"My Bright-Lights Misadventure with a Magician of Manhattan"
April 21, 2018 3:19 PM   Subscribe

"She walked into my life in Gucci sandals and Céline glasses, and showed me a glamorous, frictionless world of hotel living and Le Coucou dinners and infrared saunas and Moroccan vacations. And then she made my $62,000 disappear." [Vanity Fair]
posted by Charity Garfein (71 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
 
I enjoyed reading this a lot, but I also felt like the author could have been a bit more introspective about how she ended up getting conned--that feeling of pride, that she knew something about the world of the super wealthy and fit in there, is probably why she was such a ripe target, even more than plain greed.

And while Anna obviously did an awful thing, I thought her lawyer had a point: if I invite my friend on vacation, and then I go, hey, would you mind putting the room on your card, I swear I'll pay you back, but then I don't, it's a dick move but it's not usually considered a crime.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 3:58 PM on April 21, 2018 [14 favorites]


As soon as she gets out of jail, some Wall Street firm should snap her up as a CEO. She's a natural.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 4:04 PM on April 21, 2018 [13 favorites]


My tiny porthole window into the well-to-do happened in art school. After all, who else was going to float my career producing objects that have no intrinsic value?

I remember one young woman. Lots of confidence, a foreign name, some sort of family wealth (it was assumed because: public spending habits). She sold/gave cocaine to a certain gallery owner (who's now dead from a lifetime of drug addiction) who would then be visitors to our class's critiques. Her stuff (she wasn't very talented) would get praised and perhaps eventual showings, my crap would be actually shunned -refused to even be talked about. Nothing was too high, or too low. She'd sell student's artwork that wasn't hers (although she said otherwise) to get a good price... I remember her wanting to do some con with me and I declined - I was then put on her shit-list.

The last I heard about her was that she was the personal assistant to Mathew Barney or whatever. I have since stopped trying to work within a gallery system as an artist. It's a pretty terrible place - think of what you need to stay afloat (as a gallery owner): you basically have to please with someone who has far too much money to continue to collect a certain artist's work - so much that you could never hang it up. You wine, you dine, you make the client feel special. Then they open up their checkbook to make a huge purchase. In the end, it all becomes a write off when the work is given to a museum or foundation and that person is then known as a wonderful patron of arts and culture. It's just a receipt of being a part of a long con.

I haven't even thought of this person in years. I'm sure they're racket is still very similar. Who knows?

I'm not saying everyone is like this, but there is a part of the art world where you eat, or get eaten. It all seems so ridiculous to me. I never possessed those sort of skills to navigate such a world.
posted by alex_skazat at 4:19 PM on April 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


I feel like somethings missing in the story, or maybe I missed it. They were in Morocco, there was a problem with Delvey's card and then... the author suddenly authorizes $62,000 worth of charges on her American Express? Is that what happened?
posted by justkevin at 4:27 PM on April 21, 2018 [7 favorites]


that's pretty much it. cons often rely on marks' natural desire to be polite and minimize embarrassment.
posted by idiopath at 4:42 PM on April 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


This reminds me so much of the story of Madame Giselle, another con-artist who feigned riches whilst bilking her (trusting, sympathetic) marks in and around Washington DC --

* The Mysterious Madame Giselle [WaPo, 19 Sept 2017]

* The ongoing saga of the mysterious Madame Giselle [WaPo, 8 Jan 2018]

It reads like fiction, and it's painful to know it's not.
posted by Westringia F. at 4:45 PM on April 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


justkevin:
First Anna, and then the men, pressured me to put down my credit card for that block while Anna sorted out the situation with her bank. I was stuck. I had exactly $410.03 in my checking account. I had no alternate transportation from the hotel. I wanted to go home. And most importantly, I was told that my card would not be charged.
It was a $7,000/night hotel. The hotel was clearly going to throw them out if they didn't put a working card down just then but that the final charges could be sorted back onto Anna's card later; the author had an American Express card and the ability to use it for that purpose and was pressured into doing so because they still had one more night there and no other housing arrangements.

The funny thing is that I think part of this is just wanting to fit in among the rich, but part of it is that not only rich people do this, it's just not a Vanity Fair story when you go to an event, say, with three other broke young people, one of whom is supposed to be arranging payment, and somehow that person's payment arrangements fall through and it turns out they've already spent the cash everybody gave them shortly after arrival, and did I mention everybody there is broke, and one person gets stuck being the saint who pays for everybody. We exist with a certain social contract that says you just don't do this, so if you're a generally honest person you don't expect someone who wanted to take a trip with you to be scamming you.

I'm just glad I had my guardian angel back then; I still would never again just trust that someone else had something like that in hand.
posted by Sequence at 4:50 PM on April 21, 2018 [15 favorites]


The author lost my sympathy early when they went out to dinner and ordered oysters matched with espresso martinis. Barf.
posted by arha at 4:51 PM on April 21, 2018 [10 favorites]


I was expecting this to be even more of a rollercoaster but it seemed pretty predictable.

Yeah, it sounds like the villa was able to be checked in to via reputation alone before a card was filed, which is a huge screw up at any hotel, with any reputation. Either you have a card or account on file or you don't because books and audit have to balance, and this is innkeeping 101.

The airline ticket snafu should have been a no go, too, but there have had to have been earlier warning signs that were ignored.

This is fascinating because I've seen random addicts and street grifters use these same tactics. Stand in the smoking section or outside of the Greyhound station of any major city for a few hours and eventually you'll see it in action. Or any corner bottle shop.

It can be as simple as "Hey, let me split that pack of smokes with you and I'll buy three packs later when I get my money. And I'll buy you a beer! What do you mean no? I was trying to do something nice for you!"

Same thing, different venue and digits.
posted by loquacious at 4:58 PM on April 21, 2018 [13 favorites]


The author lost my sympathy early when they went out to dinner and ordered oysters matched with espresso martinis.

If I recall, someone else ordered them and she rolled with it, presumably because she wasn't paying.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:05 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


A few months ago, I learned the true story of my recent ex, who turned out to be a profoundly prolific pathological liar and felon (none of which I'd realized while were were dating- details in my first post). I processed the news with a great deal of reading, much of it about psychopathy, sociopathy, and scammers, and even so, it was shocking when I actually learned more recently what he'd done to become a felon.

Apparently, years ago, he embezzled $400,000, then bought a house with it, while married and with an active life with close family. I've known for months now that this lovely man I thought was a humble family man had once committed major fraud, but hearing how big it was blew me away- I had assumed that he'd squirreled away $50k stolen from his employer for the cost of a remodel or something. The audacity of buying a house with (presumably) this money and then sitting in one place and not, like, running away to the Caribbean, also blew my mind. There is a lot that cons can get away with using good impression management and balls of steel.

Months after thinking about all this (I didn't get scammed for money, just deceived about other things), I still found myself asking the 'how the hell do people get away with this sort of thing?'. The answer is that most people in society are trusting, and people assume that honesty is the prevailing situation. I think that a con on this scale is just too hard to imagine.

The deception I experienced (again, not financial) didn't begin to dawn on me until I heard a podcast about a scammer on this scale, which made something click. I think of myself as a fairly skeptical person and even so it just never crossed my mind to doubt the image that my deceiver created. And my sociopath didn't project a perfect image by any means, just as this Anna character no doubt projected an image of a rich girl with flaws. We just don't expect things on this scale.
posted by twoplussix at 5:32 PM on April 21, 2018 [13 favorites]


This is fascinating because I've seen random addicts and street grifters use these same tactics. Stand in the smoking section or outside of the Greyhound station of any major city for a few hours and eventually you'll see it in action. Or any corner bottle shop.

It's funny seeing people who are bad at it. At a certain point in my life, I realized that I owed random strangers on the street, unknown to me, nothing. No doubt not absolutely every person who hailed me and tried to get my attention to start their story of running out of gas with their pregnant wife in the car, or needing bus money to see their dying mother, was running a con, but the 1-3% who aren't were henceforth shit out of luck. So I started just stone ignoring people trying to get my attention. And invariably their next move was to go into outrage mode, like how dare I ignore them, who did I think I was, better than them? The typical con artist tactic of exploiting a person's reluctance to violate norms of social behavior, done so crudely that it was very easily seen. I limit my street charity to the people quietly and lawfully sitting with signs asking for help; the "Hey! Let me ask you a question" guys can fuck off.
posted by thelonius at 5:39 PM on April 21, 2018 [23 favorites]


These cons happen on slightly more reasonable-sounding scales, too:
https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2018/04/our-time-com-con-man/554057/
posted by twoplussix at 5:41 PM on April 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


21st Century Holly Golightly. Can’t wait for the movie.
posted by Ideefixe at 5:45 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


thelonious: I had exactly the same transition. The sad thing about it is the collateral damage. For example, discovering that I was standing in the way of someone in a wheelchair trying to catch a bus, my "ignore all strangers" autopilot causing me to be oblivious to the urgent request that I let her through.
posted by idiopath at 5:56 PM on April 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


At its heart, it sounds very much like the classic Nigerian prince email scam. There's this person who lives this life that you can only dream about, and they don't care about the money, they just want to share it with you. And then--whoops! How embarrassing, they've got a temporary cash flow problem. Because they don't really care about the money, you know. Just help them out now and, gosh, who knows where or with whom you'll vacation next year, right?
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:44 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


21st Century Holly Golightly

Holly is a prostitute ( / "American Geisha," according to Capote), not a con artist.
posted by dobbs at 7:01 PM on April 21, 2018 [6 favorites]


No doubt not absolutely every person who hailed me and tried to get my attention to start their story of running out of gas with their pregnant wife in the car, or needing bus money to see their dying mother, was running a con, but the 1-3% who aren't were henceforth shit out of luck.

When I was 20, a man on the street pulled the desperately-needs-gas-money thing on me. I didn't know this was a regular con, and I recall the man was extremely convincing. I should've been a good mark: my life was in turmoil, I was alone in a new city, and I was young. Later, when I finally realized it was a con, I wondered which of these things had shown on my face. We were on a busy street by an expensive school, so there were a lot of naive kids who had some access to their parents' money. The guy wasn't asking anybody else on the street. Why did he ask me? Was it chance? Or did I really wear my vulnerability to openly?

He'd made a slight error with me, though. At the time, I was too overwhelmed by my own life to be capable of reacting well to any surprises. I remember a split second of wondering whether his story was true or not. (I'm as suspicious as a toddler, so yeah I immediately doubted him. But he was a great actor, so I spent months wondering if I'd been uncharitable to a person in desperate need. Had anyone helped him? I was in the capital of conspicuous Christianity, surely someone helped him.) I wanted to give the man $10 so I wouldn't have to worry about him anymore, but if it was a con I knew I'd probably see the guy again in an hour with a new crisis. I didn't want a strange man lying in wait for me, so I stuttered out an apology and continued on my way.

Later -- when I decided it was a con and tried to analyze the whole encounter -- I came back to the emotion of the guy's pitch. It sent me running, but first it made me want to dig out my wallet. I was so uncomfortable that I would've done anything to make the feeling go away. I love reading stories about big cons (the Madame Giselle stories are great), and I've certainly scoffed at the way some marks seem are begging to be scammed. ("You can't con an honest man" is not true, but it's lovely when a jerk gets conned.) But also...con men are good at what they do, so I usually feel a bit of sympathy, too.
posted by grandiloquiet at 7:42 PM on April 21, 2018 [3 favorites]


I remember years ago being conned, in a very small way, by a guy I think I met through some workmates of my then bf. He was really a smooth guy, had a very convincing manner, seemed like such a great guy that when we went out somewhere for drinks and his wallet was "stolen" off the bar, of course I offered him a couple of hundred bucks to get along with (and paid for the drinks!). After that incident, we coincidentally didn't see him until we heard about him appearing in court after defrauding someone or something. I just remember how focused he was about flattering us, appealing to us emotionally, and also how kind of sad it was one night, when I complimented him on his (extremely beautiful) small flat, with nice art etc and made some remark about not being able to afford such a nice place myself, and he said his dad had taught him to get really nice stuff, and that would motivate you to make the money to pay for it.
posted by glitter at 8:14 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]


We've all been conned to some degree at some point (I'm not the only naïf, am I?), but to read about the conning of the 1% is really weird. I'm a little baffled by this, frankly.
posted by kozad at 8:45 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]


Why? Money doesn't make the rich any savvier or smarter than the rest of us.
posted by Monochrome at 8:48 PM on April 21, 2018


We've all been conned to some degree at some point (I'm not the only naïf, am I?), but to read about the conning of the 1% is really weird. I'm a little baffled by this, frankly.

This article is about someone being conned for $62,000, which she states is more than she earns in a year. It's not a story of someone in the 1% being conned, it's a story of being conned by someone who appears to be in the 1%.
posted by I paid money to offer this... insight? at 8:59 PM on April 21, 2018 [27 favorites]


This article is about someone being conned for $62,000, which she states is more than she earns in a year. It's not a story of someone in the 1% being conned

Unclear. The kind of job she has (and the kind of internships she had before) is so poorly-paid that most people who have it are drawing on some independent source of funds to sustain even a basic NYC lifestyle, much less a clubbing one. The author may not be wealthy herself, in the moment, but her family may well be.

I give this con artist high marks. You do randomly meet people in NYC from other social classes, as well as people who are telling stories about their status. The main way to spot fakers is to see how much money they are actually spending, rather than just referring to. Anna visibly spent lots of money in front of the author on and off over the course of a year. She stayed in genuinely expensive hotels and ate in genuinely expensive restaurants. Because she did have the money--it was just stolen, and obviously wouldn't last at the rate she was spending it. It's just not clear what her exit strategy was. The Moroccan adventure only accelerated the end of her scheme.

Therefore, I don't judge the author very harshly. In addition to the fact that anyone is vulnerable to being scammed--I wonder how many of the people here priding themselves on not giving money to the obvious storytellers with cardboard signs have fallen for a slightly more sophisticated corporate hustle--Anna played a long con, with real cash, and without a ton of red flags. Yes, the author was gotten via her vanity, and then her passivity, but people like Anna learn to spot and then play on your weaknesses.
posted by praemunire at 11:41 PM on April 21, 2018 [11 favorites]


Yes, the author was gotten via her vanity, and then her passivity, but people like Anna learn to spot and then play on your weaknesses.


or her basic humanity. Goodness. normal trusting nature. Don't assume it won't happen to you.
posted by twoplussix at 11:51 PM on April 21, 2018 [9 favorites]


I'm a little disturbed by the tone of many of the responses here. If not actively blaming the author for her belief in Anna, then patting themselves on the back for being too smart to fall for something similar.

Any magician will tell you that people who think they can't be fooled are the easiest to fool.
posted by adam hominem at 12:23 AM on April 22, 2018 [16 favorites]


If someone invited me on a fancy trip to Morocco and offered to pay for everything, I wouldn’t accept in the first place.
posted by Segundus at 12:35 AM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


When I was 21 I met a guy like this, drove a Mercedes, bought a lot of high end alcohol, dressed expensively, always throwing parties. And within 12 months of my meeting him he had swindled the university out of about 100k of research funds, run up debts leasing an office suite for a bogus institute, and generally flamed out. I caught on when he told me a story about his father which I happened to know was based on the plot of an old movie that had been on TV the previous wee.

I found him sympathetic and persuasive when I first met him, if a bit eccentric. I was young and naive and easily impressed. Luckily I never loaned him any money...

Anyway, I'm skeptical of platitudes like "you can't con an honest man". I think you absolutely can, and many reports of fraud are tales of misplaced kindness and decency, not greed or anything else.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:41 AM on April 22, 2018 [13 favorites]


Don't assume it won't happen to you.

I don't.
posted by praemunire at 1:09 AM on April 22, 2018


-I wonder how many of the people here priding themselves on not giving money to the obvious storytellers

That was the end stage, btw - after I'd been been taken in several times
posted by thelonius at 2:09 AM on April 22, 2018


I was enmeshed for a bit with someone who had a small-time version of some of Anna's skills. It took me years afterwards to realize that she might not be an uncalculating, temporarily-caught-in-a-rough-spot, just-overwhelmed-by-the-emotions-of-the-moment naif.

And it's only now that I'm realizing that she may have been dropping clues the whole time to see just how naive I was. The explanations about why she was temporarily in a rough spot were mostly stories about other people she had ripped off which I didn't interpret that way because I listened to the emotions of the story instead of the facts of the story.
posted by clawsoon at 3:51 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


A few years later, when I asked for books about healthy relationships, there were only two books (and one Shakespeare recommendation) - one book about sociopaths, and one by Evangelical authors - which talked about what a very, very bad sign lying is.
posted by clawsoon at 4:04 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Someone once came up to me in a parking lot with a sob story about needing bus fare to go down to Salem to pick up her kid or something. I said I didn’t have money but that I would drive her, which she declined much to my surprise. /not surprised
posted by emkelley at 6:08 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


So I started just stone ignoring people trying to get my attention. And invariably their next move was to go into outrage mode, like how dare I ignore them, who did I think I was, better than them?

Whenever somebody bugs me on the street like that, I go into my secret agent/arms dealer/big heist mode and treat them like my “contact”. They usually bug right the fuck off thinking they’re getting into some weird shit.
posted by dr_dank at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Any magician will tell you that people who think they can't be fooled are the easiest to fool.

Oh, no doubt. I've seen accounts of hustles that depended on reeling in marks who thought that they were ahead of the game.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:40 AM on April 22, 2018


praemunire: The author may not be wealthy herself, in the moment, but her family may well be.

The dead giveaway in the article was the American Express card and how she was able to charge over sixty grand on it. I’ve been an Amex customer for almost ten years and they sure as hell don’t let me charge anything close to my annual income despite my good standing with them.
posted by dr_dank at 6:44 AM on April 22, 2018 [25 favorites]


Yeah, exactly. The ability to charge 62K on a moments notice from a foreign country means that this person has resources of which I could only dream.

A very wealthy person being fooled by a supposedly fantastically wealthy person because they want to pretend that they “get it”. This is the very essence of “you can’t con an honest man.” (Though you absolutely can and many people do for small sums, see the gas scam listed above)

The success of this scam seemed to depend on people wanting to rub shoulders with the fantastically wealthy more than they wanted to question the glittering bubble. And I don’t have a ton of sympathy for “she promised to pay me back, thus crime” for the scions of the wealthy, whereas the rest of us who loan people 500$-2k and they swear they will pay it back and they don’t have it so never do just keep on ticking.
posted by corb at 7:00 AM on April 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


I have no sympathy for this author, and strongly suspect I would dislike her in person.

Reading this felt icky - like an invasion of privacy. Is Anna a bad person or does she have a mental illness or was she young and dumb or soulless? I don't know, but I don't think she deserves public shaming for this.
posted by slipthought at 7:19 AM on April 22, 2018


Jeez, tough crowd. She wasn't merely stiffed by a friend, she was the victim of fraud by a professional con artist/grifter under criminal investigation. Anna's attorney's response is just self-serving bullshit; ultimately it's the DA who decides to press charges, not the complainant, and since the grand jury indicted, there was at least probable cause a crime took place.

Also, I very much doubt that she's secretly wealthy. She initially tried to pursue her claim in the Civil Court, where it's at least conceivable to proceed pro se. However, she gave up on the whole idea when she was informed of the $25,000 cap. But if she had secret resources, she would've just marched down the block to State Supreme Court where her recovery is unlimited, but it's difficult to proceed without paid counsel. That is, it seems she gave up because she couldn't afford the pricier venue.

About Amex, one of the hallmarks of their traditional card is it has no fixed credit line. Depending on the circumstances, not least of which is they have a reputation to uphold for being the type of card you want in situations exactly like this, they will extend you past your soft limit.
posted by xigxag at 7:43 AM on April 22, 2018 [19 favorites]


Is it just me, or is the timeline in this story all over the place? Jumping from “I met her” to “we’re in Morocco” then back to “ we hung out and now we are friends”... there are ways to tell a story out of chronological order but this is just choppy and hard to follow.

I see this a lot, and I have a feeling I’ve seen it in other Vanity Fair articles. Poor writing or poor editing? Is this a house style? It’s like reading a Twitter thread.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:55 AM on April 22, 2018 [5 favorites]


sob story about needing bus fare to go down to Salem to pick up her kid or something. I said I didn’t have money but that I would drive her

This is the kind of thing I wish I could always do -- offering the kind thing as a way of avoiding the scam (if it is one).
posted by salvia at 8:01 AM on April 22, 2018


She mentioned early in the article that she often paid for work travel on the Amex and was reimbursed for it. It’s likely that the card was supplied by her employer, or the employer arranged for very high limits on the card, for just that reason.
posted by moonmilk at 8:05 AM on April 22, 2018 [8 favorites]


I'm a little disturbed by the tone of many of the responses here. If not actively blaming the author for her belief in Anna, then patting themselves on the back for being too smart to fall for something similar.

To clarify: I was too much of a mess to deal with any non-standard social interaction when I met my conman, and I definitely don't feel smug about it. I feel bad for the author. My knee-jerk instinct is that I would've let a friend whisk me off to an all-expenses paid vacation, either...but if I were a multi-millionaire, I would absolutely take my friends and family off to exotic luxury vacations. I've bought a friend dinner before -- to me, it would just be an extension of the dinner principle. (Be generous when you can. If the friend is in a position to reciprocate, they should offer.)

I wouldn't rely on a little-known person in a foreign place if I could avoid it. But...the author spent months around Anna. If you include Anna's time away from Manhattan, they were good friends for more than a year. I could imagine taking someone up on that offer.

I don't know what the story is on the credit card (using it for business would likely mean a higher borrowing limit), but sometimes the inequality wars get a little intense on Metafilter. If the author is living comfortably in NY for $60K a year, it's extremely possible she had some parental help for housing or even a small trust fund. That's certainly a sign of privilege! But being fortunate enough to have middle/upper class family subsidize your dream job is not the same thing as being able to cover an unexpected $60K. A lot of Americans are "rich" enough to have access to more credit than they'd ever be able to pay back. Having access to credit is preferable to the alternative, but it's not the same thing as having money.
posted by grandiloquiet at 8:22 AM on April 22, 2018 [11 favorites]


Is Anna a bad person or does she have a mental illness or was she young and dumb or soulless? I don't know, but I don't think she deserves public shaming for this.

...she committed enormous crimes, though? It's not 'public shaming' to out some one as a con artist. It's pretty much the only way to stop a con artist. The reason(s) for the scam don't really matter much.
posted by halation at 8:22 AM on April 22, 2018 [10 favorites]


She mentioned early in the article that she often paid for work travel on the Amex and was reimbursed for it. It’s likely that the card was supplied by her employer, or the employer arranged for very high limits on the card, for just that reason.

I would actually think this is less likely - why would you pay for a friend's personal hotel stay on your work travel card? Why would you even travel with your work travel card if you weren't doing work? Why would an employer arrange for higher limits on someone's personal card?
posted by corb at 8:44 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


I would actually think this is less likely - why would you pay for a friend's personal hotel stay on your work travel card? Why would you even travel with your work travel card if you weren't doing work? Why would an employer arrange for higher limits on someone's personal card?

I don't know the author's situation, but not everyone has a business card. Some companies only issue them to people who are constantly traveling, planning conferences, etc. You pay with whatever is in your pocket and your company reimburses you after an expense report.

And credit card companies do some wild things -- I've received a "Congrats We've Raised Your Credit Limit" letter before when I hadn't requested any such thing (and when I wasn't in the sort of financial position to explain the higher level of trust).
posted by grandiloquiet at 9:05 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


Corporate cards in my experience work the opposite of what you’d expect. The cardholder is responsible to pay all charges like it’s a personal card; business expenses have to be submitted and approved as such for them to be company paid on the card.
posted by dr_dank at 9:19 AM on April 22, 2018 [4 favorites]


Is Anna a bad person or does she have a mental illness or was she young and dumb or soulless? I don't know, but I don't think she deserves public shaming for this.

Well, she’s a charged con artist, alleged to have stolen $275k, all facts reported in the press at her sentencing. I would hardly call this article “public shaming.”

It’s fascinating to read a first person account like this - I’m not sure why anyone would be suspicious after watching her spend money left and right like an actual heiress. She paid for everything up until Morocco, which definitely built trust in her. She was obviously a skilled actor as well. And real rich people can definitely have flaky personality traits and insensitively to other people’s budgets. At a very small level one of my college friends (an actual trust fund heiress) did this all the time - “oh, I forgot to go to the atm, can you pay?”

At some level our current president has been a con artist his whole career, just using an actual inheritance as collateral. Millions of people have fallen for it.
posted by rainydayfilms at 9:53 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Is Anna a bad person or does she have a mental illness or was she young and dumb or soulless? I don't know, but I don't think she deserves public shaming for this.

She carried out a fairly sophisticated scheme to rip off a couple of financial institutions for $100K just to fund the rest of her scheme. This is not something you do by accident in a fit of depression in your twenties or as a momentary lapse in judgment.

If Vanity Fair is one of those shitty companies that makes you use a personal card for substantial work-related expenses (beyond merely one's personal travel incidentals) and then reimburses you, I guess I wouldn't be surprised. But it's a shitty practice. Boo, Vanity Fair.
posted by praemunire at 11:07 AM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I get out of being conned by being visibly poor

I had a guy approach me in a gas station parking lot, preparing to go into his spiel, saw my twenty year old truck, and walked to the next row
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 11:13 AM on April 22, 2018 [12 favorites]


sometimes the inequality wars get a little intense on Metafilter. If the author is living comfortably in NY for $60K a year, it's extremely possible she had some parental help for housing or even a small trust fund. That's certainly a sign of privilege! But being fortunate enough to have middle/upper class family subsidize your dream job is not the same thing as being able to cover an unexpected $60K.

I've lived in NY earning both a lot more (though still peanuts by NYC standards) and significantly less than the author. At this point I think most of my friends make more; it's actually a pretty low bar for NYC professionals in your thirties (if only for the very practical reason that you can't afford anything but distant and/or truly crappy housing on that income only, so if you can't do better and you have options, you're going to get tired of it all and move on). I'm not hating on the author for (probably) having access to additional resources, nor do I think she "deserved" to lose that money. I'm just being realistic about her likely socioeconomic status. But someone who was from a truly wealthy family wouldn't have been manipulable by the "you're the only one who gets me in my little world" story. That's definitely the story to feed someone who's been real-wealth-adjacent, enough to internalize the material values, recognize the boxes being ticked, and glamorize it all but not enough to pay for it herself.
posted by praemunire at 11:15 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


It used to be part of my job to submit my bosses' travel expenses to our Business Service Center (finance office).

The way it worked for us was that if something was going to be reimbursed, it was because the traveler had paid for it with their own money or their own personal card.

If they had used the corporate card for an allowable expense, the company paid the credit card bill directly and the cardholder just submitted receipts to the BSC.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:20 AM on April 22, 2018


I don't know. She would've probably successfully scammed me as well, mostly because as a scam this doesn't really track. She's broke and she's scamming $7,000 a night hotel rooms and private planes? She spends months becoming this person's friend and pays for everything. She invites additional friends of the mark on the trip. But what convinces me she's truly mentally ill is that she keeps up contact with the mark for months, even years, after ripping her off, and even lets her know her location years afterward. This, for me, means the con artist likely knew what she was doing but had genuinely conned herself into thinking it was all going to somehow work out, and the hardest con artist to spot is one that genuinely believes that at the end of the day it's somehow not a con.
posted by xammerboy at 11:26 AM on April 22, 2018 [7 favorites]


Street scams are easier to spot because we have our guard up. Who's this random stranger approaching me? But when it's a friend-of-a-friend who becomes a good friend, who nobody raises any red flags about, the social proof is overwhelming. If so many people I know trust them, they must be a good person, right?

Thinking about the con artist's point of view: I suspect that, as with other sorts of abusive and abusive-ish relationships, entitlement beliefs play a large part. "I deserve a luxurious trip to Morocco. Here's someone with access to an unlimited Amex card who could pay for a luxurious trip to Morocco. I'm entitled to that trip."
posted by clawsoon at 11:28 AM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


If Vanity Fair is one of those shitty companies that makes you use a personal card for substantial work-related expenses (beyond merely one's personal travel incidentals) and then reimburses you, I guess I wouldn't be surprised. But it's a shitty practice.

Our company had a workaround for that. You couldn't book airline tickets or hotels with the corporate card. But once you booked them with your personal card, there was a process by which you could be reimbursed before your travel date and, more importantly, before the charges hit. The paperwork was more complicated, but it was worth it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 11:30 AM on April 22, 2018


Corporate cards in my experience work the opposite of what you’d expect. The cardholder is responsible to pay all charges like it’s a personal card; business expenses have to be submitted and approved as such for them to be company paid on the card.

My company says exactly this, but they also say "if you use the card for personal expenses, a) it's totally on you to pay it back and b) you're in big trouble with the company".

Given how the author expressed dread after the Morocco trip, she was probably scared stiff that she wouldn't get the money back from Anna in time to pay Amex before her accounting department saw the monthly statement and the shit really hit the fan.
posted by JoeZydeco at 11:32 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


Regarding the author's background, her father was/is a clinical psychologist who is currently running for Congress in Tennessee, per her "Let's send my Dad to Washington" crowdpac.

There is this tidbit on how she got her job at Vanity Fair:
“I was at a dinner with some trustees and this really nice gentleman was sitting next to me,” she said. “After discussing my past internships, he asked me, ‘If you could work at any magazine, what would it be?’ I said ‘Vanity Fair’ without blinking. He said, ‘Graydon (Carter, Vanity Fair’s longtime editor) is a good friend of mine. I’d be happy to put you in touch.’” This informal dinner conversation led to an interview with Vanity Fair’s managing editor Chris Garrett — which led, eventually, to a job offer...."
posted by slipthought at 11:35 AM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


For the record, in that same interview the author also says about her Vanity Fair job: "When I started, I was doing coffee runs, I was down on my hands and knees picking up garbage (leftover from catering)."

But either way, I'm not seeing why the author's background is relevant here. What is your purpose in digging into her background?
posted by Westringia F. at 12:20 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


But either way, I'm not seeing why the author's background is relevant here. What is your purpose in digging into her background?

It’s not “digging.” I googled.

It’s relevant because the author is a subject of the story, and in particular, as several commenters have pointed out, her ability to produce a credit card capable of carrying a $62,000 charge is not consistent with the particular way she framed her economic means in this article.

I googled, because of questions here by several commenters about her socioeconomic background and whether she is supported monetarily by her family.
posted by slipthought at 12:52 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


Whether the author can afford $60k is a derail. The article is about being scammed, and knowing the victim is rich doesn't provide major insights and only feed schadenfreude.
posted by Pantalaimon at 1:06 PM on April 22, 2018 [6 favorites]


I don't think her goal was to scam the author. I think she was constantly trying to find the next infusion of cash to maintain her lifestyle and image, and in this case, the lack of cash caught her by surprise, and she grabbed the nearest life raft. I feel like the lack of insight into (or exploration of) her psychology is a weakness of this article.
posted by salvia at 1:29 PM on April 22, 2018 [9 favorites]


I don't know, but I don't think she deserves public shaming for this.

She is under criminal investigation for grand larceny, she defrauded banks and hotels, which is a whole other level than mere "public shaming". Besides, it wasn’t this piece exposing her. If you google Anna Sorkin there are articles from last October. The investigation involves a lot more than this particular con against the Vanity Fair author.

She may well be a little mentally unstable, but so are a lot of people who don’t end up in a court for this sort of fraud. It must take a very special sort of mental illness to be able to dupe a bank into lending you that much money and organize extravagant trips to luxury resorts in Morocco without paying a cent.

Whether the author can afford $60k is a derail. The article is about being scammed, and knowing the victim is rich doesn't provide major insights and only feed schadenfreude.

I don’t think it’s necessarily about schadenfreude, it’s also basic curiosity really. Sure, you’re right, it doesn’t matter if the victim of a scam of this proportions is rich or not, for all purposes she is still a victim of a crime. But the way she tells this story, and some of the details, including the credit card with no limit on it, and the fact she mentions that she was used for personal and professional reasons to being around people with lots of money - it does make you curious about her background, and how it might have played into her lack of suspicion. She herself hints at that and there is enough vagueness there that it does leave you even more curious.
posted by bitteschoen at 2:41 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


knowing the victim is rich doesn't provide major insights and only feed schadenfreude

I think it does offer insight - on the severity of victim impact. fwiw, I feel that while this is still a severe situation, its not a devastating one where she is left economically bereft with interest payments she can't afford, a $60k hole, ruined credit scores, and likely eventual wage garnishment - which would preclude her from continuing to pursue her desired/ chosen career (requiring a certain minimum lifestyle threshold while residing in NYC).

Her family will either pay it off/ make the interest payments on it - even if she's unlikely to ever recover any of the $60k.

I don't blame the author for falling for this kind-of scam - I don't get the feeling that Anna was setting her up as a mark from the start as a long con, she just used her as a victim of convenience at the bitter end - but I don't have much sympathy that it all arose the author's pursuit of the conspicuous consumption lifestyle.

But yeah, kind of strange that Anna tried to crash at the author's when everything fell apart. Or not so strange, desperation and sociopathy.
posted by porpoise at 3:19 PM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]


it does make you curious about her background, and how it might have played into her lack of suspicion.

Williams's dad's bio mentions that he sent his kids to local public Tennessee colleges. I don't think that's what wealthy trust fund parents typically do.

The way I see it, the very fact of why some of us feel there must be some hidden reason, some withheld rationalization, as to why she got victimized is the exact reason why she did. Because on a basic level -- constantly exposed to the myth of decent, fair society -- she didn't and we don't want to accept that someone who passes our initial "friend" tests could thoughtlessly bring us to financial ruin, and that it's so easy to be victimized in such manner. It's like the soul-searching that follows white school shootings; it can't be just kids+guns+chance; there has to be some pat explanation that we can isolate, quarantine, and inoculate against.

I once knew a woman who was a very small scale version of Anna. When I met her there was something fundamentally mysterious about her, but it took a long time for the mystery to graduate to the intuition that something was wrong. She was unemployed, on government assistance, and her high-floor Madison Avenue apartment was filled with pricey looking antiques. I initially couldn't understand what was going on, how could she have afforded such an expensive apartment in the first place? It eventually came out that she was "helping" some nice, Very Old Lady with her personal and legal affairs, and this Very Old Lady was giving her a generous stipend in return, plus a tantalizing hint of making my friend her heir. But the stipend was getting less generous (I suspect her benefactrix was having concerns as to where the money was going) and my friend found herself evicted from her highrise and relocated to a much more modest ground floor apartment in Chelsea. Not long after moving in she invited me once to come over and help take photos of a supposed mold condition. In NYC if there are certain "violations" in living conditions in a rental unit, you can withhold your rent, sometimes for months or years until the condition is cured. Up until then she hadn't asked me personally to spend any money on her, just to do little favors here and there. But one day she called me out of the blue in a panic, saying she was at The Met Museum, having innocently checked in a bag with a thousand dollars she had been given to purchase a money order for the Very Old Lady's rent. And the bagcheck lost her handbag. And...was there some way I could help her out?

Well, she was pretty disappointed to not get the thousand dollars I didn't have, so we ended things shortly thereafter. I do believe that she never thought of herself as a grifter. In her mind she was making perfectly decent demands on the world around her, and it was our fault that people and society kept failing her over and over. She had a curious mixture of naive optimism and severe melancholy.

Anna's story also slightly reminds of the titular role in the Aubrey Plaza film, "Ingrid Goes West."
posted by xigxag at 4:36 PM on April 22, 2018 [14 favorites]


Ruminating about being scammed - there's one incident from years ago that's still stuck in my mind.

I was having an absolutely shitty day/week/month, followed by getting blindsided on a blind 'double date,' had extricated myself after the movie and afterward snacks, and was heading to the skytrain station near a major mega-mall in the 'burbs about 10/11pm-ish to start going home - another 45-60 minute trip. This was in my early 20's back in the early '00s and I was not in a good goddamned mood, to say the least.

A 13/14/15-ish girl with a backpack* of a 10/11/12-ish girl was in obvious distress, no-one else was around, and she approached me "Can you spare $10?"

Me: "Why do you need $10?"

Her: "My parents kicked me out, and the shelter wants $10 for me to stay the night."

I was expecting this to be a scam of some kind - maybe even a nascent creepcatcher type scam - but for some reason I checked my wallet. Only had $20s and a single $5.

Made a snap decision.
Handed her a $20 at the end of my fingertips and said something about "hope you stay safe..."

And she immediately burst into tears and a stream of thank you's, even as I "No worries. Stay safe. I hope that things work out." proceeded towards the train station.

I still don't know/ can't decide if I was scammed or if I managed to help out someone who was in a vulnerable situation - temporarily.

I was likely scammed, the tears were probably from relief or hilarity of pwning someone.

*good grief - reading this again while proofing this comment - this could be why that that backpack in the recent show 'Altered Carbon' triggered an oversized emotional response for me? Very similar in colour and logography (crazy unicorn) but smaller and not light emitting - but I can't be sure because I never saw the inside of it.
posted by porpoise at 4:46 PM on April 22, 2018 [3 favorites]


If you went to rural Alberta in the middle of winter, you could get anybody to believe your needs-help scam.

But then if you were in rural Alberta in the middle of winter, you'd genuinely need help whether you started the trip as a scam or not.
posted by clawsoon at 4:51 PM on April 22, 2018 [2 favorites]


So many brand names. This just reads as advertising disguised as a story.
posted by spacewaitress at 5:11 PM on April 22, 2018


constantly exposed to the myth of decent, fair society

Well, there you go, that’s already a very specific premise of a cultural/social background, in the widest sense - not just strictly economic/social class background of her family, but her background and lifestyle in New York, her "past experiences, both personal and professional, [of being] casually accustomed to the lifestyle and quirks of moneyed people". It’s not universally shared. Many grew up with the opposite assumption about society. Or something in between.

After reading the piece I wasn’t personally thinking of any "hidden reasons why she got scammed", there are no hidden reasons, the why is simply because the scammer was a scammer, operating on a criminal level. She scammed banks, and luxury hotels. Surely it’d be unfair to blame the author for her naivete, when institutions that are supposed to have all sort of strict checks and regulations were duped so relatively easily... In fact that’s the most baffling part of the story for me, but anyway. I wasn’t thinking in terms of blame, because that rests solely with the perpetrator. I was however curious about that kind of past experiences that led her to "feel comfortable" in Anna’s world, because she only vaguely hints at them. It sounds like a very specific context, and that’s the part that is hidden and that makes you more curious, because it sounds very specific and peculiar, not something you should take for granted that the reader would know about. I can imagine that if you transpose this story in another place, another culture, or even another part of the society in New York, maybe that kind of flaunting of wealth with nothing to back it up other than vague references to some distant family would have raised more suspicions of some criminal affiliation of some sorts from the beginning.
posted by bitteschoen at 12:33 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]


She probably saw the author using the Amex card with no hard upper limit early in their acquaintance, and invited her to Morocco because she knew she could trap her into covering the bill.

Taking her on the Morocco trip was likely no different, in the scammer’s eyes, than taking an extra Amex card in her own wallet. I doubt there’s much more to it than that.
posted by tel3path at 6:09 AM on April 23, 2018 [3 favorites]


For what it’s worth, I assumed that “past experiences, both personal and professional, [of being] casually accustomed to the lifestyle and quirks of moneyed people" meant nothing more mysterious than “I work for Vanity Fair and in fashion, and also socialize with the sort of people who hang around Vanity Fair and in fashion.” There are definitely people who don’t come from wealth themselves and who don’t make big salaries who circulate in those weird, ultra-wealthy worlds due to their “cultural cachet” (like working for Vanity Fair, or being a professor at a fancy university, or writing for the New Yorker, or whatever). I got the impression that the author was positioning herself there, not hinting at her own big-time money. I noticed that Anna glommed onto her after she mentioned she worked for Vanity Fair: she had cultural capital that Anna wanted.

I also agree with XigXag: this thread’s theme of “what she did wrong/to deserve this” is a little weird, and also a little defensive. A good con artist can con pretty much anyone, including me and you. That’s why they’re so interesting and so frightening.
posted by faineg at 6:50 AM on April 23, 2018 [12 favorites]


There’s a very very interesting series of posts on Twitter from someone else who got scammed by Anna Delvey-Sorokin, in response to this Vanity Fair article, pasting it here for reference:
This is the first time I'm sharing this story, as a "me too" on the back of this article in @VanityFair

"Anna Delvey" got in touch with me via a mutual contact, asking my studio for a visual identity and pitch deck for a $28m members club in Manhattan.

I looked her up, and there she was, hanging out with well known publishers, socialites, and artists at parties in New York and Paris. 40k followers on IG (@annadlvv). The raw pitch document is made by one of the most prestigious architectural firms in NYC.

She calls it the "Anna Delvey Foundation". I know. It's a private members club, a setting to showcase her Köln based family's art collection. It would have a German bakery, restaurants, a basement nightclub, an artist residency program, and roof terrace overlooking Central Park.

An entrepreneur in the NYC startup scene who I worked with is listed as an advisor, I drop him a mail that I'm working with Anna, he raves about her. Seems legit!

We start working on the project, we sign NDAs and agreements. She's responsive and a pleasure to work with. She casually tells me of investments in AI research projects. She tells me how much everyone loves the deck. I hire a top Art Director I like working with for the project.

You know where this is going. Invoices were late and the incredibly elaborate excuses began, and did not stop for over 14 months. The project budget was considerable, and I had a freelancer to pay. These examples came several months after invoices were due, and are 100% BS:
[screenshots of emails with excuses for not paying]

Literally 100s of painful emails followed, complete with fictitious family financial managers CCed, who'd muscle in every-time I threatened to reach out to named advisors in the deck, or seek legal action. As a small business owner it was a gruelling ride and nearly shut us down.

After a year, I put a Google Alert on her name and shortly after, articles started showing up. I can't tell you how relieved I was to at least have my fears verified. At first she was up for dodging hotels and restaurant bills.
https://t.co/AGyMCuSyVk

But as word got out, other victims came out the woodwork. Anna missed a hearing and was arrested hiding in a drug rehab in California. Meanwhile, I contacted the New York District Attorney's office to share my story, and submitted evidence.
https://t.co/ylWj3HD8hJ

Seeing a client show up in the Daily Mail is right up there as the weirdest conclusion of a project in my career.

The thing about being conned is that you don't want to believe humans like this exist. What drives a human to such exhaustive lengths to fake a reality that will eventually consume them? Which sane person chooses to lie at such an industrial scale?

Tricksters can operate anywhere, but the whole experience felt born out of the shorthand, pressure cooker of a social scene that is New York. I love NYC, but "Anna Delvey" is the malignant child of Manhattan.

I could not help but be reminded of these words from Brett Easton Ellis' ode to New York: https://t.co/KAY4fGDImX …. In the book, Patrick Bateman is confronted with the interchangeability and anonymity of his being, with characters constantly mixing up each others names.

I think Anna very shrewdly used the shallow digital shorthand of Instagram that many of us accept as being a mirror of someone's life. Within a year she managed to snowball her way from intern at Purple Mag, to a fabulous German Heiress in New York, one internet search at a time.

Via the pitch deck we designed, I know there are others who have decided to not go public, I respect that. But Anna would not be in jail now if it hadn't been for the first person to tell their story. There is also the mystery of her real background, which is still unknown.

The last thing: as a designer I find it so crazy that my services where used to trick banks and hedge funds out of $28,000,000. I still have the keynote. It's not a pitch deck, it's a work of fiction. It's graphic design weaponised as an instrument of grand larceny.

Is there a lesson to be learned here? Or is this just a sad side spectacle of the digital surface we increasingly live on? Here's the result of Anna's ambitions to abuse that surface, it looks all too real. Goodnight.
posted by bitteschoen at 6:58 AM on April 24, 2018 [7 favorites]


And, a final comment from another tweet by the same person:
I'll wager there'll be a movie. Directed by Sofia Coppola if it stops here, maybe P.T. Anderson if the story continues.
posted by bitteschoen at 7:07 AM on April 24, 2018 [4 favorites]


« Older The door   |   On becoming the M’Lady Meme Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments