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American Cindy Whitehead was one of the top-ranked professional female vert skateboarders in the 1970s. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A Los Angeles-based ex-professional skateboarder turned sports stylist has thanked Gulf News for saving her in the nick of time from a sophisticated online scam that uses a fake Dubai charity to target international celebrities.

Cindy Whitehead, a top-ranked vert skater in the ‘70s and a pioneer of the sport, said she almost fell for the fictitious Khalifa Chartitable Trust www.khalifacharitabletrust.org when they contacted her by email offering $75,000 plus an agency fee and a first class return fare to Dubai with her team to deliver a talk at high profile convention (sic) in the city in February 2020 . “I speak about women empowerment and skateboarding and had just got done speaking at ESPN. I guess that’s why I was approached,” Whitehead told Gulf News. The website is no longer accessible.

“We were getting ready to sign the contract today when I Googled one more time using different key words and found the August 29 Gulf News article https://gulfnews.com/uae/crime/revealed-how-fake-charity-is-using-uae-sheikhs-name-to-con-celebrities-1.66039749 about the scam. I can’t thank Gulf News enough for saving me financially,” she added.

Whitehead she and her team were in an advanced stage of negotiation.

As per the terms of the contract, Whitehead was to get $75,000 to attend the convention but she had to first donate half of the amount to the trust.

“The contract was very elaborate. My agents, their attorneys and accountants did see some red flags. When we pointed them out, we were reassured. In fact they changed certain terms to allay our concerns. That’s how sophisticated they are,” recalled Whitehead.

On August 27, Gulf News had reported how five celebrities were similarly targeted by the fictitious Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Foundation (www.mansourfoundation.org), which, like the Khalifa Charitable Trust, exists only in the virtual world.

The celebs included Baywatch beauties Donna D’ Errico and Krista Allen, American reality TV star Duane Lee ‘Dog’ Chapman senior aka Dog the Bounty Hunter, media personality Madison Hildebrand and Taylor Armstrong, who is known for her role in reality show The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

All of them were approached by the bogus foundation and offered anything between $300,000 and $430,000 to speak at a charity event in Dubai.

In fact, Dog the Bounty Hunter who was promised $430,000 had accepted and even signed the contract. However, when his agent couldn’t reach the ‘organisers’ on phone, Dog got suspicious and decided to call off the deal. He was still in the process of doing that when a $430,000 cheque landed at his doorstep with the added stipulation that he first donates $250,000 to the event organisers.

US investigators have described the scam as a new version of the ‘Nigerian Prince’ email of the early 2000s.

According to them, if Dog had remitted the money as per the terms of the contract, the con men would have emptied the bank account against which the $430,000 was issued and vanished with the $250,000 that he would have sent from his own pocket, resulting in a total loss for the actor.

Recently, Taylor Armstrong also tweeted about receiving a similar invitation to speak about domestic victims rights in Dubai.

“I was targeted in this as well — they sent me a fake cashiers check from a business bank to Chase bank and asked me to come speak about domestic victims rights — my passion and my cause #sickpeople,” she said.

Cindy Whitehead said she is deeply upset as she was really looking forward to her UAE visit “ I wanted to meet girls who skateboard there and give them the encouragement we give girls who skate here in the USA. I hope there may still be a way to do this,” she said.

Who is Cindy Whitehead?

Cindy Whitehead conquered the male dominated profession of pro vert skateboarding in the 70’s and quickly became one of the top ranked professional female vert skateboarders in the US. She was the first female skateboarder to have been sponsored by Puma. In 2012 she made national headlines by skateboarding down the closed 405 freeway in Los Angeles. The following year she created a brand called “Girl is NOT a 4 Letter Word” and came out with a skateboard aimed at the female market. She was inducted in the The Skateboarding Hall of Fame on May 13, 2016.