The Absolutely Crazy But True Story of How A Man in Kosovo Tricks Texans With a Facebook Page
UPDATE: After finally getting Facebook to review this page they have taken it offline. I’m still working to get them to transfer the ownership to the original owner, but for now it is at least no longer operational.
UPDATE #2: Something similar to this is happening in Australia right now according to ABC News. If you’d like to get in touch with me to discuss this type of scam, please contact me through my website.
Kosovo is a country in Eastern Europe, just north of Greece in the Balkans. It is inhabited mostly by ethnic Albanians and has an approximately 30% unemployment rate. The country is one of the next up for admission into the European Union but is not recognized by all European Union member countries as a nation, including Spain and their neighbor Greece. Kosovo has struggled since the Yugoslavian war when the people who live here were under threat of genocide and today that struggle continues with soaring unemployment and low wages along with a relatively high cost of living. There are many Kosovo natives living in the USA today and I have the pleasure of knowing and having done business with many here in the Dallas - Fort Worth area, they are a wonderful people who have always treated me like family and whom I have great admiration for.
Oddly enough it is also a land where fear of law enforcement is nearly non-existent and a place where Wire Transfer Fraud and Copyright theft are said to run rampant.
I’m told one of the ways in which the youth of Kosovo make money is to build or acquire Facebook pages and post content to them constantly, then they post links to articles on websites they own with ads on them and with content stolen from publishers often in the USA or Europe, depending on their target audience.
I became aware of the existence of this underground when I worked out a deal to purchase the brand “Texas Life” from a man named Gjemajl Bequiri, a resident of Pristina, Kosovo. It was a simple enough transaction, I would send Gjemajl half of our agreed upon amount and in exchange I would be given any brand assets he had and then send over the other half of the amount.
I own a growing network of social media pages designed only to share and spread content created by other creators, many of which are based in Texas. My team and I had the concept of creating large cross-platform Texas brand and began hatching out ideas for names. We came up with two that we really liked; Texas Life and Texas is Life. I set out scouring the web to see if these names had existed somewhere or were already used which in 2017 means looking for domain names, facebook pages and URLs, Twitter accounts, Pinterest URLs, Subreddits, and Instagram handles. In my search I found the Facebook url: Facebook.com/TexasEverything with the name “Texas Life”. The page was active but mostly just reposted content over and over from the website “USAViral24.com” and stolen memes from Texas Humor. The page appeared to be getting engagement but other than publishing the same content over and over it didn’t seem to be doing much. (Seriously the page posts 12–18 times per day, same articles over and over again).
I took a shot and reached out to see if the owner was willing to part ways with this Texas Life page and any other Texas Life assets they might have as I began to see how viable attaining the assets to kickoff this brand might be.
Within a few days the owner replied to me that he was willing to sell the Texas Life brand but he wanted $2,000 because, “It is a monster page bro”. Eventually we organized a deal in the amount of $1,100 as it became apparent that he did not own any other assets that would be useful for me to maintain the brand I was building I wasn’t willing to go up on the price. Even when he told me that his page reached 5 million Texans each week. Gjemajl asked for the payment to be sent via Western Union. He had been very friendly and while his English wasn’t perfect it didn’t feel off in a scary way. He had even added me as a friend on Facebook and made me an Editor of the Facebook page which would be the bulk of our transaction. All before I sent any money over to him.
Gjemajl had been so kind to me that I felt for a moment like I was having one of those times in your life where you get to do something really cool for other people. It was surreal, was administering Facebook pages helping us connect from opposites sides of the world? I had already known the struggles in Kosovo but I started wondering if I could help people in that country in some way like job training and eventually decided that after our transaction was complete I would offer a job to Gjemajl if he wanted it.
Gjemajl didn’t just own the Texas Life brand I was interested in acquiring, he also told me he owned several Facebook pages and sent links to one that was targeted at Native Americans and another one that was targeted at artists.
I finally agreed to send the $550 for this page and the other few assets he had such as original memes and graphics in the way he had requested. My bank refused the transaction and required that I call them to try it again. After a few attempts the transaction was made on the morning of May 15th at 9:30am Central Time (USA) and was picked up 15 minutes later by Mr. Bequiri in Kosovo. Then, he disappeared.
Gjemajl was gone for days, not in a physical sense, but in that he was not finalizing our transaction nor was he responding to messages asking to when he would complete it. I remained calm and patient for 3 days. When I did not hear from him I reached out to the other person listed as an Editor on the page, Ardit Rufati. I was starting to think I might have been ripped off, but wanted to think the best of Gjemajl.
Ardit was incredibly angry. He began replying to me in Albanian, a language I do not speak or read. I enlisted the help of Google Translate and was able to figure out that he was telling me that Gjemajl did not own the page or the Texas Life brand but that he (Ardit) was half-owner and he was upset that he was not consulted on the sale or that he wanted more money.
I stood firm that I made a deal with Gjemajl and told him in both English and Google Translate Albanian to ask Gjemajl about the deal.
Eventually he was able to get Gjemajl involved in the conversation again and the two of them started a group chat on Facebook in an attempt to tag-team scam me out of the original deal and and to send them even more money with the promise that they would definitely grant me the administrator access so I could take over the page. (note: the account Ardit used for this conversation has since been closed by Facebook and I’m not able to access it)
This is where I should point out for the savvy or the Facebook staff reading this, that I was not trying to purchase a Facebook page, that is against Facebook’s TOS (although big name companies seem to do it all the time). I was trying to purchase a brand which appeared to be strangely disjointed in hopes of building a website to talk about all the great things in the state I call home. The name “Texas Life” with the social media handle “/TexasEverything” also exists on Instagram and Twitter, but some time in 2016 the accounts started posted wildly different content with Twitter and Instagram being highly similar but the Facebook page posting all kinds of stuff that the other two did not. As an editor of the Facebook page I was able to determine that, for a brief period of time, the Texas Life page on Facebook posted near pornographic images of women with links to seedy adult websites. That content was scrubbed and content from the domain “USAViralNews24.com” (a website which has since been suspended) began appearing around August of 2016 along with random memes related to Texas, mostly from pages like Texas Humor and a Facebook page which would later be revealed to be part of the Internet Research Agency’s campaign during the 2016 election. I was unsure of why or how the the accounts had became disjointed but had already figured out that Gjemajl and/or Ardit only owned the Facebook page. I found it peculiar that a young man in Kosovo would own such a page, but hoped that perhaps they just like Texas the same way so many American youth embrace the culture of places like Japan or other nations.
I continued my conversation with Gjemajl and Ardit but quickly came to the realization that I had been scammed. Our talks would start off pleasant enough with greetings and even on some occasions Gjemajl or Ardit sending me a photo of themselves or the two of them, but they would quickly devolve when I refused to send more money or when I mentioned that I was filing a fraud complaint with Western Union and the local police if the transaction was not completed.
During this time I continued to examine the Twitter and Instagram pages for clues as to why they had gone a different direction than the Facebook page. I found what I thought was my first big clue in a retweet dated February 2nd, 2016. The retweet was of the account of a Fort Worth based real estate agent. This tweet stood out because it was far from the norm in that most of the other tweets were all memes or jokes after this date and prior to this they were a mix of memes and news items about Texas. I thought that at the very least this real estate agent might help me find the owner of the page and decided to reach out. It turns out I was right.
The real estate agents name in the retweet was Catlan Kendrick and the TXEverything Twitter handle retweeted him once in early 2016 and once in late 2015. I called and spoke with Catlan on his business line and the story he told me was surprising. Catlan had started the Texas Everything / Texas Life social media channels in 2015 to help his real estate business and to have fun. This is a fairly normal thing to do, although many agents choose only one city or a neighborhood to cover. That all changed for Catlan in August of 2016 where he created a meme that would take off and go viral.
Shortly after his viral meme catapulted his Facebook page into the stratosphere Mr. Kendrick’s Facebook account was hacked and his page was stolen. The timeline he would tell me lined up to the behavior of the Facebook page which started posting photos of scantily clad women a few weeks later.
Mr. Kendrick told me he did everything he could to report this theft to Facebook, but never received an answer from anyone. He felt hopeless and eventually started another Facebook page, but that new page never took off. His Twitter account is still sort of active and but his Instagram hasn’t posted since last year. Whatever his dreams and ambitions were, they appear to be dashed.
Gjemajl and Ardit argued back and forth for over a week about the page admin being transferred to me. I had decided that once this was over with I would transfer the ownership back to Mr. Kendrick, the rightful owner (and someone who actually lives in Texas). Unfortunately the demands from Gjemajl and Ardit grew increasingly high, they wanted more money and they wanted me to wait until the new year (2018).
In their arguments, which were in Albanian, at one point Ardit mentioned a third person who “would be very unhappy” with the deal and losing administration over the page. I tried to figure out who that person was, but they changed the subject quickly.
The mention of a third person got me curious, so I began digging around and weeks before Facebook announced they were shutting down the page “Texas Rebels” for being part of the Russian IRA which was attempting to meddle in our elections, I discovered that the page Texas Life was sharing content from this page a lot. It could be just a coincidence, but it would make sense why Gjemajl and Ardit were so afraid of the mysterious third person. The page still posts content with the Texas Rebels watermark to this, often times ‘sharing’ it from a brand new page called ‘TexasCiity” with the handle @Xhemssi which Google Translate pegs as an Albanian word but doesn’t give any more information on.
After a few more days of the two young men refusing to complete our deal I decided to cut my losses and reported the incident to the US Embassy in Kosovo, the Kosovo Police Directorate for International Cooperation, Western Union, and the FBI. I included all of the information about the theft from the Real Estate agent Catalan Kendrick, the usage of the page for possible foreign political interference, the copyright theft.
None of them seem to care that much.
I spent much of my time last year following up with all of them, all groups deferred to the Kosovo Police which constantly told me the case was open and being investigated, but it never appears to have gone much further.
Ardit and Gjemajl had a falling out shortly after this. And when Gjemajl found out that I had reported him to the police he grew incredibly angry. This is where things got out of control. Gjemajl decided he would use his Texas Life Facebook Page and attempt to convince people in Texas that I was a terrorist. He took my Facebook Profile Photo and shared it on the page with horribly broken English telling people on the page to notify the police if they saw me. Unfortunately for Gjemajl his English was so bad that Texans laughed at his post instead assuming it was some kind of joke. He didn’t stop there, he searched on Facebook for anyone with my unique last name and shared photos of them on the page also with comically terrible English that gained nothing but a few laughs and comments questioning what was happening to the page which had been extremely Texas focused.
After this incident Ardit completely separated from Gjemajl. Gjemajl informed me that he had deleted the images and then blocked me on Facebook (update: I am now unblocked by Gjemajl). Ardit asked me to leave him out of this and said that he was going to pursue an education, he also began following my Instagram and has asked me a few business / marketing questions since then.
When this ordeal started the Texas Life page reached 5,000,000 Texans on average every week (post reach in Facebook Insights) and had roughly 65,000 followers. Today the page has over 150,000 followers and likely a much larger reach.
Even with the multitude of statements and security measures implemented by Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg, there still doesn’t seem to be a way to prove that your page was stolen by someone and is being used against your will. Facebook did announce that by August 28th you’ll have to declare your country of origin just recently. Yet, a real estate agent in Fort Worth, TX can have their page stolen by someone in Eastern Europe and have no way of getting it back. Will declaring your nation of residency be enough?