If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I have truly been living for America’s favorite scammer: Anna Delvey. Last year felt like The Year of The Scam when story after story fed the news cycle about people getting screwed over by con artists, but none were so captivating as the story of the broke millennial who managed to scam New York’s elite, and one Vanity Fair photo editor, out of all of their money, one happy hour and lavish vacation at a time. An icon, truly.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with Anna Delvey’s story, then may I just say, what a magical place must be the rock you live under. Do you also consider your home to be an enchanted tower where your only means of exiting is via the 40-foot-long braid you grew from your own head? Because I’m seriously at a loss as to how you could have missed the SCAM TO END ALL SCAMS. But fine, mole people, I suppose I’ll humor you. Anna Delvey aka Anna Sorokin posed as a German heiress and managed to infiltrate her way into Manhattan’s elite social scene before conning her friends and business partners out of a cool $275,000. Since her trial and sentencing last year (she’s currently sending selfies from Rikers Island, where she’ll be for the next 4-12 years serving time for her fraud), her story has continued to fuel the news cycle and also my will to live. More recently, My Friend Anna, a tell-all book written by Rachel Deloache Williams, one of Anna’s former friends and victims, was published over the summer. And now, friends, it gets even better, because Netflix released casting details about the series they are producing based on the fake heiress’ life.
The show, entitled Inventing Anna, is based off of Jessica Pressler’s original damning 2018 New York Magazine article “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People” and will focus on the relationship between Anna and a journalist who attempts to get to the truth about Anna amidst her trial. Who will take on the small screen adaptation of such a sordid and twisted tale, you ask? MOTHERF*CKING SHONDA RHIMES, THAT’S WHO. That’s right, the woman who has been treating my fragile emotional state like an Auntie Ann’s pretzel that she can twist and manipulate to her liking through 16 seasons of watching the absolute tomfoolery that occurs at a little place called Seattle Grace Hospital, will be taking on the story of Anna Delvey. I honestly could not think of a better person to tackle this monumental task. If there’s one thing Shonda Rhimes thrives off of, it’s messy drama, and nothing is messier than a broke millennial with an apparent aversion to hairbrushes taking New York’s richest for all they’re worth.
Netflix just released the cast list for the series, and it is everything I hoped it would be and more. Julia Garner, who just won an Emmy for her role in Ozark, will play Anna herself. In a press release, Netflix describes the role of Anna as “a young woman in her mid-20s with a hard-to-place European accent who takes New York by storm. Either a brilliant businesswoman or a scammer extraordinaire, Anna in turn inspires loyalty, compassion, contempt, and obsession—all while leaving behind an emotional body count.” AN EMOTIONAL BODY COUNT. Well, at least Shonda won’t be able to kill off any of Anna’s friends and family members. For once. RIP MCSTEAMY—I’ll never forgive you for for that one, Shonda!
Next up, we’ve got Anna Chlumsky from My Girl and Veep fame, who will play the journalist (aka Vivian) investigating Anna throughout her trial. Apparently Vivian hopes that Anna’s story will be the thing that revives her career, but the more she investigates Anna, the more attached she becomes. So basically she’s me. Anna Chlumsky will be playing the role of me. Can’t wait to watch the scene where she skips out on a happy hour and other basic human interaction to scroll through Anna’s IG feed for 20 hours straight!
Other cast members include Laverne Cox, who will play Kacy Duke, a celebrity trainer and life coach who gets sucked into Anna’s inner circle; Katie Lowes of Scandal fame, who will play Anna’s friend Rachel (aka the author of My Friend Anna); and Alexis Floyd, who’s set to play the role of Neff, the concierge who worked at the Soho hotel Anna frequented (on someone else’s dime). Earlier this year, news broke that Lena Dunham was also working on an adaptation of the Anna Delvey story for HBO, but there have been no updates since the summer.
While there is no date set for the series premiere at this time, we’re told it will probably air sometime in 2020. The series is slated for 10 episodes, which lets me know that I’ll need to clear my schedule for at least double that: 10 hours to watch the show, and another 10 to unpack wtf I just watched and see if there’s any way to incorporate Anna’s tactics into my next Ship date. I’ve got some credit card debt I need paid off. Until then, start clearing your schedules now, because it ! is ! happening !
Images: Getty Images
Elizabeth Holmes is many things: a Stanford dropout. A founder of a company that was, at one time, worth $9 billion. An alleged fraudster. And now… a wife? Perhaps, if a recent report in Page Six is to be believed. Though Holmes is currently awaiting trial for wire fraud, due to the fact that her blood testing company, Theranos, could not perform nearly any of the tests it claimed to the public and investors to be able to do, she is still living a pretty luxurious life in San Francisco. (This is white privilege.) Redditors claimed she is out and about, taking her fake wolf-dog, Balto, out to dog parks. She is currently living in a high-end apartment. And, to top it all off, she was noticeably engaged to hotel heir Billy Evans—but now they might be secretly married. Why is it that scammer Billy McFarland has a girlfriend, murder-commissioner Gypsy Rose Blanchard is engaged, and fraudster Elizabeth Holmes is married, and yet I have not committed a high-profile felony, and I can’t even get out of the f*cking booty call zone???
Perhaps that is precisely the problem. If you’ll excuse me, I need to go make a hit list of everyone who has ever wronged me and devise no less than six fake companies.
Just kidding, I won’t do that (right now). But is Elizabeth Holmes really married? It’s possible, but so far neither she nor fiancé Billy have confirmed anything. The news comes from a live recording of Bitch Sesh, a Real Housewives podcast. Apparently, the Bitch Sesh event had an open mic where people could come up and share gossip *jots down notes for my next work happy hour gathering*. A friend of Billy’s got up and said that he and Elizabeth are already married.
The girl who shared this tea claims to have had Friendsgiving at Billy’s apartment with Elizabeth also in attendance. Another audience member told Page Six, “She was sharing details like the fact they have a stripper pole in their apartment. The room audibly gasped, and this girl got a standing ovation. And a shirt!”
A free shirt for selling out your famous friends? Sign me the f*ck up. Just kidding, I don’t have any famous friends! Damn, now I need to go make some so I can share their secrets in exchange for clothing.
Anyway! Holmes and Evans reportedly met at a party in 2017, and it’s unclear why Evans would choose to shack up with someone who is currently facing wire fraud charges (maybe he, heir to the Evans Hotel Group, thought to himself one day, “hmmm, I have too much family money to blow—maybe I should get in a relationship with someone who can help me take care of that problem”). Not surprisingly, Evans’ family is reportedly not pleased about the engagement.
For everyone asking about Holmes’s social media. It’s private. But here are a few screenshots of her and her fiancé we found online. (I personally find it crazy that she’s being charged with 11 felony counts, thousands of people’s lives were harmed, and she’s as happy as can be.) pic.twitter.com/6nYfjltLt4
— Nick Bilton (@nickbilton) February 21, 2019
“His family is like, ‘What the f–k are you doing?’ It’s like he’s been brainwashed,” a source told the New York Post. Still, Evans reportedly insists that the media “has it wrong” about Holmes (and I guess, by extension, the criminal justice system does too). But just like when your mom and dad tried to tell you the 21-year-old who still hung out behind the high school was not a good person to date, Evans doesn’t seem to care what his family thinks. A source told the NY Post back on April 6 that wedding invitations had been sent out about two weeks prior. And although Billy could afford to give Elizabeth a huge rock, he gave her his MIT signet ring, because, the source claimed, “it could end up owned by the feds if she has to give up her material possessions.” I mean, that’s actually kind of smart, but so would be not getting engaged to someone charged with fraud.
If Holmes and Evans are indeed married, I think I speak for all of us when I say that I need all the details of their wedding immediately. Was Balto the ringbearer? Was Sunny Balwani, former Theranos president and Elizabeth’s ex, in attendance? Did Elizabeth still use her fake voice when saying her vows? And, most importantly, what the hell will happen if Elizabeth is indeed sentenced to the 20 years of prison she’s currently facing? No matter what happens, I’m going to need multiple documentaries on every streaming platform out there about Elizabeth’s life behind bars.
Images: nickbilton / Twitter
In 2019, it’s old news that we love a good scamming story. But among the “stars” of this year’s scamming news cycle—Anna Delvey, Billy McFarland, and Elizabeth Holmes, to name a few—there’s one clear similarity. They’re all millennial scammers. Now, our generation has been accused of a lot of things: we’re lazy and entitled, we ruin whole industries, and we simply cannot get enough of avocado toast. But maybe we’ve been dancing around the most damning accusation of all. As stories pile up of outrageous con artists born between 1981 and 1996, I have to ask: are millennials the scammer generation?
If we are, I can hardly say it’s surprising. Growing up, I saw a lot of promises about “the right path” be shattered. Our parents told us that college degrees were non-negotiable if we wanted to get ahead in life (no matter how much debt we incurred), while dropouts like Zuckerberg, Spiegel, and Holmes dominated the landscape of professional success. Then Instagram, and the subsequent world of influencers was born, and the idea of blindly taking the expected steps through life began to seem not just uninspired, but downright stupid. Both types of self-made success—from Silicon Valley CEO to future Bachelor contestants—preached the same ethos. If you work 20 hours a day, abandon everything else in your life, and operate with complete confidence in yourself and your ideas, you will find success.
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I was told by a former business partner that I “lacked work ethic and didn’t know the good opportunity I had in front of me.’ I left anyways because I knew deep down in my heart that SERVITUDE NOT MONEY needed to be my sole focus. Under my breath I said, “WATCH ME.” I logged onto FB to find that I was accidentally included on a group message that a former client (whom I REALLY LIKED) wrote to her husband and son saying,“ OMG Paradise?!!! Hasn’t she taken enough of a beating already? ?” It HURT to know that my co-workers, clients, “friends”, OH AND ENTIRE FUCKING NATION judged me. But I knew that one moment in my life wasn’t going to define me nor keep me from the bright future and impact I was going to make in this world. I thought to myself, “WATCH ME GET THROUGH THIS.” My family was worried, my friends were concerned. I was even hospitalized last November because of the DEBILITATING EFFECTS OF ANXIETY AND FEAR I was facing with the upcoming season of The Bachelor. I had zero income, zero savings and now a $12,000 hospital bill that I chose to ignore because I couldn’t emotionally “deal” and it was sent to collections DAMAGING my credit. No money, no savings, no more good credit. Fear crept it and emotionally I was breaking under the pressure. I wrote down affirmations all over my house on post-it notes that when read made me focus on the SUCCESS I WOULD EARN by focusing on language and actions that made me feel empowered. And then I applied them. See, when others were talking and judging I was working because I knew the bigger picture. So, the next time someone tries to cast doubt on your dreams. Smile to them and think to yourself, “Watch me Mother Fucker.” And then go and get to work. xx
Of course, the path of betting on yourself and taking risks is made a lot easier if you have a trust fund to fall back on—and many millennial success stories did. For those of us too stupid to invent our own companies, too ugly to make it on Instagram, or too poor to consider either option, there was the post-recession job market. There, the cutthroat competition (even for internships!) and the increasingly insane demands of office jobs (be available on Slack 24/7! Be prepared to take over anyone else’s job at any time!) made the glittering vision of those “working for themselves” all the more appealing. And when we’re treated to a constant feed of photos of their glamorous lives, and Twitter updates on their successes, frustration builds.
Enter: the scammer. Like every millennial, they were inundated with images of extraordinary success and luxury, and the message that if they just worked hard enough or really believed in themselves, anything was possible. So, our millennial scammers said to themselves: why couldn’t that be me? They dreamed big: McFarland pitched Fyre Fest; Holmes pitched Theranos; and Delvey pitched, well, herself, as a larger-than-life heiress, and to a lesser degree, a $50m private club on Park Avenue. They ensured that the idea looked good: McFarland unrolled his Insta-model ad campaign; Holmes filled her board with incredibly high-profile businessmen; and Delvey lived in designer clothes and luxury hotels. And whenever they were questioned on details, they pivoted the conversation back to the big picture: an end game so attractive that listeners wanted, desperately, to believe it.
While scammers have always existed, what’s really striking about millennial scammers is how grandiose their visions are, and the extent to which they seem to believe their own lies. If people continue to make millions off Instagram—even though we’ve been shown time and time again how much of Instagram is fake—then it makes sense that millennial scammers assume they can cash in big, even if there’s no reality to back up their vision. People are uninterested in, say, the actual science behind improved diagnostic testing, or the exact location of a music festival’s toilets. Those details would never have attracted the millions they raised—only the fully-formed, visually appealing outcome would. In our image-obsessed culture, with the constant refrain of “if you didn’t post a picture, did it even really happen,” we’re essentially begging to be scammed by grifters like these.
Until we begin to mend the rift between image and reality that social media has created, and the concept of the self-made billionaire is unpacked, we should expect more millennial con artists pitching us beautiful lies. Because we grew up in such a broken economic system, where following the expected steps didn’t get us the results we were promised, it was attractive to believe that anyone could transform into an overnight success. But these millennial scammers have proven that until we start valuing expertise and honesty at the same level as we do a good aesthetic, we’re not providing new opportunities to anyone but those willing to lie their way to the top. Right now, the path to Silicon Valley or Instagram success demands a “fake it ‘til you make it” approach. So really, the question shouldn’t be “why are there so many millennial scammers”. It should be “why aren’t there more?”
Images: @coachkrystal_; @betches / Instagram
You know how much we love a good Instagram influencer scandal, so I was thrilled to learn about today’s story. It has everything: alleged money laundering, expensive cars, a fake influencer, and multiple arrests. Ladies and gentlemen, meet Jenny Ambuila. Her story is reminiscent of the Anna Delvey saga, but like, if her entire family was in on it. I’m still trying to put all the pieces of this story together, but let’s go through what we know.
Jenny Ambuila is a 26-year-old woman who is originally from Colombia, but she’s now based in Miami. She has two different Instagram accounts, and both have over 10,000 followers. They’re both set to private now, but luckily her Facebook page is still public as hell (at press time, anyway), and from Jenny’s photos, you’d think she has some serious money. She loves to post about her Lamborghini, her expensive handbags, and her lifestyle of luxe international travel. Before we even get to the whole reason this is all fake, let’s first talk about her social media presence. The funny thing is that this girl doesn’t seem to have any sort of aesthetic or photo editing skills. Usually with influencers, they have some kind of “look” to their feed, and they take quality photos (or just edit the hell out of them to make them look quality). Jenny’s Facebook photos, though, just look like she just hit the “upload new profile picture” button and banged it out right then and there without even applying any filters. She’s not even posing! It’s tacky as hell, and I love it.
In case it wasn’t clear already, Jenny Ambuila might be my favorite person. There is truly nothing I love more than an aspiring influencer who spends all her time trying to seem bougie on social media. What’s not to love? This Instagram bio has all of my favorite things: multiple random cities, incoherent job descriptions, and the exact kind of car she drives:
Jenny Ambuila really is that bitch, and her Twitter page is proof. She only has eight followers on Twitter (lmao), but she’s still using it to brag about how hardcore her life is:
10 insane days in Vegas. Zero sleep, full time partying & excessive drinking.
— JennyLifestyler (@JennyLifestyler) May 30, 2018
I’ve got to wonder, with eight Twitter followers and no likes on this tweet, who was she allegedly “full time partying & excessive drinking” with??
Live footage of me scamming men and avoiding all my responsibilities:
I’m obsessed. This whole thing reeks of new money, and so obviously her parents must be loaded, no? Well… no. Jenny is a student at University of Miami, so her lifestyle is bankrolled by her dad, who lives back in Colombia. The problem? Jenny’s dad is a customs inspector at a sea port, and he only makes $3,000 a month. Now, I’m no math genius, but by my calculations, that’s not nearly enough to buy a $300,000 Lamborghini. Something does not compute! To paint a picture for you, I make more than Jenny’s dad, and I can barely afford a monthly Metrocard.
Clearly, Jenny’s lavish posts raised some eyebrows back in Colombia, and this led authorities to launch an investigation into her purchases. Turns out, her father Omar has allegedly been accepting bribes in order to let goods into the country tax-free. Since 2012, he’s reportedly pocketed millions of dollars in illegal payments, which sounds a bit more like Lamborghini money than that $3,000 a month we were talking about before.
Last Friday, Jenny and both of her parents were arrested while on vacation in Colombia, and now they’re on house arrest while they face money laundering charges. Oof. Jenny hasn’t made a statement or anything about the arrest, probably because no one actually cares about what she has to say, or because it’s generally not a good idea to comment on pending litigation.
The crazy thing is that the whole point of being an influencer is that people are invested in your personal story, and there’s nothing that interesting about Jenny, other than how hard she and her family were allegedly scamming everyone. Like, sorry, but posing with a luxury car just is not that interesting. She also has a website, “jenbyjen”, which is supposed to be a “luxury blog”, I guess. Move over, Poosh! The website just says “coming soon,” but now I have a feeling it might not be so soon.
What’s the moral of this story? Before you post pictures of your Chanel bags on Instagram, make sure that they weren’t bought with money from international cargo bribes! Where does Jenny Ambuila rank on the all-time list of Insta-scammers? This whole thing is less impressive than the long-con of Anna Delvey, but Jenny was definitely better at the fake influencer lifestyle than some of these basic girls.
Images: Jenny Ambuila / Facebook (2); @jennylifestyler / Instagram; @jennylifestyler / Twitter; Jenbyjen.com
We’re mere months into 2019, and already this year is shaping up to be messier than my IG stories after 12am. If you haven’t been paying attention, then I’m of course referring to the unprecedented amount of scam scandals that have fed
my will to live the media cycle over the past few months. First, the Fyre Festival documentaries dropped, and I’ve never felt more alive than I did watching a bunch of rich millennials resort to looting and petty thievery for a roll of toilet paper. Then Aunt Becky got caught bribing colleges because her daughter wanted to go to frat parties at USC, and now HBO just dropped a new documentary about disgraced CEO/Silicon Valley “It Girl” Elizabeth Holmes. While these scams aren’t a great look for humanity as a whole, let me just tell you, they are GREAT for my Friday night binge-watching. But all of this makes me wonder: is 2019 the year of the scam?
To be fair, most of the aforementioned scams didn’t actually take place in 2019. But while most of these scandals started hitting the news cycle in 2018, we’re seeing the fallout from said scandals right now in the form of bingeable documentaries and docu-series. I guess it’s like the old saying goes: “one person’s
trash catastrophic f*ck-up is another person’s treasure.”
So the question remains: Why is 2019 acting like my ex who texted me “you’re the one who got away,” and then once I responded in kind, followed up with “oops wrong number”, leaving me feeling bamboozled, hoodwinked, and led astray? What is it about this particular year that is making scammers come out of the woodwork left and right?
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Well, I have some theories.
*stands on soap box*
First, I think we have to talk about the giant heeto in the room: our President. Trump’s Presidency opened doors for a lot of sh*t to come out, and I fully believe one of those doors was scamming. I mean, the man was just investigated for scamming the American people out of a democratic election, for god’s sake!! Then there’s the fact that everything that comes out of his mouth and Twitter feed is about as factually accurate as my Outlander fanfic. It’s no wonder people think they can just lie their asses off, cheat people out of money, and not have to answer to any consequences when our own president freely admits he doesn’t pay his taxes (and that’s one of the less illegal things he’s accused of doing).
Take Elizabeth Holmes, for example. For those of you who don’t know who she is, let’s just say her scam is more dramatic than any plotline Shonda Rhimes has ever concocted. Lizzy—I’m going to call her Lizzy from here on out because I know a Lizzy and she’s also a goddamn mess, so this feels fitting—is the disgraced founder and CEO of the biotech company Theranos. Her whole thing was that she claimed to have invented a blood-testing technology that from one “pinprick’s worth of blood” could test for hundreds of diseases simultaneously. This claim made her a casual billionaire, even though her technology DIDN’T EVEN WORK. Sh*t hit the fan for our girl Lizzy when a reporter actually, like, did his job and realized that she was sitting on a literal throne of lies. I mean, what does it matter if this “world-changing” technology works or not as long as you’re making billions, amiright, Lizzy?
the first red flag should have been the name Theranos sounding like a villain in a Captain Marvel movie
— Danny Murphy (@kashmeredanny) March 19, 2019
It’s this sense of bald-faced lying and entitlement that got Lori Loughlin in trouble as well. I think I speak for all of us when I say that the college admissions scandal is the gift that keeps on giving. And by “gift that keeps on giving” I am of course referring to Olivia Jade, Aunt Becky’s daughter and the reason she bribed a college at all.
Look, do I think Aunt Becky went into this scandal thinking, “Well, if the leader of this country can be a scam artist, so can I”? No, I don’t. But I do think there’s this underlying understanding in our country that as long as you’re white and rich, you can get away with a lot, including lying and fraud.
And since my therapist says I can’t blame Trump for everything bad that happens (blergh), I guess we as a collective people have to take some responsibility for all of this. We’ve become a country that prides itself on being ostentatious, outrageous even. The more insane you act, the more followers you get, and then the more sponsorship deals you land and the more money you make.
Nobody understood this philosophy of “acting ostentatious = getting money” better than fake socialite and real scammer Anna Delvey. Through the powers of white privilege, sheer confidence, and determination (and check fraud), she was able to convince Manhattan’s richest millennials that she was one of them. Just by flashing cash here and there, she got people to cover her bills for fancy dinners, parties, and even a $60-grand vacation. Her friends never questioned that she was rich and could pay them back, because she seemed to constantly have cash—until she didn’t. But Anna wasn’t content to just live the high life; she upped the ante even further and tried to start a “foundation” (that was really just a glorified art gallery/Magnises clubhouse). She attempted to raise $25 million for her fake foundation, and she got pretty close! She even got linked up with respected venture capitalists, who vouched for her finances even though they knew next to nothing about her. All they knew was that she wore designer clothes and seemed to know what she was talking about, and they filled in the blanks about her net worth and legitimacy. And she almost got away with it!
To me the craziest thing about this Anna Delvey story is the fact that the Vanity Fair girl had a credit card limit of OVER $60K
— Betches (@betchesluvthis) June 1, 2018
And look at Billy McFarland, the creator of the greatest music festival there never was. Do I think Billy went into Fyre Festival thinking this would all just be one big scam? Maybe not consciously, no. That doesn’t change the fact that he did actually scam people out of a lot of money. Like the chill $2.8 million he’s been ordered to pay back to all the people he duped into showing up at his 2017 Hunger Games. And if you’re thinking to yourself “Well, Billy got what he deserved in the end”, I ask you, did he really? Sure, he got a six-year jail sentence, but he also gained infamy and a prominent feature in a Hulu documentary (which he got paid for), and that, my garbage friends, is priceless. Think about it. The Fyre Festival happened TWO years ago and we’re still talking about it, talking about Billy, who he is and why he is the way he is. And while I don’t think Billy went into Fyre Fest thinking he would gain infamy in quite this way, I do think that quest for fame and likes is what drove some of his actions.
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It’s certainly what drove him to continue scamming people WHILE HE WAS OUT ON BAIL. And you know what? People are eating this sh*t up. They’re buying memorabilia from the festival, using memes of Andy King’s face to lament bad dates, and they’re doing this because they love the scam. It’s hilarious and ridiculous and even though it hurt a lot of people and screwed a lot of people over, we still want to be a part of it. That’s why we will listen to The Dropout podcast and watch the HBO documentaries. It’s why we watched two documentaries on the same topic, and read an article in The Cut that was about 9 days long. It’s because we love a good scam—so long as it’s happening to other people.
So, there you have it. 2019 is officially the Year of the Scam. But the scam year didn’t just happen over night; it’s been years of buildup to get us to where we are today. Trump’s presidency may have opened the door to let people get away with way more sh*t than they would have previously (*cough* white supremacy), but with that came the equal and opposite reaction of calling people out on their sh*t—whether that be your racist uncle at the Thanksgiving table or the people running our country. And you know who we’re especially calling out in 2019? The rich and powerful. With the exception of Elizabeth Holmes, all these scammers were rich and famous or scheming to be rich and famous, so we don’t feel bad for them, not really. In fact, we actively root against them. We don’t want to just watch the mighty fall, we want to watch them crash and burn and then keep the burning carcass of their worst mistakes alive for all eternity in the form of a very shareable meme.
Which brings me to my second point: the media. Ten years ago, if the Fyre Festival—or any of these scandals, for that matter—had happened, it would have been a blip on our radars. Before Instagram and social media and news story roundups sent directly to your phone, I used to get my news from, like, The Today Show. And that’s only because my mother refused to see the merit in letting me watch reruns of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air while I trying to down my Eggos before school! I might have heard about the Lori Loughlin thing, but only if my mom called me up to personally tell me about it. Now, though, it’s impossible not to keep up with these stories. You can watch the Fyre Fest disaster play out in real time, then head over to IG where someone has inevitably made a meme out of someone else’s misfortune. Just when the scandal might die down, bam! Any streaming service suddenly has the rights to the story and has made a movie out of it. And don’t forget the podcasts! My point is, there have definitely been stories about scam artists in the past, but 2019 has amped up the stage for their scams. We’re not just consuming stories anymore, we’re immortalizing them.
So whether the Year of the Scam came to be because of our country’s leadership, the timing of the media, or if it’s just because the American people are flaming piles of garbage who live for messy drama, I can’t definitively say. I can say that if you need me, I’ll be on my couch watching whatever train wreck Netflix recommends to me next. That’s just how the cookie crumbles, people!
Images: @natcpod, @betches / Instagram; @kashmeredanny, @betchesluvthis / Twitter
Since last year, we knew that both Hulu and Netflix were working on documentaries about one of our favorite scams of all time, the Fyre Festival. Obviously, I was very excited to get an in-depth look at this complete and utter sh*tshow, but I had to wonder, are these movies really both necessary? Netflix announced that theirs would drop on January 18th, so I started to get excited. Then, last week, Hulu proved that it really is a messy b*tch who lives for drama, and dropped theirs three days before Netflix as a surprise. Hulu gets an automatic 10 bonus points just for that level of pettiness.
So because I’m a hardworking journalist (and a fellow messy b*tch who lives for drama), I watched both documentaries, and I’m going to break down some of the differences. First of all, both movies are actually really good. The fundamental story is fascinating, and both Netflix and Hulu did a great job of crafting a narrative that feels informative and fun at the same time. Both have interviews with some key players, including a few of the same people, who are obviously extra hungry for
exposure justice. Oh, and both make Ja Rule look like a total dick. Like, how is his lawyer allowing him to tweet?
Sooo did they have all this food or did they serve cheese sandwiches??? Asking for a friend… https://t.co/kSIqgbtvwS
— Ja Rule (@Ruleyork) January 20, 2019
The thing I liked most about the Hulu documentary, Fyre Fraud, is the amount of backstory it gives us on Billy McFarland. From his credit card company Magnises, all the way back to hacking the computers in elementary school, we get a clear picture of how Billy has always had a compulsion to scam. Part of the reason we get so much of this information is because Fyre Fraud has interviews with Billy. He doesn’t provide that much useful info, other than a lot of red flags to look out for if you think you’re on a date with a sociopath. Because of pending legal action, there are some things he won’t comment on, but he also tells some wild lies, like that they had 250 luxury villas rented, but they lost the box with all the keys. I can’t make this sh*t up. We also get interviews with Billy’s hot Russian girlfriend, who I have some serious questions for.
Fyre, the Netflix movie, has some of the backstory woven in, but it focuses more on what was happening on the ground in the Bahamas. While Billy sat this one out, lots of key members of the Fyre team are interviewed, and you really get a sense of how many people tried to stop this disaster from happening. Basically, Billy didn’t want to hear any negativity, so people either left or got back to work. Heads up: there is one story about a request Billy made of one of his employees that will fully leave your jaw on the floor. Fyre also talks a bit more about the pain Billy & Co. caused for the local residents of the Bahamas, which is truly the most f*cked up part of this story. Some of these people gave everything they had to make this thing a success, but they were just being lied to the entire time.
Overall, Fyre (Netflix) gave me more information to actually understand what happened at Fyre Festival. I’ve always wondered why the whole thing wasn’t just canceled the week before, and I get it now. Both movies do an excellent job of showing how brilliant the influencer-based marketing campaign was, and how it was destined to be a disaster from almost the first minute of planning. If you’re truly interested in this kind of stuff, you really should watch both movies, because they complement each other quite well. If you’re like, busy or something, watch the Netflix one, because it has the Fyre Festival content you’ve been craving the most.
Or if documentaries aren’t really your thing, but you still want the deets on Billy McFarland, listen to the Fyre Festival episode of Not Another True Crime Podcast:
Images: Netflix; @ruleyork / Twitter; Giphy
We all know 2018 has been the year of the scammer, and the gods of winter solstice have come through with one final controversial event to propel us into the new year. The alleged scammer’s name is Aggie Lal (more commonly known as @travel_inhershoes), and she popped up this December with a simple yet elegant plan that will be sure to influence your financial goals for next year. A few months ago, Aggie announced that she had created a 12-week course called “How To Grow Your Instagram,” where Aggie’s most loyal followers—called her “Master Tribe” because white women on Insta can’t be stopped—could go “behind the scenes of going from being a broke traveler to becoming a six-figure earning travel blogger.” All for the low, low price of $497.
Okay so right off that bat your bullsh*t detector should be going off. First of all, there is no need for a 12-week course on how to grow your Instagram. I will give you this course in six words: be beautiful and post thirst traps. As an added bonus, you can also be rich. Being rich is always helpful. But that’s not even really the issue. The issue is that, according to several people who signed up for Lal’s “Master Tribe” (ugh), the course didn’t deliver what was promised. I am just shocked and appalled that something I saw on Instagram might not be real!
Things started to go south when one of Lal’s students published a Medium essay called “I Was Scammed by a Celebrity Influencer” detailing their experience in the class under the pseudonym Wannabe Influencer (gotta love that honesty). Wannabe Influencer said she’d been following Lal for a long time and was “damn curious” about how she built her brand, only to find herself $500 deep into what she alleges was a scam. (For the record, I have spent $500 to have a 40-year-old man who still sleeps on a dirty floor mattress teach me improv comedy, so no judgment.) The post was picked up by Buzzfeed News, and it was all downhill from there.
Lal enrolled a casual 380 people in the “course,” meaning she made $188,860 on the sales. (Not bad for a girl with no talent.) Despite a promise of 12 weeks of instruction, Lal only ended up providing courses for six weeks. According to Lal, this lapse was due “hurdles with health” and “internet connectivity issues,” which sounds a lot like sh*t I say when I fail to show up to work for the fourth day in a row. However, Lal continued to post her regular Instagram content, which just violates the cardinal rule of playing hooky: don’t post to social media while you’re claiming to be out of commission.
But it wasn’t just the lack of classes that were a problem—members of the Master Tribe (every time I type that my fingers almost fall off) were supposed to learn “not only social media techniques” but also “photography classes,” and the “business side of things.” Unfortunately for the people who paid $500 to learn how to use an iPhone, one student described Lal’s content as “basic information you would find from a simple Google search,” and complained that the videos were “barely five minutes long.” When Lal did upload videos, some students reported her making problematic comments like “People who work at Starbucks aren’t living up to their full potential,” which is pretty rich coming from a woman who looks like a sentient pumpkin spice latte.
One of the big issues participants took with the class (apart from the fact that it’s something you bought from a random person on Instagram) happened when Lal issued a “challenge” to the class. And what was this challenge, you ask? The challenge was to post about the course to your own followers, trying to get them to sign up for the class themselves. As anyone who has ever had a friend that got too deep into LulaRoe can recognize, this has all the makings of a pyramid scheme.
This all brings us to the inevitable notes app apology, posted to Instagram in true public gaffe fashion:
View this post on Instagram
I woke up to terrible news that some of the students in my Mastertribe course felt disappointed with it. ::::: I was heartbroken because this course was my baby, which I’ve been working on since June. It took me and my team months to create almost 9 hours of video classes. I never held any information back, always being open about everything I know: including sharing my media kit, email examples, Lightroom, Photoshop and camera tutorials etc. ::::: I want to sincerely apologize from the bottom of my heart who anyone who feels like what I shared wasn’t enough. :::::: Due to some hurdles with my health and WiFi connectivity, 4 out of 66 videos didn’t get uploaded as scheduled last week. I did apologize over the weekend to the Mastertribe directly but no excuse can justify me not showing up for those who I care about thre most, my tribe. :::::: I already spoke to each Mastertriber directly and offered to anyone who felt disappointed in the whole situation a full refund (to be processed by this Sunday). :::::: I was honored that so many beautiful people joined the class and it makes me feel truly terrible that I’ve let my tribe down ???? :::: My intention has always been to inspire this community I dearly love and I would never want you to feel taken advantage of. ::::: I am closely talking with each member of the Master Tribe but wanted to let my wider community know what is going on. My goal is to support the next generation of Instagrammers by sharing learnings from my journey so far. ::::: Love always, Aggie ❤️
Like most Insta-pologies, this didn’t exactly go as planned. Lal told BuzzFeed News she is offering “anyone who felt disappointed in the whole situation a full refund,” but disgruntled Master Tribe members flocked to the comments to tell their own stories. They claimed that Aggie had initially blocked people who asked for refunds, calling them “Bad Apples.” They also called her out for claiming she “just woke up to” news people didn’t like the class, when students had actually been reaching out for weeks. It reminds me of when I ghost a guy for six weeks because I found a guy I liked better, only for that relationship to fall through, so I hit the original guy up with an “OMG I just saw this” text.
Others just generally took issue with how the class had been run and Aggie’s characterization of people who left the class as being “unmotivated” or “not dreamers.” (Because paying $500 to have to watch a bunch of Instagram tutorials is totally the dream.)
But perhaps most damning of all, several comments pointed out that Aggie’s follower count had grown suspiciously since the news of her failed course, despite the fact that many people were actually unfollowing her. All of this points to the original sin of Instagram: buying followers (and getting caught).
Uh yeah, you think a lady who somehow finessed her way into $180k in fake “course” money wouldn’t buy followers when the going gets tough? I sure do.
Time will tell if this is truly a scam, or more of a well-meaning-but-poorly-executed blunder, so I’ll be watching closely. Aggie’s latest update is a doozy, and she swears up and down that she’s done right by the people who demanded refunds:
View this post on Instagram
????✨ ::::: I wanted to share an update with my wider community about the progress that's been made with my @MasterTribe. All students who asked have been refunded. The 300 who remained enrolled will continue to learn from me and will also receive personalized feedback. ::::: Despite my good intentions and a firm belief that what I know and shared is enough to become successful in this field, it's clear now that I could have communicated my knowledge in a more hands on manner and I have taken this as a huge learning experience. ::::: I started Master Tribe this year with the hopes of repeating the success of the first edition and providing even more value. The first @MasterTribe in 2017 produced some of the most original and admirable accounts in this space, with some of the students growing organically from a few hundred to well over 100k followers. I strongly believe that I can help current students achieve a similar success and I will put even more effort in to make sure it happens. ::::: In the meantime, I've decided to step back to restructure the way I run my page in a team of one so that I can continue to deliver quality content that so many of you enjoyed. :::: Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and see you in the New Year. Xxx Aggie
Maybe you really can develop a lucrative Instagram career from watching videos of one girl who’s clearly more attractive and has more access to money than most. Maybe you’ll win the lottery and not even need an Instagram account, for that matter—all things are possible. Maybe, just maybe, if she was going to produce content “in a team of one” (who’s snapping those pics, sweetie?) and charge $500 for it, she should have actually had the content ready to go when people signed up. I know, call me crazy.
The real scam, if you ask me? This bitch is NEVER wearing shoes when she travels.
Images: travel_inhershoes / Instagram (4)
As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” I highly doubt he was talking about Fyre Festival there, but still, it applies. Billy McFarland, the guy who is not Ja Rule and was responsible for the disastrous Fyre Festival, was sentenced to six years in prison by a federal judge in New York today. Wait so conning rich influencers out of money by promising them an exclusive VIP island festival, only to send them to a random piece of sand in the Bahamas that’s full of wild dogs and no water, is…illegal? Color me shooketh.
McFarland pleaded guilty to two counts of wire fraud in connection with the Fyre Festival sh*tshow. If you’ll recall (but also, how could you forget?) the festival had been promoted by social media stars and celebs (*J.Lo* R-U-L-E) as a luxury A-list experience. When they got there, it was less “A-list glamor” and more “cheese sandwiches and FEMA tents.” Ouch. In the public dragging that followed (which we happily participated in), 80 investors lost more than $24 million. You’d think the experience would have made Billy change his scamming ways, but if Joanne has taught us anything, it’s that a scammers gotta scam. It’s in their blood.
While out on bail for his Fyre Festival crimes, Billy attempted to scam more people, this time selling fake VIP tickets to fashion and music events, including the Met Gala, causing at least 30 customers to lose nearly $150,000. (Side note: if you buy your Met Gala tickets on Craigslist, that’s a red flag. Just sayin’. You can’t buy tickets to the Met Gala—that’s literally the entire point of the event.) After Billy’s continued scamming, McFarland pled to additional counts of bank and wire fraud. You know what they say, scam me once, shame on you, scam me twice….you’re going to jail for bank fraud.
During his trial, prosecutors asked for McFarland to get a sentence of 15-20 years, painting him as a “consummate con artist” and the “sole criminal mastermind who ran sophisticated fraudulent schemes for three companies over the course of several years.” Basically, that’s leal speak for “he’s a messy b*tch who lives for drama.” In the end, he was sentenced to only six years. In their final remarks, prosecutors described McFarland as “a profoundly greedy, self absorbed man focused exclusively on himself.” But Fyre Festival wasn’t the first time Billy tried to scam a bunch of rich people. We go into it in this episode of Not Another True Crime Podcast, which you can listen to below.
Which brings me to my final question. Is Billy McFarland…my ex?
If you love scams, cults, conspiracy theories, and true crime, listen to Not Another True Crime Podcast, out now!
Images via Giphy (1)