When a Utah man was contacted by an internet scammer, he decided to play along to waste his time – but the story took an unexpected turn that would affect both their lives.
Was this another African internet scam or a potentially exciting business opportunity?
In early 2017, Utah resident Ben Taylor was contacted on Facebook by a man named Joel from Monrovia, Liberia. He said that he needed financial assistance and that he was struggling to provide for his family. As Ben didn’t have much money, he shipped Joel a cheap camera and asked him to take pictures of the living conditions where he lived. What came out of it was a spectacular photo album with 16 pages of beautiful photography from all over Liberia, with proceeds from the sale of the book to go to Joel, the man behind the camera who is trying to provide for his family.
By D Grace of God: A Photographic Journey Through Liberia
We have all become aware of the messages used by internet scammers to get money from unsuspecting people thousands of miles away. So, when Ben Taylor agreed a deal with a man from Liberia, it could have ended badly — however, nobody could have foreseen how beautifully the deal would pay off.
Joel first sent a message to Taylor on Facebook asking the YouTuber to send him secondhand electronic devices so he could sell them on the Liberian market to support his family. In addition, he said that he would split the profits with Taylor 50/50.
As 33-year-old Taylor was about to delete the online plea as spam, something kept him from writing off the inquiry completely. He reasoned that if he continued to correspond with Joel, that would at least use up some of the man’s time, keeping him occupied and otherwise unable to scam those who may be more gullible.
So Taylor responded to Joel, saying he ran a business that paid people to take photographs of where they lived. If Joel was willing, Taylor would hire him as a kind of freelance photographer.
Much to his surprise, Joel sent Taylor a few photos of his home in Monrovia, Liberia. While they were blurry and badly lit, the YouTuber was impressed that the guy even put in this much effort.
So while it may have seemed counterintuitive, Taylor decided to take a chance on Joel. He next sent him a $30 camera and asked him to try taking some better photos of his village. He also gave the Liberian some tips on how to hold the camera still and allow for as much light on his subjects as possible.
To Taylor’s surprise the photos got better and better
Much to Taylor’s surprise, the photos became clearer and better lit until, eventually, Joel was sending some quite poignant images of day-to-day life in West Africa.
Taylor then used his skills to create a photo book of Joel’s pictures called “By D Grace of God” – appropriately named after a line from one of Joel’s emails – and he then began an Indiegogo page to ask for donations to help Joel’s family. The book sold over 1,000 copies in 40 countries.
True to their original deal, Taylor split the profits with Joel 50/50. The YouTuber wanted to give his half to charity, so he asked the Liberian whether there were any charities in particular that could benefit his home country. Joel replied that local children did not have the money for school supplies because they were so poor — money for notebooks, backpacks, and pencils was scarce.
Taylor considered wiring $500 directly to Joel in Liberia so he could buy the necessary supplies — but wouldn’t the ‘scammer’ just spend the money on himself and disappear? Time would tell.
To Taylor’s amazement, the African kept his promise. He loaded up a taxi with newly purchased school supplies and distributed them among all the local schools, all the while shooting plenty of pictures to show the children’s excited reactions.
Ben says that in light of the success from Indiegogo, he created a website, “By D Grace of God,” so people could continue to support Joel and his family by buying the photo book and additional merchandise.
The 33-year-old also says that he still can’t believe his YouTube career has turned into such a life-changing experience.
I’m just a regular guy!” Taylor told Good News Network. “I go to work and hang out with my wife and baby. YouTube is just a fun side hobby.”
“[But] the response has been crazy,” he added. “People have reached out to me asking how they can help.”
‘If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that you shouldn’t judge people right off the bat.’
“I really thought I was going to make a YouTube series about messing with a scammer. This story turned into something completely different. If there’s a lesson to be learned, it’s that you shouldn’t judge people… When we actually take time to understand and get to know each other, we might be pleasantly surprised.”
'By d Grace of God' — A Photographic Journey Through Liberia
Experience for yourself both the beauty and difficulties of West Africa in this compelling new photo book. Proceeds from this book will go to Joel, the man behind the camera who is trying to provide for his family in Monrovia, Liberia.