Parker Hajiaskari has been making YouTube videos for over three years with his partner who goes by the nickname, Chester. One video, “We Followed a Predator Around for 24 Hours, Then Saw This… (Social Experiment)”, gained over 2 million views but the viewers most shocked by it were those who lived in the town of Amherst where the video was filmed.
In it, Hajiaskari and his partner stalk a middle-aged man whose face was blurred. According to Hajiaskari, the man assaulted a minor and was found with child pornography on his computer, but was somehow sentenced to only 7 months in prison.
“I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t think seven months is a long enough term to serve for that,” Hajiaskari tells the camera. The goal of the video he says to get enough incriminating evidence against the mystery man to get him thrown back in prison.
They followed from his house to a local restaurant where he ate breakfast. They followed him to a Chuckie-Cheese were they filmed him taking pictures of children in the parking lot. They followed him to a McDonald’s where he ordered three happy meals even though he ate less than an hour ago. They finally confronted him in a Target where they find him looking at little girls’ clothes. Local viewers would have recognized the locations. The predator went to their Chuckie-Cheese, their McDonald’s, and their Target. Thanks to Hajiaskari and his partner, police will have all the evidence they need to get him arrested. Thanks to these young, good Samaritans, the children of Amherst are a little safer.
There’s only one problem.
It was all fake.
Hajiaskari started his YouTube channel with another creator, Sergio Mejia, with videos featuring their trademark ‘gold digger prank’. In these videos, Hajiaskari would flirt with random women on the street. The women were always stand-offish and rude until they saw him pull out a large stack of money or talk to a friend about his wealth or fame. Once the women saw he was rich, they couldn’t keep their eyes off of him.
Eventually, Mejia went on to start his own channel which almost exclusively does ‘gold digger pranks’ while Parker continued to make content with his new partner, Chester. The content then evolved from catching greedy women to videos where they got catfishers and eventually online predators. The pair claimed to set up decoy accounts on TikTok and Instagram and drew predators to an apartment or a hotel room to expose them.
In one of their first ones, the decoy appears to be assaulted by an older man.
In all the videos, the predator’s face is blurred which is uncharacteristic compared to most online pedophile hunters. Most are proud to show off their catch and believe that showing the predator’s face will alert the community to keep their kids away. But not Hajiaskari.
Another unique aspect about Hajiaskari’s videos is that the predators he catches are rarely shy. Unlike the pedophiles exposed on Dateline, Hajiaskari’s predators don’t cover their faces in shame or invent absurd lies to explain their behavior. They’re combative and argumentative. In the videos, Hajiaskari is even compelled to tackle some of them and hold them down till Chester can contact the cops.
The videos gradually became more outlandish. One entitled “Girl catfished by Jake Paul (featuring Jake Paul)” featured a picture of millionaire YouTuber, Jake Paul, in the thumbnail. Paul’s posters are featured on the wall of the apartment where many of Hajiaskari’s videos are made. It’s not surprising that Hajiaskari would look up to the YouTuber. Like him, Paul is famous for his controversial and seemingly unrealistic pranks. In one, he destroyed the wall of his house mate’s bedroom with a pickaxe though Nick Crompton, the former COO of Paul’s social media group, later said it – as with many other pranks – was fake. However, the YouTube star is not featured in any of Hajiaskari’s videos nor has he catfished anyone. Instead, Mariah Gober, an actress who often poses as a child decoy in LuxuryPranks videos, was supposedly catfished by a man pretending to be Jake Paul. The man’s face was blurred.
That’s not the only Paul brother to be a subject of Hajiaskari’s tales. In other video, Logan Paul, another millionaire YouTuber infamous for posting footage of a suicide victim’s body, is supposedly catfishing victims online. In the video, Hajiaskari and Chester trace an IP address from an email to a suburban property. There, the dou is confronted by a heavyset man in a hoodie with a machete at his side. The two ask to see Logan but the man says that no Logan lives at the property. Only when they are threatened with dogs and mace do they flee the scene.
While the catfishing videos are misleading, the predator videos are the most bizarre and raise the most alarm. In one, the predator arrives at a meet up in a bunny costume made from duct tape, hopping around the apartment unresponsive to Hajiaskari’s questions. In another, the dou investigate a mysterious presence in an empty home near an insane asylum. In it, they find a man painted as a dolphin who screeches and chases them out of the house.
Nonetheless, most of the comments on these videos indicate that Hajiaskari’s audience thinks the stories are real. His videos attracted few critics until November of 2018.
A YouTuber who goes by “Leon Lush” is known for making sport of content on the Internet and used LuxuryPranks videos as a source for comedic material. After he made a video called, “These YouTubers are Faking Child Predator ‘Experiments’” Hajiaskari messaged Leon Lush on Twitter, asking him to change the title because according to him, the videos aren’t fake. Leon did change the title but shortly thereafter all the likes on his video disappeared and the dislikes went up over 50,000. Leon has said that he contacted YouTube to figure out what was wrong, but that the problem could not be resolved. He ultimately took the video down.
A YouTuber named Charlotte Dobre also made a video about LuxuryPranks after being inspired by Leon’s and she claims to have had a similar experience. She said in a YouTube video that the dislikes of her video significantly outweighed the likes over the course of a night, but that after a conversation with Parker in which he threatened to sue her if she didn’t change the title, the dislikes suddenly went down.
Leon eventually interviewed Hajiaskari to discuss the issue. In Twitter messages, Hajiaskari claimed there was little he could discuss because he signed an Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with his Multi-Channel Network (MCN). (An MCN is an agency that manages multiple YouTube channels rather than musicians or actors.) But in the interview, Parker’s story changed. He said that he’s not with an MCN and that he has full ownership of his channel, but that he does have NDAs with brands that he works with though he could not name them.
Hajiaskari compared his NDAs to similar agreements kept by the YouTube channel “To Catch A Cheater”. “To Catch A Cheater” was the subject of an Inside Edition investigation which revealed that actors were paid to be on the show and that their relationships were not real. The show’s producer, Sameer Bhavnani, maintains that the actors who spoke to Inside Edition were lying because they were embarrassed to be on the show. In the Leon Lush interview, Parker tries to distance himself from “To Catch A Cheater” claiming that he doesn’t know Bhavnani but that he is acquainted with Luis Mercado who is the host of the show. He also denied ever saying that either Mercado or Bhavnani signed an NDA or that knowing any behind the scenes details of their channel.
Eventually, Leon asked outright if Hajiaskari’s videos were fake. “So you’re saying that all the predators in your videos are legit child predators?” he asked.
“It depends,” Hajiaskari respond. “I mean, what you classify as a child predator?”
Hajiaskari went on throughout the interview with such non-denial denials. While the interveiw didn’t paint him in a good light, it didn’t raise enough doubt to destroy his popularity and his videos continued to feature sponsored ads. Nonetheless, Hajiaskari responded to the interview with diss track mocking Leon for his content and even his weight.
Leon has not made a video regarding LuxuryPranks as he feels there is little more he could do. In an email to GrayScale, he said, “Having made it so obvious how fake it is, I don’t know what else I can do, or importantly even if I could do something. I don’t want to give up the time to pursue it further.”
What made “We Followed a Predator Around for 24 Hours, Then Saw This… (Social Experiment)” different from other LuxuryPranks videos was that it was not filmed at an undisclosed apartment or house. It was filmed at public locations that would easily be recognizable to local residents. These residents contacted the local police with concerns about the predator depicted in Hajiaskari’s video, especially since they had no way of identifying him as his face was blurred. The Town of Amherst Police Department sent detectives to look into the issue in early March and gave the following statement to Channel 2 ON Your Side,
The Town of Amherst Police Department has recently received numerous reports of a suspicious “YouTube” video post. The video reportedly depicts two young men following an alleged sex offender around the northtowns, detailing his conduct. These complaints were immediately investigated by the departments Special Victims Unit. The “publisher” of the video was identified as a 21 year old Hamburg man. The subject was interviewed and immediately apologized for any alarm, stating the post was for “entertainment purposes only” and there was no actual sex offender depicted.
The video has since been taken down. The report by Channel 2 ON Your Side was the first undeniable proof that Hajiaskari faked a predator catch, but it didn’t stop him from continuing to make videos. He released another predator video a mere three days after the report.
One of the reasons Hajiaskari’s videos maintain popularity is that they exploit the genre of actual pedophile hunting. Online pedophile hunter or ‘catchers’ as they call themselves have gained thousands of views on Facebook and YouTube where they post videos of actual predator stings. Catchers often have criminal records themselves and demonstrate reckless behavior in their approach to exposing pedophiles. Some threaten the pedophiles they catch with violence and even death in front of a live audience online. For example, Ryan LaForge was convicted for getting violent with some of the predators he catches. Since the conviction, he has said that he would stop conducting what he “citizens arrest” and while he hasn’t gotten physical with predators since, he expresses his desires to harm or kill them.”
Their work can stifle legitimate chance of prosecution, but many catchers aren’t bothered by this. Many of them share an anti-authoritarian outlook, thinking of themselves as more effective than actual cops. For example, Shane Erdmann, the founder of POP Squad or Prey on Predators Squad, told NBC quote, “In this field, sex crimes, no one can hold a candle to me.” In November of 2017, he told Fox News, he had quote, “chatted with more than 360 potential predators and caught 65, leading to five arrests, four pending trial, and one conviction.” The lone conviction was something Erdmann used to argue that the system was broken, but it could also be used to argue that online child pedophile hunting hurts real convictions. Attorney, Anthony Spinella, represented Scott Backer, one of POPSqaud’s early catches. Spinella told NBC that the state gave his client leniency in part to keep problematic characters like Erdmann off the stand.
But the problematic nature of the predator catching genre does not diminish its popularity . But real or not, predator catching videos are misleading. While they strike fear into the hearts of viewers, demanding their attention. Hajiaskari didn’t invent this genre. He only exaggerated it. Because his videos are staged, he make them more bizarre and interesting than actual predator. But real or staged such videos blow up a problem into something bigger than it truly is. According to research by the University of New Hampshire, reports of unwanted sexual solicitation online have declined by half from 2000 to 2010. The university also found that kids are more likely to pressure each other to post or share sexual content than adults are.
Still, predator videos are gaining catchers millions of views.
Hajiaskari did not respond to my request for a comment.