Marvel and DC Comics Knockoff Company Threatens to Dox Female Reporter with Fake Nudes
For close to nine months, a journalist has been harassed by a press rep from Fjackets.com—an online apparel company which sells replicas of jackets and other garments made famous by appearing in popular films and TV shows—to the point where she was subjected to degrading sexual advances, including a threat to spread falsified nude images.
When she objected or asked the reps to stop contacting her, she was told the only way they’d relent was if she wrote a glowing article about Fjackets.com, a company which in all likelihood is not located in the United States, despite extensive efforts to appear as such, and has been accused of stealing intellectual property.
Taylor Lorenz, a politics and tech reporter, first started receiving emails from Fjackets in October 2016. Though Lorenz has never covered movies or fashion, a rep named “Ana Riley” sent an email to Lorenz’s personal Gmail account, offering her a replica Harley Quinn jacket if she was willing to write about that item or any of the other products on sale at Fjackets and/or what Riley described as the company’s “sister concern websites,” Celebsclothing.com and Warriorjackets.com.
A working journalist receives these kinds of emails all the time: some press and/or marketing flack explaining in faux-cheery, corporate language why their product deserves to be treated as newsworthy. Initially, Lorenz told Riley that she does not report on fashion, but what was additionally frustrating was the fact that Fjackets’ employee found her contact info by poring through her website where her email is listed, ignoring a warning that stated “*** NO PITCHES *** Seriously, no pitches” should be sent to her personal Gmail account.
“I think it’s invasive,” she said, noting that her work email is readily available. “It drives me insane.” But on Nov. 11, things took a sharp turn from easily dismissed if grating spam into a confrontational, bullying demand.
After yet another attempt to convince Lorenz to write about the Harley Quinn jacket, one that caused Lorenz to remind Riley once again that this is not appropriate conduct, Riley wrote, “Let’s see how good of a writer you are? let your writing shine in your post.” Minutes later, another arrived which said, “i am challenging you to write an article and mention all my websites. Let’s see if you can do that.”
When Lorenz didn’t respond, Riley threatened to humiliate her. “I can share your nude photos on all our social media profiles. I will show my skills with photoshop,” they said, essentially trying to blackmail Lorenz into writing about the company.
Lorenz was enraged. But a quick reverse image search showed that the “Ana Riley” who had contacted her via a Gmail address—and not one from Fjackets—was using a photo from someone else’s LinkedIn profile.
Helena Horton, a reporter with The Telegraph, was also subjected to emails by this individual, and sent out a warning on Twitter that he or she was using a fake identity. Horton did not respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast, but Lorenz confirmed that Horton had been sent similar bullying PR emails, though they never rose to the level of sexual harassment.
The emails persisted over the next nine months, usually at a rate of one per month plus follow-up emails, using burner Gmail accounts and similarly fake names and photos, which Lorenz then blocked and reported as spam. And while their regular presence was annoying enough that she would be driven to snap back at the sender, no other sexual comments were made again before July 4, when “Julia Kauffman” pitched a Spider-Man: Homecoming hoodie.
After Lorenz screamed, “YOUR COMPANY IS SHIT,” [all-caps hers], “Kaufman” asked, “What is the size of your breast? Can you share a topless photo of yourself with your boobs fully visible?”
Lorenz had had it. In a state of rage, she posted screenshots of both sexual threats to Twitter. The tweets quickly went viral, and the Twitter outrage machine rightly kicked into high gear, though she has since deleted all of her tweets about the company.
It’s unclear whether her tweets were what finally prompted Fjackets to act, but Paul Anderson, who is listed on Fjackets’ website as the company’s founder, first sent a response to The Daily Beast’s request for comment two hours before an apology to Lorenz was posted to Fjackets’ Twitter account.
Eight minutes later, The Daily Beast received the following statement from Anderson.
“The culprit has been fired from our office and a complaint has been launched on him too,” Anderson wrote, even though the bulk of the emails received by Lorenz came from an individual using a female name. “I have emailed personally to Miss Lorenz and a public apology has been posted on Fjackets’ Twitter. I accept that our negligence lead to this but we were not aware of this thing. We all respect women (alot) and we can’t imagine that such thing shall be posted or even think of that. I hope Miss Lorenz accept our apologies.” [sic] Lorenz confirmed that she had received an apology from Anderson, one that she found sincere. Of course, this is not the first time she’d received word from someone at Fjackets who assured her that they would put an end to the harassing emails.
But if it scans as strange that Anderson and people who work for him would employ such stilted language, rife with grammatical errors and typos, in both their public and private communications, it’s because there’s very little chance “Paul Anderson” is their real name, and Fjackets is probably owned and run by people living in Pakistan.
When Anderson contacted The Daily Beast, he/she did so using an email address from Esire.org, an online marketing and development company that uses the same style of broken English as Anderson on its site, along with the initials “dp,” and claiming he/she, Anderson, was also eSire’s “director.”
As to why those initials are important, let’s turn to another set of individuals that have issues with Fjackets: FilmJackets.com, also an online replica movie jacket seller. In a blog posted to FilmJackets’ site in 2015, they claim that Fjackets, “STOLE our name to intentionally mislead customers into buying jackets from them.” [all-caps theirs] The name “Film Jackets” has been plastered at the top of Fjackets.com’s splash page as far back as three years ago, and still exists to this day.
After receiving a score of complaints from their customers about Fjackets—none of which alleged any acts of harassment; they were merely laboring under the delusion that the two companies were one entity—they contacted Fjackets’ domain host, asking that at a minimum, their name be removed from Fjackets’ site. No response was received.
So FilmJackets started digging. At Fjackets’ “Contact Us” page, they noticed that the company provided this address as its “Head Office”: 418 Belle Crest Way in San Diego, California. A search of San Diego County property records quickly showed that the address does not exist, though on Facebook, Fjackets claims that they are located on a different street in San Diego in what appears to be a residential area.
They then did a quick WHOIS domain name search for Fjackets.com. Lo and behold, the address provided was in Chicago and also did not exist. The given street name was “karachi 2501,” and the phone number, 1.1489663369, is not usable in the U.S. (A cached version can be found here.)
The domain site owner, however is listed as Doh Patel, which might explain why “Paul Anderson” used the email address [email protected] to respond to The Daily Beast. A further dive into domains registered by the same user revealed that he/she also registered the website danishpatel.com (which is still under construction) using the name “Danish Patel.”
In 2016, someone scrubbed the fake Chicago address using a domain privacy service. No names or phone numbers remain, save for a new physical address: 10 Corporate Drive in Burlington, Massachusetts, the home of the Endurance International Group. Reached by phone, a representative said that if Fjackets was listing that address, it meant that EIG was serving as its domain host. Esire.org also wiped away any actual contact info in 2017, also using the address and phone number of what appears to be its domain host in their stead.
FilmJackets also pointed to a Twitter account which once belonged to an individual named “Wiley Jackson,” who was responding to tweets on Fjackets’ behalf and used the handle “Wiley @Fjackets.com” up until February 2016, when he deleted his Twitter account.
As his avatar, Jackson stole an image from the site AllergicChild.com.
What’s more, The Daily Beast discovered a job listing posted in March on Esire’s Facebook page that says the company is located in Karachi, Pakistan. And, according to ScamAdviser.com, the company is a “high risk” because it may be located in Pakistan, despite presenting itself as a U.S. business.
Unfortunately, FilmJackets appears to no longer be in business. They haven’t posted anything on their Facebook page since March 2015; the phone number listed on their website went to a voice mailbox which was full; and the site’s founders did not respond to multiple emails.
But that’s not the only example of Fjackets playing fast and loose with intellectual property laws. Also of note is the use of Marvel and DC Comics’ trademark images, logos, and characters both on Fjackets’ merchandise and on their site, all of which appear to be used without permission.
This appears to be a common practice in the online replica movie jacket industry, with countless sites relying on these same tactics to attract customers. Marvel did not respond to a request for comment, and a representative for DC Comics said it’s an issue they take “very seriously” and planned to investigate further before deciding on a course of action. We will update this story if DC or Marvel provides any further information.
In a follow-up email, The Daily Beast asked “Paul Anderson” if he is in fact Doh or Danish Patel, where his companies are located, and if he would care to comment on FilmJackets’ allegations. He failed to respond.
For Lorenz, she’s ready to put the incidents of sexual harassment and attempted coercion behind her, and says while she was infuriated on July 4, she’s ready to forgive both the “rogue employee” and the company as a whole. That said, it did serve as yet another reminder that for a woman, any online interaction, even a mundane one, can turn into sexual harassment at a moment’s notice and without warning.
“Having been a reporter online for most of my career,” she said, “if you are rude to someone… they comment on your appearance or they say some kind of sexual thing, or they try and neg you, basically for being a woman if they disagree or feel like you’re slighting them.”
The Daily Beast spoke with Carrie Goldberg, a victim’s rights lawyer whose Brooklyn firm focuses on online harassment, sexual assault, and blackmail, about Lorenz’s case.
“It’s so absurd,” Goldberg said, adding that she’s never seen this kind of abusive behavior online. Usually, the offender has some intimate relationship with the victim, she explained, whether the motive is personal, financial, or driven by ideology, such as Pizzagate truthers who are laboring under the delusion that their harassment is merited because their target is helping to cover up the existence of a nonexistent child sex ring.
“I see some of the most heartbreaking, tear-jerking, powerless people who are attacked,” Goldberg said. “Their vagina is on ten thousand websites without their permission. They’re 19 years old and the first five pages of their Google results are populated by links to their genitals and their names. And they can’t get jobs and they can’t get relationships and they can’t even get an apartment.”
Goldberg said she was baffled by the company’s actions, given the limited financial gains to be reaped from harassing journalists and the potential serious downside.
“It strikes me as more stupid,” she said. “It’s among the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”
Additional reporting by Luke O'Neil
UPDATE: After publishing the story, a person going by the handle “Paul Anderson” sent a long, rambling email in broken English to Lorenz alleging that the PR agent who harassed her, who they are calling “Atif Hassan,” was “diagnosed with a mental issue” [the company provided a piece of paper purporting to be from a hospital in Karachi, Pakistan]; that they “served notices to the person” last year to stop harassing journalists; that they license their jackets from wholesaler Buy Seasons Direct [though their jackets do not appear to be featured on Buy Seasons Direct’s site]; that this “Paul Anderson” personally apologized to Lorenz over the course of a lengthy phone call [which Lorenz confirmed]; and that “Danish Patel” is an “investor” who is no longer associated with the company.