For centuries, Hollywood has given audiences a forever evolving persona of the everyday scammer. This cinematic version is intelligent, sexy, and most importantly—personable. They’re able to use their cunning nature to quickly establish solid relationships with their targets—most often disguised as romantic interest—and use the bonds they develop as leverage to get what they want.
With series like Inventing Anna on Netflix and Hulu’s The Dropout gaining massive appeal, high level scamming has many imitating art in their real lives. The consequences? A multi-billion dollar industry committed to getting people what they want by any means necessary, and dramatizing an experience typically only possible with massive levels of privilege. Let’s be real… A common theme across successful scammers these days, both in media, and in real life, is the story of an essential “nobody” using their whiteness, attractiveness, or perceived wealth, as a way to finesse their way to the top.
In the age of social media and technology, access to personal information and online bank accounts has become a little too easy. And as a result, we’re seeing an increase in the success of both financial and romance scams. While the end goal for most high level scammers is financial gain, the route to getting what they want can differ in comparison to those we commonly see on the big screen.
While some prefer the more common formulas such as phishing emails and cashing fraudulent checks, high level scammers like Simon Leviev, dubbed the Tinder Swindler, prefer the more complex route. Some will take the time to build a meaningful relationship (if one is not already established), with their intended target and use that bond to cleverly and “innocently” con them out of money under the guise of love, business partnerships and friendship.That is what separates the high level, more committed scammers from the more common kind looking to make some quick cash usually in lesser amounts. While high level scamming isn’t as quick of a come up, it tends to provide its attractants with more longevity. With an insatiable desire to live a glamorous life and increase followers on social media, many take to scamming full-time to maintain their desired lifestyle. But, is Hollywood’s glamorization exacerbating an already chaotic situation?
Now for those of you who don’t binge watch Netflix crime documentaries (what could possibly be more important??), Simon Leviev is a convicted, Israeli con man responsible for swindling his various fake love interests out of roughly $10 million. He used the money to purchase expensive cars, clothes and even take private jet flights in order to maintain his high profile appearance on social media and dating apps. While he publicly maintains his innocence, his habit of ghosting his lovers after draining their savings and retirement accounts speaks for itself.
While Simon Leviev’s schemes were told from a realistic point of view, the infamous Anna Sorokin—the subject of the Netflix series Inventing Anna—received a more red carpet treatment for her story. From 2013 – 2017, Sorokin pretended to be a German heiress to defraud clubs, banks, hotels and acquaintances out of over $400,000.
Her unashamed and vocal nature landed her a whopping $320,000 deal with Netflix and massive popularity. From interviews with the New York Times to mentions in Vanity Fair and Vogue Magazine, many question, does crime actually pay? In an interview with NY Times, Sorokin shared, “Does crime pay? I could not honestly say “no” in my situation, because I did get paid. For me to say “no” would just be denying the obvious.” Even facing up to 12 years in prison and more than $500,000 in fines and legal fees, Sorokin managed to profit off her scandalous past.
While these two stories made for great entertainment, the complication is Hollywood and social media’s influence entice many viewers to follow suit in hopes of living their own high profile lifestyle for the world to see. No matter the legal consequences that are sure to follow if one is caught, millions of people continue to participate in high level scamming every single day.
The truth is though, for Black people, a career built on scamming won’t lead to a Hollywood adaption and a spread in Vanity Fair. The disparities for Black people in the glamorization of scamming are all but too prevalent. While Anna Sorokin received a red carpet debut and Simon Leviev acquired internet celebrity status, high level scammers in the Black community like Hushpuppi, an Instagram influencer known for high-profile fraud, receive lengthy prison sentences, heavy fines and a disappearance into the background. Or in most recent news, Roekeicha Brisby, accused of illegally fixing people’s credit, faces public ridicule and felony charges.
I knew it would only be a matter of time before Credit Repair Scams started catching up to people. Ya’ll please don’t fall for these “repair” companies out here smh pic.twitter.com/UlVUl6Qkql
— YouTube Guy (@SneakerPhetish) July 12, 2022
No magazine interviews, no studios beating down their door for rights to their stories; just labels of disapproval and shame. Hollywood could care less about showcasing Black stories like these and the white controlled media aids in that decision.
In 2019, Refinery29 published an article entitled, “Female con Artists Who Deserve Their Own Movies,” a list glorifying real-life criminals; all of whom are non-black women. Articles like this from high-profile media outlets show that high level scamming is only “Hollywood worthy” when whiteness is centered and without question, considered criminal and morally wrong when it is not.
In a perfect world, we would all be able to discern the vast difference between glamorized crime conjured up for entertainment and the harsh realities that come with living that same lifestyle in real life. However, many making these choices in everyday life go unpunished and unnoticed, so the appeal of “free and easy” money continues to grow. Coupled with the over abundance of social media consumption and the idea of living a luxurious lifestyle, we all may be in over our heads more than we think.
TJ is an Atlanta native and a senior at New York University double majoring in journalism and politics. When she’s not studying or writing she enjoys reading, indulging in the arts and traveling the world. TJ can be reached at via Instagram and LinkedIn.