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Inside the Story: An online scam turns into an unexpected friendship for Utah man

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Inside the Story: An online scam turns into an unexpected friendship for Utah man (Photo provided by Ben Taylor)

(KUTV) An unusual friendship and business venture was built on what started as what was believed to be a Facebook scam.

It all started when Ben Taylor received a Facebook message last April.

"The first word that came to mind was 'scam,'" Taylor said.

The message was from a 50-year-old man name Joel Willie who lives in one of the poorest countries in the world.

It read, "Hello sir, my name is Joel from Liberia, West Africa. I beg you in the name of God, I need some assistance from you."

Taylor decided to play along, because he loves to taunt scammers.

In fact, he has a YouTube channel dedicated to it.

"I was really just trying to keep him busy," Taylor said. "I thought the more time of his I can waste, the less time he could have spent ripping me or other people off."

Taylor asked Willie how he could help, and Willie asked him to send used electronics.

But Taylor thought of a better idea.

"I lied to him and said, 'I run a photography business,' which I don't," Taylor described. "I said, 'send me some pictures from where you live and we will both try and sell them."

And to Taylor's surprise, Willie sent him photos. But they were awful.

"The phone he was using was a dinosaur," he said.

But he decided to keep playing along. He bought a $30 camera and mailed it to him.

Eventually the pictures started to look really good.

But Taylor had another problem.

"I've got to figure out a way to sell these pictures so I can compensate Joel and be done with him," he said.

So he took the photos and published his first book, "By D Grace of God," a phrase Willie used constantly.

"Sales exploded and I ended up selling a thousand copies," Taylor said.

He even made $1,000 profit--and planned to give half of it to Willie. That's about a year's salary in Liberia.

And instead of pocketing his share of the money, Taylor decided to take another chance and send the full $1,000 to Willie and have him buy school supplies for needy children.

Willie was true to his word and bought school supplies for kids from five different schools in Liberia.

"It just took me back because I misjudged this guy," Taylor said. "I thought he was just someone taking advantage of me, but he ended up being a humanitarian in the making."

In February, Taylor traveled to Liberia to meet Willie for the first time and got a tour of where he lived. The reunion was captured by CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman.

Willie told Hartman that he spent hours on Facebook messaging people in order to support his family.

"I'm more than desperate, Steve, because I have a family. I'm a father of seven. To feed the kids," Willie told CBS News.

"He taught me to trust others and see a different side of the world I hadn't seen before," Taylor said of Willie.

Volume two of "By D Grace of God" came out a few weeks ago and has already sold over a thousand copies.

Taylor isn't making any money off of this, but hopes to one day make enough to build a school in Liberia.

For more information about the book, visit bydgraceofgod.com.

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