In 2014, Ricardo Agnant, a.k.a. “Maserati Rick,” snuck into an NFL Regional Combine at the Miami Dolphins’ training center. An NFL Regional Combine is a selective NFL-sanctioned event that provides aspiring NFL athletes a forum to showcase their talents in front of NFL scouts. Despite having never played college football (which is an automatic disqualifier for participating in the Regional Combine), Maserati Rick managed to weasel his way into the drills. But his deception did not stop there. He used this appearance to launch an ongoing social media campaign to convince people he was a professional football player for the Miami Dolphins. Over the course of 3 years, Maserati Rick allegedly filtered and manipulated photographs which depicted him in a team uniform, though the photographs never showed his number, and posted the photographs on social media. Maserati Rick even posted a heavily-filtered photograph that seemed to depict him signing a contract to play for the Dolphins.
Of course with a nickname like Maserati Rick, Mr. Rick also posted photographs of himself posing with expensive cars. It is reported that he often visited local automotive dealerships, duped people into believing he was a Miami Dolphin, and then test drove luxury automobiles. He would later post photographs on social media of himself with those automobiles, suggesting he owned them. Maserati Rick’s devious scheme came to a crashing halt when he garnered a bit too much attention. Following crass racial comments that he made on social media, Maserati Rick’s real identity was uncovered, and his 3-year tenure as a faux Miami Dolphin was terminated.
While one might wonder why anyone would believe this alleged fraudster, it is not uncommon for people to fall victim to such practices. In fact, the MTV series, “Catfish,” a television show that facilitates in-person meetings between couples who have developed strictly internet-based relationships, is a testament to the countless number of people who are deceived by others assuming false identities. But what legal recourse might people or entities have when they are tricked into believing they are dealing with someone they are not? And how can entities and people protect themselves from people like Maserati Rick? This is a developing area of law, and as such, there are few black-letter laws directly applicable. Nevertheless, there are ways in which an individual or entity can take action against people like Maserati Rick, and protect themselves against such deceptive practices.
While the common law action for fraud is generally difficult to prove, a person or entity that reasonably relies upon another’s intentional misrepresentation, and therefore suffers injury, may have an actionable claim for fraud. In Tennessee, “[a] person acts fraudulently when (1) the person intentionally misrepresents an existing, material fact or produces a false impression, in order to mislead another or to obtain an undue advantage, and (2) another is injured because of reasonable reliance upon that representation.” Hodges v. S.C. Toof & Co., 833 S.W.2d 896, 901 (Tenn. 1992). If a person or entity can prove they reasonably relied on another person’s false impressions, and as a result, suffered damages, that other person could be held liable for damages.
But even before such a scenario culminates in legal action, certain precautionary measures can be implemented to sniff out a swindler. The first step is to ask very detailed questions. No one knows more about a person than the person himself. Where did he grow up? Where did he attend school? When did he begin his career? When did he move to the area? The best part about this detailed information is that, today, much of it is easily verifiable. So naturally, step two is to verify. In a world where Google can be accessed by voicing a command to a smart phone, it is simple to conduct brief research into a person’s personal history. Lastly, ask about the person’s friends and acquaintances, and if necessary, reach out to those people. Often, people maintaining a false identity will be too embarrassed to have friends lined up ready to protect the continuation of the con. At the end of the day, the most important thing to keep in mind is that if the individual acts like a shark, he’s probably not a Dolphin.