Personally, I’d rather catch food poisoning, but…
It seems Trump isn’t the only con artist attached to the Trump campaign. When you have a scam like the Trump candidacy being successfully plied against the entire nation, it’s only natural that other scammers are going to drop a line in that vast pond of gullible, fresh fish, as well.
Using a website that looks extremely close to the official Trump for President site, donaldjtrump.org, a 25-year old Maryland man, Ian Hawes, is making a killing by getting Trumpidians to donate, for a chance at “Dinner with Trump.”
Yes, if you’ve gotten those emails or seen those ads offering a chance to have dinner with Donald Trump, it’s an elaborate scam with no connection to Trump or his campaign.
In just its first three weeks of operation, Hawes’ PAC spent more than $108,000 on Facebook ads, offering an opportunity to win “Dinner with Donald Trump” — and netted itself nearly $350,000 in donations, according to federal records.
The biggest chunk of the money raised — $133,000 — went to a company that Hawes founded and owns, CartSoft LLC. The purpose of the payments is described on federal records as “media” and “media purchasing,” though CartSoft’s website describes itself as an online payment-processing platform.
Since its launch, the PAC has collected more than $1 million, Hawes told POLITICO. It has reportedly spent $0 on behalf of Trump.
Everyone contacted felt they were contributing to Trump’s campaign. Of course, most con men will deny they are con men (just ask Trump), and Hawes is no different. Meanwhile, as of Sunday, Hawes’ operation had raised $1.1 million from over 21,000 donors. 410,000 have, so far, signed up for his Dinner with Donald scam. The emails they provide go on his mailing list.
Those people can expect more scam emails, which they’ll probably donate to, as well.
Because Hawes’ PAC has zero ties to Trump’s campaign, the dinner they are dangling won’t be very intimate. The fine print — in gray, size 8.5-font on a black background at the bottom of the website — discloses that this “dinner” actually amounts to the PAC buying two tickets “at a Sponsor-selected fundraising evening event held with Donald Trump and other attendees.”
David Easlick, a lawyer in Virginia, gave more than $1,000 to the American Horizons PAC. “I assumed it was coming from Trump and we donated a $1,000 because you might have a better chance than if you’d given $100,” Easlick said.
He asked with more than a hint of resignation, “Is it a fraud or something?”
Hawes’ site doesn’t initially ask for money. First, one can enter the dinner contest simply by providing an email. But it quickly offers a chance to “double your chances” by donating, even though the fine print states, “Contributing will not improve chances of winning.”
I’m now wondering what kind of lawyer this guy is, but that’s beside the point.
One person, Jared Peavler of Indiana, posted screenshots of his correspondencewith Hawes’ group on Facebook after he complained it was a scam. “I’d like to point out that it clearly states that contributing does NOT increase chances of winning both in the rules within the link and at the bottom of the email,” Peavler wrote, adding in all-caps, “EAT SH*T!”
An email signed by Hawes replied. “Monetary contributions don’t increase your chance of winning, but we do multiply your entries. We’re also a political action committee, so it’s our job to collect contributions. So you can eat your own sh*t.”
Peavler told POLITICO: “That was when I knew it was fake. Professionals don’t allow themselves to be drawn into an unprofessional conversation like that.” (Hawes said he did not recall writing such an email and that his records did not show any such correspondence. “That’s not something we would say,” he said. “Pissing people off is not something that we’re trying to do.”)
Really, Mr. Peavler? That’s when you knew it was fake?
If people complain, Hawes said, “We’ll be happy to return your donations right away.” They had processed 110 refunds to date, he said. (Those who want their money back can email [email protected].)
In November 2015, a friend of Hawes’, Michael Williams, began Recover America PAC, and ran the first “Dinner with Trump” scam, using the same website as the current scam, dinnerwithtrump.org.
The number given to the FEC is to a company called Glexia. Williams is listed as the CEO and president, while Hawes is listed as the executive vice president.
This first attempt reported no real activity, at the time. It was Hawes who thought to try again.
Then, in June, Hawes revived the idea. The new PAC immediately began buying Facebook ads, starting with $750 per day on June 10 and building up to more than $15,000 on June 29. In three weeks, the group had raised $349,958.
Hawes took advantage of a vacuum left by a skeletal Trump operation that had failed to activate supporters online and protect its digital turf; Hawes noted he bought Facebook ads and solicited money via email before Trump ever did, and created the dinner contest first.
He also says the Trump campaign has not contacted him or requested he stop fleecing his flock of slow-witted sheep.
So far, his group’s biggest expenditure was to his company CartSoft. The next report is due in mid-October. Hawes declined to say what his personal cut has been.
“I don’t want to say the number is zero because that’s not true,” he said, calling any CartSoft profits “a standard mark-up.”
FEC commissioner Ann Ravel declined to discuss any specific potential cases but said in general the FEC was too powerless when it comes to combating fraud.
“That’s the frustration I have, that there’s very little recourse,” she said. “People give money thinking it’s going to go to a particular person or a particular cause and it’s a consumer protection issues as far as I’m concerned.”
Hawes isn’t the first or even the most elaborate scam artist to ever take advantage of the public, but he’s certainly enjoying the fruit of his efforts.
Hawes’ PAC ended June with $88,197 cash-on-hand. It is not clear what activities he has planned on Trump’s behalf this fall. “We use the money that we collect in a way that we feel best creates value for the people who have donated to us,” he said.
Hawes’s most recent activity online was posting publicly on his personal Facebook page that he got engaged in mid-August “on the bow of the yacht overlooking Miami.”
“Couldn’t be more perfect!” he wrote, as he posted pictures sipping champagne with his fiancé and of her glittering oval engagement ring.
How nice for them.