- Jeff Ostrowski Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is investigating allegations of identity theft by a West Palm Beach marketing firm that sells followers on Twitter, Facebook and other sites.
“If you or someone you know has had their identity stolen and used to create a fake social media profile on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or any other social media platform, please file a complaint with our office,” reads a page on Bondi’s website.
Bondi’s announcement comes after The New York Times reported Jan. 27 that Devumi and Bytion, two West Palm Beach-based companies, created phony accounts on Twitter and sold them to celebrities and companies looking to build their social media followings. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman also opened an investigation.
In some cases, The Times reported, Devumi created phony accounts based on the photos and names of real people. In other instances, Devumi simply created phony Twitter accounts attached to no identifiable person, the paper said.
Devumi and Bytion are operated by German E. Calas Jr., a 27-year-old entrepreneur who claims a homestead exemption on a condo at CityPlace South Tower in West Palm Beach. His company website shows his Clematis Street office decked out with the usual accoutrements of a tech work space, including a ping pong table and a billiards table.
Calas couldn’t be reached for comment, and no one answered a knock on the door at Bytion’s office above Rocco’s Tacos.
Meanwhile, Bytion’s website lists two job openings in Denver. The Times reported Thursday that Calas’ company has moved its operations to Colorado.
Until The Times article, Calas had flown under the radar of media attention. Before last week, he hadn’t been mentioned in a single news story, according to the Nexis database.
Calas registered the Devumi.com website in October 2010, when he would have been about 20 years old, and began selling social media marketing services in 2011. A 2012 news release on PRweb.com marked one of Calas’ rare attempts to garner publicity.
“We strongly believe that individuals and small businesses shouldn’t struggle with social media,” Calas said in the news release. “We started our company to fill this gap by offering an affordable and quality service that makes sense. So for as low as $17, anyone can make a huge impact on their social media campaign with more Twitter followers, Facebook likes and YouTube views.”
In 2015, Devumi issued another news release saying it charged $19 to $499 a month for its Twitter services.
Apparently, business was good. Calas upgraded from a Volkswagen to an Audi, according to speeding tickets, one of which clocked him at 92 mph on Interstate 95. In late 2013, soon after he turned 23, Calas bought a $355,000 condo at CityPlace South Tower.
In 2016, he bought another unit at CityPlace South Tower, paying $803,000 and taking a mortgage for $417,000. Calas still owns both units, according to property records.
Calas’ business model was lucrative enough that it merited copying, according to a federal lawsuit. In the suit, Calas said he hired Ronwaldo Gayo Boado of the Philippines as a $500-a-month independent contractor in 2016.
In July 2017, Calas fired Boada for “inciting conflict between two other members” of Devumi’s team. Boada responded by hijacking the company gmail account and launching a competing site at DevumiBoost.com, according to Calas’ suit.
Calas’ Miami attorney declined to comment. Neither the site nor the email address for the copycat were working on Friday.