By Josh Saunders
An online conman has gone from scammer to saviour after his photobook goes viral and leads him to help poor school kids.
Ben Taylor, 33, from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA, first received suspicious messages from a man named Joel four months ago, asking him to send electronical goods to sell and split the profit.
Believing it was a con, Ben decided to waste the time of Joel who was 6,500 miles away in Monrovia, Liberia, in the hopes he couldn’t rip off anyone else.
He started a social experiment where he asked him to take images and over time spent $100(76GBP) sending him a camera and paying for images, so he could document life in his home town.
After weeks coaching Joel on how to take good photographs, he sent over impressive images that were turned into photobook ‘By D Grace of God’.
The book hit its $2,500(1900GBP) total on Indiegogo within two weeks and more in the subsequent weeks, with the book sent to 40 different countries worldwide.
Ben, who works marketing, said: “I thought he was just another scammer, I had seen the types of scams people played in the past through craigslist and other sites.
“I always had a bit of fun messing with these guys, seeing if I could waste their time, the longer I kept them talking the less time they could spend ripping other people off.
“The initial message said he wanted financial help, for me to send him Laptops, TVs, cell phones and other electric devices so that he could sell them and then we would ‘split the profits’.
“I knew if I sent them I would never see the money promised, I decided I wouldn’t send him what he wanted but offer him a different way to make money.
“I asked him to send 20 pictures of life in Libera, capturing the challenges and the beautiful scenery in the country, later I would send him a camera to take better pictures.
“I wanted to see if he was actually willing to put in the effort or just make a quick buck by selling the camera that a stranger had sent to him.
“But he actually took the images, which to me showed he was interested in doing the work but his pictures were not good quality.
“I told him if he was going to continue he needed to put the work in, practice, think about what would make a compelling photo and light his subjects well.
“It was amazing to see the progression of quality as he continued to practice and taking pictures of several things, I asked him to.
“I had spent close to $100(76GBP) on Joel by this point and decided if we were going to continue I had to find a way to compensate him.
“I couldn’t afford to keep paying out of my own pocket, so I launched a photobook campaign, I thought with the people who knew about the story I could draw some interest.
“Within two weeks we hit our target, I was so surprised we managed to raise our goal and then even more contributions came in.”
They raised a whopping $13,000 (9,900GBP) but after postage and packing costs they split the remaining $4,000(3,000GBP).
Joel decided to invest his money into starting a business and Ben wanted to donate his funds to a charity in Joel’s community.
He offered to help Ben do this and used the money to buy-out several schoolbag and supplies vendors, equipping 150 children in the community.
Ben said: “I was a bit cautious about Joel offering to buy the goods from local vendors, but he had taken the pictures for me equally I was surprised when he documented buying all the equipment.
“He bought out several local vendors and was able to put backpacks on 150 school kids in the area.
“It was very moving to see and incredible how much of a difference he made to his community with so little money.
“I was lost for words, it was really incredible to see it all unfold, it started with me trying to waste this guy’s time and have fun but turned into something so much bigger.
“I thought he was trying to rip me off and scam me out of electronic devices, but he turned out to be someone who bought a lot of hope and good to his community.”
The photo-book named ‘By D Grace of God’ sold for $10(7GBP) per copy and stemmed from the proclamation that Joel would regularly say.
Ben added: “He always relied on the god’s grace to help him improve his situation, because he said it so often it became a bit of a running joke.
“By D Grace of God seemed like a fitting title for the book considering how many times Joel said it, the book really went to change the outlook of his life.”
Ben says that his experiences with Joel inspired and surprised him, with him never believing he would be so committed to helping himself out of poverty.
He said: “Joel is a family man with a wife and kids that are the world to him, who he wants to make proud and support financially.
“I recently found out he was in a lot of debt and facing jail time, which was one of the reasons he reached out to me in desperation.
“Since our work he’s been able to pay off 65% of his debt and the rest has been waived, he truly avoided this horrible situation facing him.
“I don’t think everyone asking for money has good intentions but if you are willing to get to know people and offer alternative employment opportunities you can be surprised when great things happen.”
Ben confesses, he didn’t expect the book to sell out as quickly as he thought and has now gone onto to start a separate website to further support Joel.
He added: “I thought we would be selling the book to friends and family near me, but I shipped the books to 40 different countries internationally.
“It’s pretty incredible what can happen when you give people a chance and get to know them, they can surprise you as was true in this case.”
To follow his story or buy merchandise visit: www.bydgraceofgod.com