The bizarre story of Sarah Phillips, the ESPN freelancer and alleged Internet scam artist, continued on Wednesday, as more people came forward to say they were conned by the former columnist.
Phillips, who posted around 10 items per month for ESPN since she was hired in September, was terminated Tuesday after Deadspin identified her as the ringleader of a scheme that allegedly conned popular web producers out of rights to their content. The 22-year-old used her lofty status as an ESPN writer to convince youngsters with high follower counts on Tumblr, Twitter and Facebook to join a non-existent sports comedy venture. In exchange for a stake in that site, the producers turned over their comedic Facebook pages and parody Twitter feeds to Phillips and others. She was looking for rubes and the Internet was full of them.
When two of the writers realized that the promise of riches from Phillips' venture was a pipe dream, they demanded she return their sites and passwords. According to emails, she responded with vague legal threats from lawyers who probably were as real as her sports comedy site.
Phillips promised one woman to be paid in exchange for her Twitter followers, and the woman claims she was scammed out of the money and her account:
Long story short, I never got paid and lost my Twitter account to this scumbag. As seen [here] Sarah kept making up excuses as to why I wasn't being paid yet continually. Months went on and I lost interest in retrieving my Twitter account until I realized something crucial. (Here is where the story gets interesting)
When I gave Sarah the Twitter account it had 2000 followers — after she got hired by ESPN it was now at about 50,000 followers. I emailed her and pretty much said — if you don't pay me the $500 that you owe me, I will take back MY Twitter account that has accumulated over 50,000 followers. Pretty good investment for me considering 50, 000 Twitter followers is worth A LOT more than $500.
Phillips admitted some deception in a series of tweets on Tuesday. The fake picture of a comely blonde she used as her original Covers.com avatar was to conceal her identity from future employers. She also said she made poor choices and fell in with the wrong crowd.
ESPN quickly ended the relationship and has managed to stay out of the forefront of the story. The network hired Phillips without meeting her, a common occurrence in the world of freelancing. She went rogue. (Or continued to be rogue.) When ESPN found out, it cut ties.
It's not clear how much, if any, she gained financially from her maneuvers, nor is it readily apparent that she broke any laws. If the allegations are true, she's guilty of misleading, cajoling, bullying, stretching the truth and being undeniably shady.
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