When she agreed to record a video in support of Aleksei Navalny, celebrated Russian actress Lia Akhedzhakova thought she was helping the embattled opposition activist.
Instead, the footage was trimmed and her words distorted to promote a website calling for Navalny's imprisonment.
Akhedzhakova is furious, and she is not alone. Opposition-minded journalist Leonid Parfyonov, anti-Kremlin environmental campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova, and rights activist Olga Romanova have also fallen victim to the apparent scam.
"A certain Aleksei Bozhenov called me and asked what I thought of the Navalny trial," Akhedzhakova says. "I said I was against it. He asked whether I would agree to say this on camera."
In the full footage, now available on YouTube, Akhedzhakova heaps praise on Navalny and urges judges to release him.
She then calls on viewers to sign an online petition in support of Navalny and holds up a sign with the name of a website. Only a fragment is used in the clip posted online. "I don't really know how to use the Internet," Akhedzhakova says, "and it didn't occur to me to ask my husband to check this website."
'Absolutely Disgusting Muck And Shame'
The site, Navalny15.com, in fact hosts a petition in support of Navalny's jailing.
It appears to have been under construction at the time of the filming, but the number 15 suggests a reference to the original January date for the verdict in Navalny's fraud case and a support rally planned for the same day.
The verdict was abruptly moved on December 29 to the following day, and Navalny was given a 3 1/2-year suspended jail term. His brother, Oleg, was sentenced to 3 1/2 years in prison.
Bozhenov, the man who Akhedzhakova said first contacted her about the video, has since claimed in an interview with the Ekho Moskvy radio station that the actress was paid to appear in the video.
Akhedzhakova has denied the allegations and called the incident "frightening."
Navalny, who is under house arrest, condemned the apparent scam as "absolutely disgusting muck and shame." His words were published on a blog run by his supporters.
Parfyonov, the journalist whose words were also used in the anti-Navalny video, called the men who posed as opposition supporters "scum" and said he was "angry" at his own naivete. "They shook my hand, looked me in the eye, thanked me," he said in his blog on Ekho Moskvy's website. "I think they even wished me a happy New Year."
Actor Mikhail Shatz and opposition politician Boris Nemtsov proved more distrustful. Both refused to appear in the video.