Meet Stefan "Monty" Roberts. You might know him better as Stefan de Rothschild, whose $2.5 million donation to Haiti relief was heralded by the Washington Post, who was quoted by Reuters and who, naturally, had a Huffington Post blog.
In reality, Roberts was nothing more than a sporadic British blogger. The best evidence for Roberts' con also hints that he didn't take it too seriously. As blogger David Shankbone has noted, the background picture on "Stefan de Rothschild's" personal site is virtually identical to the one on Stefan Roberts' site — same glasses, hair, shirt and sweater, not to mention the same basic Web design. You can click the side-by-side comparison we made to have a closer look.
But by adroitly leveraging fake websites, falsified Wikipedia entries and a hunger for free and provocative Web content, he transformed himself in the eyes of the world into a wealthy, jet-setting scion of a famed European dynasty.
Well, he nearly did. Roberts came so close to truly legendary scammer status with his mushrooming press writeups this month; just think how he could have leveraged that attention in a few weeks time: party invitations, schwag, some meetings with celebrities and politicians. But as far as we can tell he only succeeded in attaining glancing mentions in the WaPo and Reuters — Felix Salmon mocked one of his tweets and WaPo put him in a list of donors. That raises him to maybe C- scammer status.
What brought Roberts down was one of the tools he used to hoist himself up, Wikipedia, on which he posted no fewer than five fake entries: for himself, for his fake line of Rothschild family members and for one of his fake companies, Rothschild Estates. His antics caught the attention of the Wikipedia Review after editors kept deleting the fake entries and Roberts kept trying to resurrect them.
Wikipedia Review determined Roberts was a fraudster in part by tracing four of his websites to the same free hosting service.
We verified this and also dug into the registration records for Roberts' sites. It turns out all of them were registered within the past two months. The website domain for the "Rothschild Global Foundation" is barely a week old, its domain having been registered on Jan. 23, even though the foundation is described as a "a multi-billion dollar international charity" on "Stefan de Rothschild's" Huffington Post bio. The domain for the "Rothschild Foundation for the Arts" was registered Dec. 31; Stefan de Rothschild was supposedly executive director. StefanDeRothschild.com, meanwhile, was set up on the first of the year. Another front, Rothschild Estates, the fake property management company that made the fake donation to Haiti, had its domain created on the 20th of December.
It's surprising that, several days after Wikipedia Review's takedown of Roberts, and amid emails from the site's regulars, the Huffington Post has still not yanked or altered "Stefan de Rothschild's" posts. One is about how generous philanthropists like him shouldn't be criticized for the size of their donations; the other is about how his foundation has trouble getting people excited about funding art. We imagine it's tough for Arianna Huffington and her lieutenants to let go of an author's who's so perfect for the site: A young, wealthy, jet-setting philanthropist who loves to brag about how much money he gives away for Haiti and tweet about being stuck in a LearJet traffic jam on the way to Davos and to do it all for free.
Let's hope Huffington's editors (and to a lesser extent those at WaPo) are the only ones who got burned in this scam.