$5,000 online baby-name contest revealed as hoax

By Jacoba Urist, TODAY Contributor

The woman who claimed she won a $5,000 contest on a baby-name website to have an online vote determine her baby’s name is actually an actress, hired by the website’s founder to drum up publicity, the actress and website founder confessed.

Natasha Hill, a struggling single art teacher in Los Angeles, was named by the website Belly Ballot last month as the winner of an essay contest and the $5,000 prize for agreeing to let the Internet name her unborn baby.

Dozens of TV, online and print media outlets, including TODAY Moms and the TODAY and Weekend TODAY broadcasts, covered the story. “Saturday Night Live” even spoofed the contest. Hill, who said she was due in September, told TODAY Moms in a phone interview last week that she planned to use her winnings to pay off credit card debt and start her baby’s college fund.

But it appears Natasha Hill is actually Natasha Lloyd, an actress, and she is not pregnant, according to Belly Ballot founder Lacey Moler of Texas. After TODAY Moms received a tip and uncovered seeming inconsistencies in Hill’s story, Moler confessed to the hoax Sunday night and admitted it was her idea.

“We came up with the idea for the contest and we knew it would be controversial,” Moler said. “But we’re a start-up and we wanted to control the situation.”

So, she said, she and her staff decided to “hire someone to be the mom.”

Moler approached media outlets about the story, and originally said that 80 women applied to the contest. On Sunday, she admitted that, in fact, no one entered it. Lloyd was hired to play the “winner” and then the public would get to cast a vote for one of five boy names and five girl names on March 18.

Moler said that Lloyd is not pregnant. She would not say how much she paid Lloyd for her part in the hoax, or whether Lloyd would still receive payment now that her identity has been revealed.

“We never thought it would get this big,” says Moler. “But after [“Hill” was announced as the winner], so many real applications from moms came pouring in.”

When reached by phone Sunday night, Natasha Lloyd confirmed that she was an actress who played the role of Natasha Hill. She declined to comment further on any details of her contract with Belly Ballot, her alleged pregnancy, or the site’s contest.

When TODAY Moms first reported on the contest, some readers were incredulous; they couldn’t believe a real mom would do such a thing. Now it appears they were right.

This story, originally published on March 1, was updated on March 4.