LIFE

Fake Tom Hanks fools NGO promising Athens appearance of US star

SAKIS IOANNIDIS

TAGS: Society

“Thomas Jeffrey Hanks started following you.” It was this beguiling message that set off a bizarre chain of events in August that led to the Hellenic Institute of Cultural Diplomacy believing that American actor Tom Hanks would appear at an event it was organizing in Athens.

In June, the newly established nongovernmental organization and its Goodwill Ambassador Ada Iliopoulou had held an event in the Greek capital featuring two renowned French fashion designers. It was such a success that they immediately started toying with the idea of an even bigger event, this time with an A-list star.

“I follow Tom Hanks and [his wife] Rita Wilson on Instagram. I suddenly got this message from Thomas Jeffrey Hanks, which I accepted in good faith,” Iliopoulou told Kathimerini. Several messages were exchanged with the person posing as the famous actor, and even a video call, she said, explaining that “Thomas Jeffrey Hanks” had advised her to tell the institute to get in touch with a company called “Tom Hanks Management” in order to make the arrangements for the Athens event.

The head of the institute, Petros Kapsakis, told Kathimerini that he was aware of the discussions taking place between Iliopoulou and “Thomas Jeffrey Hanks.” He had even recommended that the actor should launch a charitable initiative as part of the awarding ceremony, such as opening an account for donations in aid of the victims of the east Attica wildfire in July. “Thomas Jeffrey Hanks” was all for the scheme, of course. “Tom Hanks Management,” meanwhile, had several economic demands connected to the event.

The organizers in Athens did not suspect anything, according to Iliopoulou, when the “management agency” asked for 12,000 euros to be deposited into several accounts, ostensibly to help charities in various countries including Denmark, Australia and Spain. The “idea” was for foundations supported by “Tom Hanks Management” to also benefit from the actor’s appearance at the Athens event. Once the 12,000 euros was deposited, the company came back asking for more, with the additional funds coming to around 30,000 euros.

In its correspondence with Iliopoulou, which has been seen by Kathimerini, “Tom Hanks Management” gives the address of a website that appears to represent a charitable foundation in Copenhagen. It turns out that the photographs on the site, purportedly showing the charity’s good work, are a selection of images grabbed from TV shows and private social media accounts. The foundation’s email, meanwhile, is similar to that used by the man posing as Tom Hanks. A few hours after the final payment demand was met, the dream of a spectacular social event turned into a nightmare.

Denial

Via their private Twitter accounts, Rita Wilson and the real Tom Hanks categorically denied news that the famous actor was due to appear at an event scheduled for tomorrow at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center’s opera house, stating that they have never spoken with the Greek organizers and have absolutely no connection with a company called “Tom Hanks Management,” while adding that Hanks has not signed any contracts for such an appearance.

Iliopoulou denied rumors that tickets had been sold for the purported event, saying that the organization had only sent out 300 private invitations.

“The money that was demanded was paid by the two families that support the institute. In no way did we take or intend to take money from guests,” said Iliopoulou, who has already filed a complaint with the police concerning the incident.

The Hellenic Institute of Cultural Diplomacy, meanwhile, stressed in an announcement that admission to the event was to be free of charge and by invitation only. It also said that an investigation has been launched to “ascertain whether the organization and Mrs Iliopoulou in particular have fallen victim to fraud by the self-acclaimed representative of Mr Hanks, as well as to find out to what extent the documents the organization has in its possession are authentic or not.”

It is not clear how Hanks and Wilson were informed of the issue and were able to present a copy of the invitation to the event on their personal accounts.

It appears that several other companies that had pledged support for the event were also targeted by “Tom Hanks Management.” It was further rumored that US Ambassador to Greece Geoffrey Pyatt would be giving a speech to welcome the special guest. Everyone who is anyone was going to be there tomorrow, it seems, except Tom Hanks.

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