And yet, that's what one inventive scammer tried

By Mike Pomranz
Updated February 13, 2018
Credit: Photo Christina Reid via;Getty Images/EyeEm

Full disclosure: As a writer, I get offered a lot of free stuff. Let’s say someone wanted me to write about their gin-flavored cheese: They might offer to send me free gin-flavored cheese to try. Now, for the record, I was never sent any free gin-flavored cheese before I wrote about it, but you can be damn sure I would have accepted it if they did! So if you are looking to score some free stuff, making up a fake business might seem like a savvy scam. Just maybe think twice before creating a fake coffee shop because—you know—Google Maps and what have you.

Jacob Janerka, the Australian indie game developer behind the adventure game Paradigm, recently posted about dealing with that exact experience: He received multiple emails from a supposed coffee shop owner looking for free game keys to give away to customers to drive business. One little problem though: The coffee shop as the scammer described it didn’t really exist.

“Three weeks ago my café ‘BORODA-Drink’ opened in Lviv, Ukraine,” an email from someone going by the name Dmitry stated, according to screengrabs provided by Janerka. Later, the scammer wrote, “Unfortunately, all the funds are spent on catering, and I have to write to various developers for help.” Dmitry’s pitch seemed straightforward: If Janerka helped him out with free game keys to help promote his new coffee shop, the nascent entrepreneur would also promote Janerka’s game as best he could.

Janerka says he was intrigued enough to do a little digging, but quickly found that things didn’t add up. The cafe’s Twitter account was all in English. Meanwhile, an Instagram account was all in Ukrainian. So Janerka decided to check the address—which didn’t exist on Google Maps. So instead, he searched the name, which is when he discovered a café named Boroda did exist, but in a different location, and not as “Dmitry” had described it. That’s when it clicked for Janerka: The entire thing was just another scam for free game keys—a common problem within the gaming industry, especially for indie developers on tight budgets.

“Was it really worth researching all that just to find out if the email was a scam. Probably not,” Janerka wrote. “Was it worth writing the polite but smug passive aggressive email back to Dmitry telling him he shouldn't scam keys. Probably not.”

In the end, Janerka says that “Dmitry” and his fake coffee shop have yet to respond to his latest email. Additionally, that fake Twitter account has apparently also been deleted. Still, on the bright side, Janerka’s viral tale of fake coffee shops has led to plenty of promotion for himself and his game.

Unless… Wait? What if the tale of the fake coffee shop scam is itself fake, created in an attempt to go viral and promote the game? How deep does this go?? Eh, probably not that deep. Creating a fake coffee shop is hard enough. Creating a fake coffee shop simply to create a fake story about that fake coffee shop is the kind of the thing only Inception writer Christopher Nolan could be bothered with.