Inventing Anna: There is a vein that is becoming very popular on streaming platforms: the real stories about crooks who applied scams and managed to take other people’s money. The success of the series Inventando Anna, written and produced by the powerful Shonda Rhimes (from Grey’s Anatomy and How to get away with murder) and the popularity of the documentary The Tinder scammer, both on Netflix, made many people obsessed with these stories about common people, but not so common.
One wonders what attracts us to this subject of crooks, since much of the repercussion around these two products revolves around this fascination. In The Tinder scammer, we follow the story of an Israeli guy who conquered women from several European countries by presenting himself as a handsome millionaire, similar to a stereotype of the “prince charming”: he even picked up his flirts on private planes.
In Inventing Anna, however, there is also a tendency to want to try to understand the fragility of large corporations, as Anna Delvey was a young and apparently naive girl (but supposedly a millionaire) who managed to deceive banks and members of the American elite.
The seduction by this type of plot, in my view, is conflicting. On the one hand, there is a kind of charm about the cleverness of the “little ones”, that is, individuals like you and me (why not?) Tinder scammer) to the most powerful (such as large financial institutions, in the case of Anna Delvey).
There’s something like David versus Goliath, a biblical matrix already introjected into the culture. When we see someone cheating corporations, the stories take on a Robin Hood air – never mind that, in 99% of cases, the scammers cheat just for their own benefit, with no intention of “redistributing” their earnings.
On the other hand, our gossip around these cases can have a touch of perversity. There is a certain comfort in realizing that the deceived were the others, and we rejoice in the (very illusory) premise of “this would never happen to me”.
Debates on social media framed the women conned by the so-called Tinder scammer as naive, and many comments centered around a sort of relief at being smarter than they were.
But the truth is that the “scam” genre is not new to entertainment. That’s why I’ve put together a short list for anyone who wants to dive into the stories of famous cheaters.
5. The Tinder Scam (by Felicity Morris, 2022)
I start the list, of course, with this Netflix hit, which has continued to generate debate since it was released. The documentary shows how the Israeli Simon Leviev managed to seduce young European women by posing as a millionaire and setting up a pyramid scheme: he made his girlfriends lend him money, and used the amount to seduce other women with an apparent life of luxury. . Available on Netflix.
4. Making Anna (from Shonda Rhimes 2022)
Shonda Rhimes’ new venture is a series that clarifies in each of its episodes: everything that is told there is real, except for the parts that were made up. This disclaimer serves to clarify that Rhimes reserves the right not to be completely true to the facts.
The series is based on the report by journalist Jessica Pressler about the scammer Anna Delvey, a Russian who was posing as a German millionaire in the United States and who was arrested for applying numerous defaults launched on friends and banks (she got credit by placing as a guarantee a monetary fund personnel that did not exist).
The series has the kind of entertainment provided by the Shonda Rhymes series: it’s highly addictive and well told. However, as several critics have already pointed out, there is a kind of subtle “deification” of the scammer, often presented as a dreamer, or as a person who struggled (with nothing more than her cunning and, why not, her intelligence) to achieve an ideal. Available on Netflix.
3. Fyre Festival: Fiasco in the Caribbean (by Chris Smith, 2019)
Another recent short classic on coup narratives, the documentary Fyre Festival: Fiasco in the Caribbean also chronicles a scandal involving the rich. Manager Billy McFarland (who appears as a character in Inventing Anna) announced a music festival that would take place in 2017 on an island paradise in the Bahamas. He hired famous influencers and models and started selling tickets to the festival – which included transportation to the Caribbean, room and board.
However, it was all a fraud: when people arrived there, instead of the promised luxury accommodations, there was only a campsite with wet mattresses and packed sandwiches, and musical acts had not been hired. McFarland ended up earl swimming to 6 years in prison. Available on Netflix.
2. The Inventor: Looking for Blood in Silicon Valley (by Alex Gibney, 2019)
In 2003, entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes founded a startup called Theranos, which promised to develop a machine that would do complex clinical tests with just one drop of blood. She managed to raise a billion dollars in investments, but she ran into a problem: the machine she advertised didn’t work. In 2022, Holmes was convicted and his sentence has not yet been handed down, but it can reach up to 20 years in prison.
Theranos story was one of the first to generate fascination about the culture of startups and Silicon Valley, where a large part of the digital technologies that promise to change people’s lives come from. The big question around people like Elizabeth Holmes is: how can someone convince so many people to invest money in something that doesn’t exist?
The premise is so seductive that the scammer’s story continues to bear fruit: her story will be told again in the Hulu series The Dropout, with Amanda Seyfried, and in a movie called Bad Blood, with Jennifer Lawrence.
The Inventor: Looking for Blood in Silicon Valley is available on HBO.
1. Catch Me If You Can (by Steven Spielberg, 2002)
If you want to broaden the scope beyond the novelty, the film Catch Me If You Can, by Steven Spielberg, also tells the story of a real-life scammer. Frank Abagnale Jr. (played in the film by Leonardo DiCaprio) assumed 8 different identities and caused a loss of 2.5 million dollars in 26 countries.
The most impressive thing is that he managed to convince that he had different professions, such as a pediatrician, a professor of sociology (he managed to teach for a semester at a university!), a lawyer and even an airplane pilot at PanAm.
Interestingly, after being arrested, Abagnale made a collaboration agreement with the US police and was released. He then founded a consulting firm that helps detect fraud. Available on Netflix.
Do you remember any other interesting works about cheaters? So put it here in the comments.