KANSAS CITY, Mo -- Models, makeup artists, fitness instructors are all people who depend on social media to grow their brands. But someone in the metro is targeting women behind those accounts, promising photo shoots and cash payouts.
Maria Gargiulo posted a tearful photo on Instagram, sharing her story of what happened as a warning to other women.
"I felt so scared," Maria Gargiulo said.
Gargiulo almost made the drive from Springfield to Kansas City to meet up with someone who claimed they were a scout for the popular online clothing company Fashion Nova.
"I decided not to go when I reached out to the company they were representing and they said we have no idea what this is about," Gargiulo said. "We don't know these people. This is a scam."
Gargiulo is a fitness competitor, and says she's done photo shoots before. But this one seemed different than the others. She says she contacted KCPD, and was told to contact sex crimes and east side patrol.
"After I posted on Instagram had so many girls, I'm talking like 100 girls reach out to me and say this has happened to me before, this is real," Gargiulo said.
One of the other people targeted by the photo shoot scammer was Callie Porter. She didn't follow through either after a string of red flags.
"The stuff they want you to bring is odd, like the oil for example is just like weird," Callie Porter said.
The scammer followed the same pattern with Porter, and the other women we talked to. He contacts them through either Snapchat or email and tells them they'll get between $450 and $650 an hour, after a scout takes their picture and evaluates them. He asks them to meet at the parking lot of Kauffman Stadium.
Porter is a make-up artist and suspects that's why she was contacted.
"He was texting me," Porter said. "He claimed his name was James. He said he was 18. I thought that was weird. "
The women contacted about the fake shoots say the scammer went my James Stone, Jackson Stone and Dustin Sommers.
We called both of the numbers we had for him but no one answered. A private investigator looking into the matter on Maria Gargiulo's behalf says it's an unregistered burner phone.
The scammer also contacted Mara Olney, a yoga instructor who promotes her teaching through Instagram. She declined the photo shoot, but says she understands why some people would meet with the scammer.
"The fact that they wanted to meet me very quickly, that evening, it felt very rushed and made me feel uncomfortable for sure," Mara Olney said. "I know that company does use amateur models that they find on Instagram. That's what made it feel like, maybe it is a real thing."
Olney, like the others, is glad she didn't show up to the parking lot at Kauffman Stadium where the scammer wanted to meet.
"I can't know for sure what would have happened but my intuition told me that it wouldn't have been a good situation," Olney said.
Through Instagram we found a woman who actually met up with the scammer at Kauffman Stadium in January. She didn't go on camera, but told us he made a fake Snapchat account impersonating one of her friends. The person behind the fake account said she needed her help filling in for a photo shoot. She describes him as a a 17 or 18 year old light skinned black man, driving a dark colored sedan. When the woman arrived, he tried to kiss her, and tried to get her in his car.
She said no repeatedly and left, and never heard from him again. But the scammer is still at it, and woman targeted just this week, are warning others to trust their instincts.
"If there's any red flags, it's important to listen to your intuition and to not be tempted to go through with it just because the money sounds good," Olney said.
When FOX4 asked the Royals about the scammer, spokesperson Toby Cook said KCPD tipped them off about the scammer Wednesday afternoon. Cook told FOX4, "We do regular patrols of the parking lots and amped those up after the tip.... We would always encourage someone who is being told to meet at the complex to proceed with caution or suspicion because we don’t allow “gatherings” that have nothing to do with games or sanctioned events."
Lionel Colon with KCPD told FOX4, "Investigations begin with the filing of a police report. Unfortunately, without that, there is nothing further we can do in an investigative standpoint. We certainly encourage reporting to police."
A representative for Fashion Nova told FOX4 they are dishearted to hear that people are taking advantage of their brand and putting customers into possible harm.
"To ensure that you are being contacted by a representative of Fashion Nova, ensure that the person speaking with you is using an email address ending with @fashionnova or a verified Fashion Nova, Fashion Nova Curve or Fashion Nova Men's Instagram handle," the representative said.