Image Source: Fiverr, Wikimedia Commons
We all know that the gig economy is just a terrifying innovation that makes it easier for the moneyed class to exploit workers. But one Fiverr drone recently found out that it's also a perfect way to get framed for doing crimes.
Back in April, a woman named Alexa Emerson was taken into custody in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, as a suspect connected to more than a dozen suspicious packages that were mailed around the city. In June, she was hit with 83 charges related to sending packages filled with baking soda that could be mistaken for anthrax and multiple false bomb threats. But that wasn't the weirdest part.
On April 9, regional media outlets received video footage of a young blonde woman confessing to working with an accomplice to send the packages. The woman says in the video, "We made those packages together, with the cookies and rockets and tissue paper." She very bluntly proclaims her intention, stating, "People will think the baking soda is anthrax." And according to National Post, the video wraps up with a rant about unfaithful lovers.
Police officers weren't buying it, saying in a Facebook post at the time that it was "clearly scripted," and for months they have been asking the public for help identifying the woman in the video. Last Friday, the cops put out another call to the online world and gamified their request by characterising it as "the greatest 'Where's Waldo' internet challenge ever."
The spicier challenge apparently worked, because the brother of North Carolina resident Samantha Field saw his sister and notified her that cops in a city more than 3,219km away were looking for her. On Sunday, Field came forward claiming to be the woman that police were looking for. She explained to CTV News that she regularly fulfils video requests on Fiverr and, in this case, she responded to a request from a user going by "alexemme." The assignment was to read an excerpt from the user's "new book," intriguingly titled The Floppy Hat. CTV News explains:
The excerpt video would be displayed at alexemme's book launch, the Fiverr user told Field, according to screenshots of the pair's conversation.
But there was no book launch where the video played. Instead, the video was sent to media on April 9, accompanied by a handful of emails claiming the innocence of Alexa Emerson, the woman charged in the suspicious package deliveries.
Field claims she was paid $US35 ($44) for the gig and that she read out a pitch for the book that was eventually cut from the video when it was distributed. She says that she was suspicious about the authenticity of The Floppy Hat but had no complaints about alexemme. She tells CBC that she got a five-star review after sending back the video and a note that said, "Thank you much for bringing my characters to life."
At the time of her interview, Field said that she'd contacted Saskatoon police but had not received a response. Authorities informed CTV News that the lead investigator was on vacation until August and a police spokesperson said that they are "aware that a young woman has contacted us regarding this, and we are attempting to follow up with her. Apart from that, we do not have any further update on the investigation." Gizmodo reached out to Saskatoon police on Thursday for further information and they replied, "We have touched base with the young woman but investigators plan to speak with her early next week."
Emerson has pleaded not guilty to all charges including providing false information in a separate incident. Police believe she's responsible for sending a video of herself being "being bound, assaulted and threatened in order to mislead a police officer," according to CTV News' evaluation of court documents. This would probably be a perfect time to claim that she too was the victim of a devious Fiverr request.
Gizmodo reached out to Fiverr to ask if this incident violates their terms of service and if it planned to pursue any legal action. Here's what they had to say:
Fiverr is used by millions of entrepreneurs and businesses worldwide to build beautiful products that bring value to people. Unfortunately, there are always those who misuse the Internet. The act of deception is not taken lightly in our marketplace, and we provide freelancers with best practices and resources for identifying potentially suspicious buyers. Bad actors can deceive freelancers, and we urge anyone from our community to alert customer support when they have suspicions or concerns around orders that have been placed.
Field is doing her best to set the record straight. "I don't like the idea that my face is out there and attached to something so negative and something so terrible," she said. She's lucky that the cops didn't believe the bogus video. As with most results from Fiverr gigs, it seems that you get what you pay for -- even if you're trying to set up a patsy.