A plethora of fake agents are luring young hopefuls to England with promises they will receive trials at Premier League clubs including Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea, only for the scammed party to be conned out of up to £3,000.
Although none of the aforementioned clubs have any involvement in the process, their stature is being used to deceive potential stars out of cash, as reported by Simon Jones of the Daily Mail:
Young players, particularly from Spain, Africa and Australia have been duped in recent months by people posing as other agents, scouts and club employees offering trials, contracts and extra training at clubs such as Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool.
In exchange for £500, the players are promised contact with the clubs and a help with necessary visas while an extra £2,500 will help cover travel costs, medical fees and insurance.
The International Centre for Sports Security (ICSS) is now investigating a trend that has also seen trials at Hull, Sunderland, Stoke, LA Galaxy and Bursaspor falsely promised. It is said fake documents and signatures have been traced to accounts in England, Ukraine and the USA, suggesting this operation is on a global scale.
In March 2013, Nick Harris of the Daily Mail reported the story of Vurlon Mills, a 22-year-old forward from Guyana who was tricked out of £500 in exchange for a trial with Bristol City. He was never given the opportunity to showcase his skills.
You only have to observe Twitter during transfer windows to recognise how easily individuals can create their fake agent persona. Although many of these accounts fail to make an impression and haven't targeted financial hoaxes, things can occasionally go beyond an unoriginal joke and careful guesswork.
This happened with Sean Cummins, who created the infamous Duncan Jenkins account that is said to have "inflated the price" of Fabio Borini by tweeting about Liverpool's interest, as reported by Paul Wilson of The Guardian.
Jen Chang, the Reds' communications director at the time, was sacked from his position after trying to intimidate Cummins, who reported fiery exchanges with the former Liverpool employee under his own name in October 2012.
Although this incident casts trouble over the fake agent, it is potential players who are being targeted away from the world of Twitter facades. Jones' report details a 16-year-old boy who arrived at Manchester airport unaccompanied by an adult, only for the club representative to never greet him because it was a scam.
The ICSS issued a statement warning youngsters of the potential danger:
If players have any doubts they should contact the relevant clubs, check their official websites for contact details and phone them direct. Clubs will not contact you via Facebook, Linked In, Twitter. They are not likely to use Hotmail, Gmail or Yahoo email accounts. If they contact you it will only be by using their official email.
This problem poses a difficult situation for FIFA and national football associations. Considering fake agents are unregistered, and therefore have no affiliation with any governing body, it seems all the leaders can do is warn against such occurrences.
Officially licensed agents are required to provide full contact details, including telephone numbers and addresses on FIFA's official website, as detailed in Harris' article. Unfortunately, this kind of transparency is very rarely apparent.