The Uncomfortable Reason Behind The Rise Of Millennial Scammers

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

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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.

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Why do I dress to impress Janet in accounting? @whenshappyhr

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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

The House Came To Play: Mark Zuckerberg’s Testimony Pt.2

In a genuinely shocking twist, Zuckerberg’s House of Representatives hearing actually appeared to be a real hearing instead of one of the technology tutorials they offer local seniors at the Apple Store. It seems like members of the House might have googled Facebook before this hearing, and realized that they shouldn’t call it “the Facebook.” This is progress, people! Let’s discuss the most exciting moments and the new information the House was able to pry out of Zuck’s cold, alien hands:

1. From TBD to IDK

Building on Day 1’s genius rhetorical strategy of “my people will get back to you,” Zuckerberg rolled out the even more iconically shady response of “idk” on day 2. Luckily, the Representatives actually weren’t having it and Debbie Dingell honestly gave Shonda Rhimes a run for her money with a Grey’s style rant listing all the incredibly central facets of his company’s operations that Zuck claims not to know. I’m just going to give you the full transcript of this one, because it’s hilarious:

“As CEO you didn’t know some key facts. You didn’t know about court cases regarding privacy and your company. You didn’t know that the FTC doesn’t have fining. You didn’t know what a shadow profile is. You don’t know how many apps you need to audit. You don’t know what other companies were sold the Kogan data, even though you were asked that yesterday. You don’t even know how many kinds of information you’re logging.”

2. Even More IDK

While we’re here, a few other things Zuck claimed not to know today include:

Who Facebook’s own Head of News Partnerships is.

Whether Facebook shares its internal audits with the FTC.

What the question “are you willing to change your business model in the interest of protecting individual privacy?” means.

Literally, he responded to that question with “I’m not sure what that means.” It means not selling advertisers the information that I Googled ‘how to lose 5 pounds in a week’ so they can spam my feed with Kayla Itsines videos. It also means not selling my demographic info and private messages to political operatives trying to install a racist misogynist as president and destroy America! Feel free to DM me if you have any other questions about this one, Zuck.

3. Users Control Content, not Data

In addition to ‘idk,’ Zuckerberg also responded to Representative Castor’s inquiry about whether Facebook collects personal information on people who don’t have accounts by, according to the Guardian “mumbling vaguely.” Why is Zuckerberg in Congress literally me hungover in a freshmen seminar. He also kept insisting that users control the content they post whenever someone attempts to ask about the full scale burn books of associated meta-data and inferences based on browsing history that facebook has amassed on us. This is embarrassing.

4. Facebook is Still Open to Regulation

Again, Zuckerberg seemed open to regulation. He did not discount the idea of a Digital Consumer Protection Agency, while maintaining that the “details on this really matter.” Unlike, apparently, the details on all our stolen personal information and the myriad ways Facebook secretly mines our browser history. For sure.

5. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) is Trending

Like every betch returning from her semester abroad, the Representatives are obsessed with Europe and copying their new privacy regulation package, the GDPR. Multiple representatives asked Zuck if he would be enacting the policies in the US. He vacillated on what parts exactly will be put in place.

 

6. Facebook’s Leadership is White AF

Representative GK Butterfield called out Facebook’s lack of diversity in its leadership team, and he came with receipts. He had a screenshot from Facebook’s website of its 5 most senior officials, none people of color.

7. Zuckerberg Thinks You Love Targeted Ads

When asked if he thinks users actually read Facebook’s privacy agreements, Zuckerberg claims most don’t, but this is probably due to the fact that they like seeing “relevant” ads. Yes, nothing brings me more joy than being advertised the choker personalization service my friend was talking about at drinks (although Zuck keeps claiming Facebook doesn’t listen to us talk). You know what I would like even more? Enduring irrelevant ads in my news feed but living in a world where the elections are not influenced by foreign actors! Thanks!

8. Republicans Are Still Asking Pointless Questions

Following in the path forged yesterday by Ted Cruz, conservative representatives continued their campaign to waste our time in 2018. Representatives repeatedly asked about the removal of conservative political pages, and asked why Obama’s 2012 campaign app wasn’t illegal if Cambridge Analytica’s app was. Um, because in one scenario I downloaded an explicitly political app and gave my information to a candidate I supported, and in the other I thought I was taking a personality quiz when I was actually allowing facebook to profit from the sale of my personal details to a consortium of Republican donors?

9. Zuckerberg’s Data Was Stolen Too

Ah, tech billionaires with shockingly bad haircuts and the power to influence over 2 billion people worldwide, they’re just like us.

10. Congress Does Nothing or Over Reacts

I want to end this recap with Representative Billy Long’s Real Housewives level one-liner to Zuck: “Congress is good at two things, doing nothing and over-reacting. We’re getting ready to over-react.”

We’ll have to wait and see if Congress actually decides to over-react instead of doing nothing. Seems unlikely, but you can find me at the bar, where I will be deleting facebook and not geo-tagging, until then.

Images (Giphy 5)

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