Martin McDonagh Spam (?) Scam (?)

A couple of days ago, when someone called me from Pakistan to tell me¬† Microsoft wanted to disinfect my computer over the phone, an episode came back to me from my first term teaching in Canada. In December of 2010, I was the target of a very odd email fraud. Looking into it now, I find that Chris Elliot wrote it up in The Guardian: “An unusual identity thief using a fake Guardian persona” [19 Feb 2012]. Apparently at least 22 other academics have spent time writing to this guy, and that’s only the ones The Guardian knows about.

Two bits of background information: (1) Matt Wolf is an English theatre critic who used to write for the Guardian newspaper. (2) Martin McDonagh is a playwright and film director (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths).

In the Fall of 2010 I taught a course in which we read McDonagh’s “Leenane” trilogy of plays. Somehow, I guess, my syllabus gets onto the internet. During the winter break, I receive this email:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: interview: The Guardian Martin McDonagh’s theatre
To: David Williams

Dear Dr.David,
Let me introduce myself
I am Matt Wolf a reviewer of arts and theater at the Guardian newspaper ,Britain . This month we are celebrating modern Irish playwrights with a main reference to Martin McDonagh’s theater and Lieutenant of Innishmore.
May I ask you for an interview ?
I would be grateful if you accept my invitation .
Thanks in advance.

Not being accustomed to or interested in inquiries from the press, and not really paying much attention to the American spelling of “theatre” or the weirdness of “the Guardian newspaper ,Britain” (frankly, you often see worse in print), I answer:

From: David Williams
Subject: re: interview: The Guardian Martin McDonagh’s theatre
To: Matt Wolf

Hello,
No, I’m afraid I make it a policy not to be quoted in the papers. But I’d be happy to answer questions for background, if there are any.
d.

“Matt Wolf” thinks this is fine. So here is his first question:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: 1- McDonagh
To: David Williams

Hi David, OK .That is fine by me . In Lieutenant , McDonagh shows the tensions and contradiction within Irish politics.
Please comment. Thanks in advance.

A bit A-levelish for a theatre critic, I’m thinking – this Matt Wolf is obviously mailing it in. But fine. For some reason this irks me, instead of ringing alarm bells. So I answer as brusquely as I’m able:

From: David Williams
Subject: re: 1- McDonagh
To: Matt Wolf

Ok. My comment is no, he doesn’t “comment” at all on Irish politics. He presents an absurd version of political violence in order to critique, among other things, the vain sentimentality that often accompanies it and sometimes is used to justify it. His stage is a world in which cats count for more than people, even family relations, where history, politics, ethics and so on — all rational human interaction and compassion — are devoured by psychopathic mourning for a pet that isn’t even dead. Besides the premise, the absurd vision of play is transmitted via a Tarantino-style combination of over-the-top gore and punchy, humorous dialogue.

This pleases Matt Wolf so much that I soon receive a follow-up:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: 2 – McDonagh
To: David Williams

Hi David, Thank you . Another question please So how does he represent family relationships in Lieutenant ( father and sons for instance ) Thanks again.

I shoot this off in reply:

From: David Williams
Subject: re: 2- McDonagh
To: Matt Wolf

There is no interhuman relationship (father-son, brother-sister, husband-wife, comrades-in-arms) that holds in the face of Padraic’s raging grief over Wee Thomas, or for that matter of Mairead’s over her own cat Sir Roger. Some of the comic dialogue in the final scene pays momentary lip service to such bonds, but these lines only reinforce the absurd fact Padraic had been plenty willing to torture and murder his own father in the previous scene, when he held him partly responsible for the cat’s death.

I’m now faintly aware that I am myself a part of an absurd exchange, with echoes of dialogue between some of McDonagh’s overdetermined characters. But it’s not until the next email arrives that I’ve finally had it:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: 3- McDonagh
To: David Williams

In Lieutenant McDonagh makes fun of the IRA . Please comment. Thanks again.

Even for the Matt Wolf I’m corresponding with, this is dumb. So:

From: David Williams
Subject: re: 3- McDonagh
To: Matt Wolf

what’s your opinion?

To which:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: mine and 4 – McDonagh
To: David Williams

In an absurd way. He exposed the fanaticism of thebviolence they engage in without pity or remorse.He colthes extremes of violence in a farcical and absurdist situations , forced in turn to extreme conclusions. . McDonagh is called the Tarantino of the Irish stage. Please comment.

He clearly hasn’t been paying attention to a thing I’ve been saying! Well, par for the course, I guess.

But by now I’ve looked up his location by tracing his IP address, and unless Matt Wolf is on special assignment in Riyadh, this is not Matt Wolf of the Guardian newspaper, Britain. My reply:

From: David Williams
Subject: Re: mine and 4 – McDonagh
To: Matt Wolf

And how’s the weather in saudi?

The classic response comes within minutes:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: Re: mine and 4 – McDonagh
To: David Williams

hot.

And that’s all I hear from Matt Wolf in 2010. The end, or so it seemed, of a strange exchange

What on earth was this guy up to? I suspect a Saudi graduate student, or perhaps a professor, is fishing for answers to exam questions, or maybe for material he can use in an essay or presentation.

But then something really strange happens. A year later, I receive in the email:

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: interview Irish drama the Guardian
To: David Williams

Let me introduce myself,
I am Matt Wolf a reviewer of arts and theater at the Guardian U.K. This month we are celebrating violence in Irishdrama: Past and Present  with reference to Martin McDonagh. May I ask you for an interview via the email?
I would be grateful if you accept my invitation
Thanks in advance.

Saudi Matt Wolf is up to his old tricks, with an improved back story. Since he’s forgotten our earlier correspondence, I guess that he must be doing this sort of thing with dozens of people, perhaps full time. I answer as quickly as I can. Here’s the rest of our correspondence:

From: David Williams
Subject: Re: interview Irish drama the Guardian
To: Matt Wolf

sure. send me $10.

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: now
To: David Williams

May I ask you to start now?

From: David Williams
Subject: Re: now
To: Matt Wolf

nope. money first.

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: re: now
To: David Williams

How much do six questions cost?

From: David Williams
Subject: re: now
To: Matt Wolf

Questions are free. The answers cost $10 each.

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: Ok and
To: David Williams

Ok. Can I send you a free sample if you do not mind?

May I ask you to comment on this question
What are the representations of Ireland that are to be found in McDonagh’s drama?
Please feel free to comment.

If answers are OK ..Please do then send me your Western Union nearest office…Name..and state..
Is this OK?

From: David Williams
Subject: Re: Ok and
To: Matt Wolf

I prefer paypal (to this address) or a certified cheque, or cash in a brown envelope, sent to my university address.

I look forward to considering your questions.

From: Matt Wolf
Subject: Re: Ok and
To: David Williams

Ok. But where is your answer to the previous question?

From: David Williams
Subject: Re: Ok and
To: Matt Wolf

Will get back to you on receipt of cash.

I’m still waiting for my $60.

mattwolfNow I see the following notice on the Guardian website for Matt Wolf, which wasn’t there when I looked him up in 2010. I did write to him to let him know about this McDonagh-obsessed Saudi fraudster, but never heard back.

As to the motives of this imposter, I’m at a loss. Some theories are debated on the comments to the Guardian article (guy is collecting essays and answers to sell back to students…), but none really fits the story very well.

Could it be that someone in Riyadh is just really into contemporary Irish theatre and would like to talk to professors about it?

Or is there some money to be made in Saudi Arabia somehow by getting academics on record on certain literary topics of little general interest?

If so, please send cash now!

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