrassed because it's not really me—it's Janessa.

She chose the last name Brazil not only because it was the name of the country in which she was born, but also because it was one of the most frequently searched terms online. It was a wise choice. She now says, "I despise that name. But it hastened my rise to popularity. ".

Every catfish has bait hidden behind it. Take a listen to Love, Janessa on the CBC and BBC podcasts. .

For a while, everything was perfect. Vanessa loved interacting with her fans, who would pay up to $20 (£17) per minute to watch her. "I want to win their favor. With them, I want to have fun. And they become addicted," she claims. .

She claims that at the height of her career, she was making $1 million USD annually. Janessa had a strong online presence, her own website, and a popular brand. However, her online profile was deleted in 2016.

For the podcast Love, Janessa, we searched for her for nine months. When we finally got a chance to speak with Vanessa, she told us that one of the reasons she stopped creating online content was to try to stop the scammers. She was living in a small apartment on the US east coast. She declares, "I no longer want to give them the authority to use anything of mine ever again.

When a man asserted in the chat during a live show that he was her husband and that she had promised him that she would stop camming, Vanessa first realized scammers were posing as her. She asked him to email her even though she assumed it was a joke.

Similar stories from additional victims surfaced, and they posted comments during her shows requesting that she prove her identity. Scammers also appeared with odd requests for her, such as donning a red hat, which they then used as images to deceive victims.

Her business started to suffer as a result of the frequent emails, comments, and tense environment. It was a nightmare, Vanessa claims. However, I felt sorry for these guys. What's expected of me?

Her initial attempt to reply to every email took hours each day. She claims that her manager at the time, her then-husband, began keeping an eye on the messages. He claimed that he and Vanessa were not responsible for the money that the con artists' victims lost.

She claims, "If I had received all the money that these guys sent to all these con artists, I wouldn't be in this tiny apartment right now; I would be a billionaire.".

Janessas currency

Vanessa believes that many men's desire to care for women is in their nature, which accounts for the fact that they send money to people they have never met.

They will still give even if they don't have the money, she claims, just to feel loved. .

A fake Janessa hooked Roberto Marini, an Italian in his early 30s. It all started with a Facebook message from a beautiful young woman going by the name of Hannah, who praised him for his start-up company, a sustainable farm on the island of Sardinia.

She started requesting money after three months of sending each other heartfelt messages and pictures. She initially needed it for small things, like a broken phone, but soon she needed more. She explained to him that she had a difficult life and had to work in adult entertainment to support herself when she wasn't caring for sick family members.

Roberto felt a "father-like energy" toward her and wanted to save her. But every time they set up a call, her phone would break or something else would come up, making it seem impossible for them to speak face-to-face.

Then he found a ton of videos and pictures of Hannah online, but they were actually of the adult film star Janessa Brazil, and many of them were more graphic than anything Hannah had ever sent him.

He pondered whether she withheld her true identity because it might interfere with their relationship even though their love felt genuine.

Roberto joined a live online show with Janessa Brazil in confusion. He typed, "Is it really you?" into the chat. Since he was paying by the minute, he didn't stay for very long and didn't get the answers he wanted.

Roberto also emailed her in his attempt to learn the truth, along with a number of other people he believed to be the real Janessa. Vanessa checked her inbox after our interview with her and discovered a message from him among the countless emails.

"Hi. In 2016, he had written, "I need to speak with the real Janessa Brazil. After an hour, she had responded, "I am the real Janessa Brazil. ".

He continued to question her in an effort to learn whether or not they had previously spoken. They had never spoken to each other before this email exchange.

But it didn't end there. The con artists continued to trap Roberto. He claims that over the course of four years, he spent all of his savings, borrowed from friends and family, and took out loans to send them a total of $250,000 (£207,500).

Through his online posts alerting others to fake accounts tricking people using Janessa's stolen images, we discovered Roberto. But despite everything that had occurred to him, he still harbored strong feelings for the real Janessa.

According to Dr. Aunshul Rege, a criminal justice specialist from Philadelphia who has researched online romance scams, that is a sign of a successful con.

According to her, messages are frequently sent by criminal networks that groom victims in groups while exchanging images and information. She has even discovered a sample of the manuals they employ—useful how-to manuals that also provide justifications for avoiding a phone call that might reveal them.

The scams have a consistent pattern: they start with a "love bomb," threaten to break up, and then ask for money to "finally" reunite the couple. The strategies are so predictable that anyone who has experienced them finds them chillingly familiar, but they are effective.

"Humans are hardwired to support one another. We are simply built that way, according to Dr. Rege.

Vanessa claims she despises these vicious practices. "They display love before taking it away. When the guys become desperate, they will do anything to recover it, she claims.

According to Dr. Rege, Roberto's scam was probably carried out by a coordinated group. She claims there are sizable networks operating all over the world, with a sizable portion coming from Turkey, China, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Nigeria, and Ghana.

A group of online con artists known as the Sakawa Boys are from Ghana, one of the countries to which Roberto was asked to send money. Some of them were located by us in Accra. A soft-spoken young man named "Ofa" informed us that creating online personas takes time and requires a lot of administration, if only to keep track of the lies. Although he acknowledged that his work made him "feel bad," he had made over $50,000 (£41,500).

Janessa x 2

When shown pictures of Janessa, Ofa claimed he had never used them but could see why they would be popular with con artists. He added that in order for a scam to succeed, he would require a variety of images depicting the women in real life scenarios, such as cooking or working out.

Vanessa believes that one of the reasons her photos were used was because she shared so many natural, everyday occurrences. They had a lot to work with because I completely put myself out there, she says.

But she makes a distinction between her true self and her professional persona. Amanda experiences panic attacks. Janessa doesn't," the woman asserts.

Vanessa was eventually traumatized by the unrelenting flood of scam victims that turned into "a monster.".

Her mental health and her marriage started to suffer as a result of having to perform on camera every day. Vanessa told us she started drinking before her shows because she was so exhausted. She claims that because she can see her own unhappiness in those videos, she despises watching them.

She claims that by 2016, she had had enough and had decided to quit. She claims to have packed up her car, left her husband and her home, and driven off to start over. She is currently regaining control of her own narrative by studying to become a therapist and writing a memoir.

Vanessa has never reported scammers using her image to the police. They wouldn't take her complaints seriously, she believes. They're going to laugh at my face and look at me like I'm a porn star, she predicts.

She has grown more tough in the years since. She is aware that con artists may never stop posing as her, but she also comprehends how some victims fall for the con.

We can be so foolish when it comes to love, she claims. "I am aware; I have been there. We all experience this feeling of "Damn! I'm smarter than this!". ".

Hannah Ajala, Laura Regehr, Katrina Onstad, and Simona Rata contributed reporting.

artwork created by Jenny Law.

Play Love, Janessa for me. here.

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