Things sure have changed since I was active in the SEAL Teams. I’ve been working in Hollywood and have a successful international TV show now, and my life has changed in the expected ways, and some completely unexpected ones. I try to be really active in my social media, I want people to feel involved with me and the show, and I take the time to respond and interact with people on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram…but that’s not without hazards.
Social media, aside from tremendous positive benefits, also provides a place for the sociopaths, insane, mentally disturbed, and those who live in a world of fantasy to hide, thrive, and be someone that they are not in real life. From “catfishing” to hackers making a name for themselves to foreign entities data mining, any of these players attempting to compromise people and personalities is a very current threat. Fifth-generation warfare, that is, non-state entities moving against individuals in an attempt to cause terror is what we are moving to, the state of things in the world today…and the internet is just the place to do that.
To be honest, I get this all the time and it usually, but not always, takes the form of a hot girl reaching out to me on Facebook or Twitter. Hell, it even happened on MySpace, back when that was a thing. Usually it becomes transparent pretty quickly, and it can be amusing as well. I’ve had some great phone conversations with people I knew were attempting to jerk me around and deceive me, and the moment of revelation that I know what’s going on can be really quite funny, and worth the buildup. Sometimes it warrants no attention at all, and sometimes it requires active blocking and reporting of profiles to the administrators of the site. Recently though, among a spate of attempts, I came across one that stood out, and required further investigation. A Twitter user, screen name @DDjasp, “real” name Maria (Mimi) Ruggeri started fishing around. She has an elaborately prepared profile and network of friends, all with photos, personalities, backstories, and in some cases, a year and a half of activity on Twitter.
I gotta admit, I was taken in at first. A beautiful, bikini clad surfer girl who loved my TV show and seemed perfectly legitimate. Sweet, unassuming, with a PhD in social work or Psychology or something to that affect and who loved bearded manly men, she was perfect for guys like me. She had a well-developed timeline, with lots of friends she interacted with…but something was fishy. They all seemed to use Twitter to do all of their interaction. Stuff that should have been texted or emailed or spoken was sent in public messages on Twitter. I found a cursory explanation for this, some tweets thrown out occasionally to the effect of “Hey, this is awkward! We should be texting. Fix your phone!”, but it still didn’t jibe 100%.
A reverse image search of “Maria’s” photos on Google images, TinEye and Bing brought up nothing, but I still wasn’t satisfied. I even checked the Russian Yandex and Chinese Baidu sites. All the photos were cropped, slightly blurred and grainy, or manipulated in such a way that any identifying information was conveniently left out.
“Maria” was, or thought she was, working with the advantage that I am a known quantity. I can’t fake my face or voice and I let the bemusing episodes go on a short while longer waiting for the other shoe to drop.
The turning point was when she texted me a photo of her “getting ready for bed”. The picture is below:
As you can see, there’s a very faint watermark in the bottom right corner that says @anutarai. A quick search on Google brought up a website that seemingly collates hot girl photos, and lo and behold, guess what was on there? The pic beneath.
This was getting fishier and fishier, so I called in the Big Guns. I still have a lot of friends in very…interesting places and with…unique and specific skill sets, so I reached out. Teams an’ Shit.
What I found out was that the photos on her Twitter page and all of her “friends” pages had been scrubbed forensically well enough that a reverse image search would bring up nothing. And scrubbed consistently and effectively for hundreds of images over time. This speaks to some decent skill and to some significant time commitment, so my Frog Brothers, colleagues and I went deeper.
“Maria” had intentionally grabbed, cropped, and reduced quality of the images she posted to make them hard to find through reverse searches. “Maria” had made a couple mistakes in some images but created corroborating stories using her “friends” to cover with a believable backstory in every case.
Every image had the same tampering and all were very well attended to.
And that’s all it took. Thirty minutes on my part of casual investigation but I could absolutely see how this would have been many hours of fruitless searching for other lesser experienced parties, or people without the assets, networks, and friends that I have. Why though? Why me? Were there other “Maria” types out there targeting my SEAL brethren too?
This was getting verrrrrry interesting and kinda fun as well, so we started playing the player. It wasn’t a chore, “Maria” is sharp, intelligent, and fun to talk to, and I’m a trained actor, so with the help of my Brothers, we began to stir the Honey Pot.
I won’t bore you with details, to be precise there are security reasons to withhold some details at this juncture, but through some Google, a touch of Maltego — an open source intelligence (OSINT) and forensics application, and a dab of FotoForensics.com, we were able to unravel “Maria’s” Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn. If we could find the real-life people who were unwittingly playing her “friends”, and find a reference to who this poor woman in “Maria’s” pictures really was we’d be golden. We did, and viola! The source images and storylines stolen and adapted from this real-life surfer girl came crashing into my web browser.
It seemed that all of “Maria’s” photos, videos, and “friends and family” were stolen from Australian surfer and model Shayelle Lajoie’s Instagram account and Facebook page.
It wasn’t bad enough “Maria” was cyberstalking me but also cyberstalking Shayelle and Shayelle’s real life friends too. Nothing was sacred as even children were used in “Maria’s” ruse.
Why though? Why me? Were there other “Maria” types out there targeting my SEAL brethren also? I wanted more answers.
So I went further down the rabbit hole…
There was a plethora of other red-flags and missteps that “Maria” made, now that we were watching very closely, such as bringing other “friends” into her game that didn’t have developed backstories and were ghosts when it came to web searches, and having very thin excuses for that when I asked pointed questions. Refusal to Skype, timelines that didn’t make sense, major life changes made very casually, fortuitous coincidences happening often and casually, the list went on and on.
For example: When “Maria’s” sister “Jillian” posted this picture on Twitter,
I searched “Blackbutt Place” on Google maps and got nada in the US…but since we know that our dear “Maria” has been stealing images from Australian surfer girl and model Shayelle Lajoie, you can plug in “Blackbutt Place, Australia”, and bingo. See image below and address.
Blackbutt Place, Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia
This wasn’t enough for our dear “Maria” though – through her elaborate network of “family and friends” including @wizzzyglick, @ChaseTex, @sheaflat, @Madmostest, @Jillygeri, @EmMeraApe, and the blatant rip-off of real-life baseball celebrity Brian Pruett in @GmPiett – “Maria” tried to cover for the obvious Australian mistake with a wedding story.
Every mistake she felt she was making had a collaborating “friend” chime in before it even became an issue. From explaining the catalog-esque photos with talks of amateur sponsorship by Canon to time away. Even the spacing in responses and time zones were often factored in to make it less obvious. This was a lot of effort.
“Maria” was soon moving out west from her home in DC, with a new job in La Jolla (which she mispronounced, making me laugh now that I knew what the real deal was), so we made plans to meet up when she did.
This is the view from her new office….as anyone who knows San Diego can tell you, this intersection, Prospect and Girard in La Jolla, is very well-known and recognizable. Also, anyone who knows this area can tell you that the angle of this photo could only be taken from one of two hotels on that corner…a fact that makes sense when you realize “Maria” has stolen this image from someone’s vacation photos. You can see what I’m talking about in the Google maps image below:
According to my sources, the likelihood of this being a foreign entity was very slim, “Maria” wasn’t smooth enough, so I felt comfortable setting up a meet. In fact, I even tried to get “Maria” to come to my neighborhood (in the off chance that she really lives someplace local, or has partners in this that do) by giving her an address very close to my house, since I have a pretty comprehensive CCTV camera setup, as well as being confident in my self-protection abilities.
Besides the fact that “Maria” really didn’t want to meet me, of course, the chances of whoever is behind “Maria” and her friends really being in this area are small, so of course she missed all of our windows to come to my neighborhood, and I of course never went to her hotel in San Diego or any of the other places she suggested that we meet.
So how did it end? I finally had enough of the game, since she never would meet me I had to either continue to play big, stoopid and lovestruck, or wrap it up.
I was done.
I’m a busy guy so I couldn’t keep an eye on “Maria” and had no particular desire to. However, she made it impossible not to hear about her again by wasting no time quickly moving onto other SEAL brothers; incorrectly assuming they were also complete morons.
Now I was a little perturbed. I’m a nice guy but in the sage words of Jayne Cobb: “Hell, I’ll kill a man in a fair fight… or if I think he’s gonna start a fair fight. Or if he bothers me. Or if there’s a woman. Or if I’m gettin’ paid. Mostly only when I’m gettin’ paid.”
Is that Hollywood enough for you “Maria”?
“Maria” got her (and his) fifteen minutes of my time and now will soon be getting lesser pleasantries. Not from me, I’ve got more important stuff to do. And no threats of violence — that only happens on fictional TV shows. Stirring the SEAL pot a little too vigorously is just not a winning move. National Security is very much a topical concern with whatever game Maria had in mind.
P.S. In my television show, Manhunt/LoneTarget, I’m a self-contained package, a solo operator, much like John Rambo in First Blood. That is not the reality of the SEAL Teams.
The reality is that we are just that, a Team, and I’m dependent on the integrity of my Brother’s shield next to me to protect my flank. When I stumble, my Brother covers me, when I am strong, I bear the brunt for him.
I’d like to thank my Team, my Tribe, and the Crusaders who I am proud to call my Brothers for their help in this and in everything we endeavor to do together.
Long Live The Brotherhood.
P.P.S. To wizzzyglick, Maria, moffniner, Marie, Chase, and the whole gang: Good luck with the Medifast diet and please give Shayelle and her friends their identities back.
About the Author
Joel Lambert is a combat veteran of the United States Navy SEAL Teams, where, among many other things, he became proficient in basic and advanced SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance & Escape) skills, urban evasion, fieldcraft, tracking, counter-tracking, booby traps, and all the rest of the tricks and techniques he uses to evade capture on his Discovery Channel show titled LONE TARGET in the US and MANHUNT in the rest of the world.