Hall column: French fan mail: Je t’aime, Sarah Hall

Published 12:00 am Friday, June 27, 2008

I was sorting through my mail, and among the usual bills and junk mail I spotted a hand-addressed envelope with a French postmark and stamp.
The letter was addressed to Sarah Fuller-Hall (my composer name) and it was from someone named Suzanne Lopez in Paris.
“Dear Ms. Sarah Fuller-Hall,” I read, “I am 17 years old and music is my passion. I’m discovering your work, and I’m writing to you to express my admiration and my enthusiasm for your musical way, and for your compositions, your creations ó I find them wonderful. I would be very happy to have your autograph on the small card I’m sending you, please! Thank you very much. Sincerely, Suzanne.”
Enclosed was a blank card for my autograph.
I felt flattered for about three seconds, then I reasoned that this letter couldn’t possibly be legitimate. I have had a few pieces of music published, but I don’t believe any of it has made it to France. My compositions consist of one opera, one orchestral work, my Masters thesis, educational materials and choir anthems. These are not the sort of stuff 17-year-old girls listen to.
Having a fan would be very nice if I really thought it were true. But I know it’s some sort of scam. I know “Suzanne” is not 17, and may not even be a girl. I’m not sure what my signature would be used for, but I’m sure it’s nothing good.
A friend and I joked about how I may have a cult following in France and not realize it. In France, I may be revered, like Jerry Lewis and David Hasselhoff.
I did a brief Google search to see if I could find a warning about this ploy, but I didn’t find anything.
This letter writer knows my name, address, and occupation. It’s not random pfishing. Should I be worried?
I considered writing back to “Suzanne” and asking “which of my works do you particularly like?” and see what she/he managed to come up with. But I decided it would be smarter not to make any contact.
I showed the letter to a postal worker. I thought he might want to contact the FBI. He told me if I didn’t like the letter to throw it away.
Then I wrote a blog about the letter on my personal MySpace to see if any of my friends knew what kind of scam this could be. Something interesting happened. I started getting MySpace messages from all over the United States and several foreign countries. These were from people who had received the exact same fan letter, were suspicious, did an Internet search, and found my blog.
Up until then I thought I was writing my blogs for those five or six friends who regularly commented on my ramblings. It never occurred to me that people in Texas, California, Italy, Spain and Denmark would ever read what I had to say. But they could, and had.
Most signed up for MySpace just long enough to comment on my blog, then deleted their profiles. They were not just from composers. There were also comments from an actor and a visual artist.
One composer said he was so flattered by the fan letter that he had been preparing to send autographed CDs to “Suzanne.” But before mailing the package, he decided to do an Internet search and he found my blog.
Then a few weeks later I received an e-mail that began, “J’ai lu dans un blog que vous avez reçu une lettre de Suzanne Lopez … Vous semblez douter de la ‘sincerite’ de la lettre … ”
I dredged up enough high school French from the recesses of my brain to read that “Suzanne Lopez” (and the writer did put the name in quotes) has thousands of CDs and has undoubtedly listened to some of my works, and has also accumulated a collection of signatures of composers famous and not yet famous.
The note was signed “Bien cordialement, ‘Suzanne Lopez Project’ (Musee Imaginaire).”
I remained skeptical. Why would an imaginary museum try to pass itself off as a 17-year-old girl?
This whole incident serves as a reminder that while you may think of your personal networking sites as a way to communicate with friends, the information you post may become available to all.
I still have the envelope with the French postmark. I googled the return address, but it didn’t come up. The next time I talk to someone planning a trip to Paris, I think I’ll tell that person the address. Maybe he or she can pay a visit to Musee Imaginaire, and view the Sarah Hall exhibit (sans autograph).

Contact Sarah Hall at shall@salisburypost.com or 704-797-4271.