By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
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Late last month, an ebony-haired Miami bikini model twice materialized on the cover of the New York Daily News. "Match.con," the first headline screamed beside a picture of Yuliana Avalos posing languidly in a brown bathing suit. The next day was even more salacious: "Death Match," the cover bellowed.
Both stories described Avalos' whopper of a lawsuit. In federal court in Manhattan, she sued the online monolith Match.com for the staggering sum of $1.5 billion because nearly 200 fake profiles operated by foreign scam artists in Africa had featured photos of her. Those profiles were used to bamboozle vulnerable, lovesick men by asking them to please send the pretty lady thousands of dollars for things she needed. One man in New York spent $50,000 and then killed himself when he realized he'd been scammed.
The story had it all — social relevance, sex appeal, and an evil corporation to hate. Avalos' tale was aggregated and re-reported across the nation, including in New Times. But new revelations are only now surfacing: For all of Avalos' allegations, she has a shady online history as well — and some people allege that she, in fact, sold her pictures to the very scam artists she's claiming exploited her.
Avalos, in YouTube video after video, is a vociferous and very awkward saleswoman of something called the Motor Club of America (MCA) — which looks like a classic pyramid scheme. Ostensibly, the club is similar to AAA, but in reality, it's an organization dependent upon widening its number of members, who pay $40 to join and then turn over a portion of their recruiting profits to whomever recruited them.
Avalos, who denies MCA is a scam, has also created a website, us-mca.com, to lure more "referrals." "You can get paid a lot of money," she coos into the camera from her home in Palm Bay, in Central Florida. "People right now are getting paid, like, thousands of dollars. I love this business... It's a system where you can referral [sic] your friends and family, and they can sign up for all the benefits."
But that's not all, Avalos claims. Act now, and you can also follow her on an additional path to "grant FREE MONEY" by taking advantage of something she calls NetSpend. It apparently involves "putting $20 on a NetSpend pre-paid card to get $20 for free," she says in a video while clutching a fistful of cash.
All of this was so bizarre that a New York comedian named Davin Rosenblatt, who runs a podcast and blogs at davinsden.com, began to snoop around. What he found was even more troubling, and he soon filed a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.
"On her website, she had a method of payment for her pictures as Western Union — odd for someone doing business in the U.S.," he wrote to the FBI. Western Union is often the preferred means of payment for international scam artists.
"Today her [boyfriend] posted on his Facebook page that he has made a lot of money off of Nigerian scammers," Rosenblatt wrote, contending it's important to suss out the truth. "Millions have been lost and people have killed themselves based on her pictures... Her pictures weren't stolen as she's claiming."
Avalos denies those allegations, calling them "absolutely untrue."