SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA – Klinedinst attorneys Earll M. Pott and Harold C. Trimmer secured a complete dismissal of a federal civil action brought by a plaintiff who had accused San Diego real estate agent, award-winning speaker, and author Kurt Francis of being the alleged mastermind behind a complex scheme to commit fraud.
The case, originally filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Cynthia Morton v. Kurt Darren Francis et al., 2-21-cv-1576), accused Mr. Francis of hatching a plan to steal approximately $300,000 from the plaintiff.
Plaintiff alleged that Mr. Francis had assumed the identity of Koladzyn William Otto, purportedly a successful, international businessman, and used a popular dating website to lure her into the scheme. After winning over Plaintiff’s affection and trust, the phony Mr. Otto pretended to suffer a series of business and personal setbacks that required urgent, substantial transfers of money. Plaintiff would eventually sign fraudulent loan agreements which purportedly documented $292,000 in loans she agreed to extend on an emergency basis.
Shortly after the case was filed in 2021, Mr. Pott and Mr. Trimmer immediately began asking for early access to the plaintiff’s digital evidence. They conducted a forensic analysis, and then did a thorough catalogue of the evidence, identifying the sources of all images and videos that had been produced by the Plaintiff and alleged to have been part of the fraud.
Within short order, it became very clear that Mr. Francis had not defrauded the plaintiff, but had actually been the victim of false impersonation and an unwitting pawn in a sophisticated crime known as “catfishing.”
In a catfishing scheme, someone steals the identity of another individual, pretending to take on the identity usually for purposes of financial gain. In this particular case, the unknown perpetrators had taken on the identity of Mr. Otto, using Mr. Francis’ likeness in images and videos to trick the plaintiff, and reportedly other victims, into sending large sums of money. And because they happened to appear on one of the uploaded videos in question, Fernando Francis and Kurt’s brother Charl Francis were also falsely implicated.
The true masterminds behind the fraudulent scheme, who remain at large, had used Kurt Francis’ likeness to create false profiles on dating websites. They also doctored a corporate website using Mr. Francis’ widely-available photographs to make it appear that he was an officer of Wiltech Engineering, an international company headquartered in Great Britain. They also were able to pilfer details of Francis’ public speaking engagement videos to strategically impersonate him in Skype calls.
“The level of sophistication used in this deception was very high,” said Mr. Pott, a Shareholder in Klinedinst’s San Diego office. “Whoever was behind this was able to pull together a lot of publicly-available information to effectively make the plaintiff truly believe she was in a relationship with Mr. Otto, when in fact, that was simply not the case. They then left a trail of images and videos that further obscured their true identity and led the plaintiff to mistakenly accuse my client, Mr. Francis.”
On February 18, 2022, presented with the evidence obtained by Klinedinst attorneys, the plaintiff dismissed her action, stating that “after further investigation, Plaintiff has determined that Defendants are not the perpetrators of the frauds described in the Complaint in this Action.” Mr. Francis has filed his own criminal complaint with the San Diego Police Department in an effort to ensure that his image or identity are never again used to defraud anyone else.
“In this digital age, catfishing and other fraudulent online schemes are becoming far more common.” added Mr. Pott, who regularly defends clients in white collar criminal cases. “It’s important to always remain vigilant about potential identity theft. If you hear of or see photos of yourself or your likeness being represented online in a capacity that you had no role in creating, it is possible that you are a victim of a fraudulent cyber scheme. While you may not be defrauded, it is possible that your likeness may be used to defraud others. Help yourself and other victims by reporting these incidents immediately to local law enforcement.”
Klinedinst thanks Mr. Pott and Mr. Trimmer for their terrific work in defending this client. For more information, including their biographies, please click here.
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