Performers and backstage staff at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe have reported losing thousands of pounds after falling for a series of accommodation booking scams on Facebook.
They are urging others to be wary when booking accommodation, and to avoid paying money up front.
The Stage spoke to a lighting technician and a theatre company who fell victim to fraud this year, and a further three individuals who lost money to scams last year.
The theatre company, which wished to remain anonymous, says it was defrauded of £3,000 after trying to book five rooms for the duration of the 2018 fringe.
A member of the company told The Stage she was contacted by a woman through an Edinburgh Facebook group, who said she had two rooms available at £400 each and a friend had a further three rooms. The theatre company paid the money and a deposit up front.
After this, they received a message from the woman who said she was in Ukraine and her bag had been stolen, asking the theatre company to transfer her money to come back to the UK. At this point, the company realised they had been scammed, and contacted Action Fraud, which is investigating the case.
The company member told the Stage: “The problem was, I was going through some personal stuff at the time, which made me a bit preoccupied and vulnerable, and we’d left it a bit late.
“She kind of groomed me; we’d exchanged a lot of messages, and she’d asked me about my children and other personal things. I felt really dirty after I realised.”
She added: “We found more accommodation but it cost us another £3,000. I would absolutely warn other fringe-goers to be wary – never pay up front.”
Lighting designer Ciara Shrager and a friend also lost money after trying to book accommodation with someone they found through an Edinburgh Fringe Facebook group and paying £950 upfront.
Shrager said: “I was talking to her for a full month, she was talking about her dog and yoga classes near the flat.
“On Friday, July 20, she deleted her Facebook account and stopped replying to emails. It was such a shock – especially after talking to her about things for a month. I thought, ‘Is this really happening?’”
Magic act Griffin and Jones, and cabaret artist Kiki Deville, fell victim to the same scammer, who they again met through a Facebook group, in 2017. Both gave The Stage the same name of the perpetrator independently of each other.
Nathan Jones, one half of Griffin and Jones, lost £500 after paying for a deposit up front, while Deville lost £100, which she said was one of several factors that led her to cancel her fringe show that year.
Jones said: “I feel really stupid, but I don’t know what I would have done differently, because I got a utility bill and a copy of his passport.
“My heart just sank when I found out; I’m just a performer so I’m hardly rolling in the money – so to be £500 out of pocket and to have no accommodation [made things very difficult].”
Deville added: “Don’t give any money up front unless you know the person or you have had dealings in the past. If something doesn’t feel absolutely right, don’t go through with it. As soon as he made me feel uncomfortable I should never have given him the money.”
Hypnotist and cabaret host Ben Dali also lost £500 in 2017, after paying the deposit via phone banking to a woman he met through Facebook.
He told The Stage: “I’m a body language expert, and my stage work is based out around working out whether people are lying, so if they are able to con me then they can fool anybody. The first thing I would advise is to speak to them on the phone. It’s easier to lie on email and text.”
All creatives and performers The Stage spoke to said they had reported the incidents to either the police or Action Fraud.
Shona McCarthy, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, said: “While we have received relatively few reports of accommodation scams at the festival, we are deeply dismayed when we hear that participants have been the victim of fraud and always do everything we can to support those affected.
“We would advise anyone who believes they have been defrauded or thinks they are engaging with a fraudster to contact the police via the Action Fraud service.”