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Someone has been falsely using the name and “persona” of a Guardian freelance journalist to waste academics’ time, the Guardian‘s readers editor wrote Feb. 19.

According to the readers editor, Chris Elliott, the person(s) has been posing as freelance journalist Matt Wolf, who is “the London theatre critic of the International Herald Tribune and has occasionally contributed to the Guardian.”

The poser has so far e-mailed “at least 23 academics in the US, Canada, the Middle East and Europe” asking for e-mail interviews for a story and identifying himself as Wolf, “a reviewer of arts and theatre at the Guardian newspaper.”

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Elliott explains the the e-mails have been related to “the academic’s expertise” and the poser ends up getting these academics to spend “great chunks of time and effort” responding.  One person spent “20 hours answering the faker’s questions – another wrote and sent six essays before calling a halt.”

Elliott reported that “several academics” who emailed with this person suggested that the e-mailed answers have been used as “crib sheets  to students who wish to cut and paste the work of these professors and senior lecturers into their essays and pass the work off as their own.”

According to Elliott, “The faker has to date used a variation of a Yahoo email address such as mattwolfguardian@yahoo.com.” However, Guardian journalists’ e-mail addresses are formatted as firstname.lastname@guardian.co.uk, Elliott explained.  Elliott advised that anyone “concerned” about a similar contact should ask for the editor’s name and contact that person.

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