It appears we are currently in the middle of a scammer story renaissance. In just the past three months, Netflix and other streaming platforms have already brought us a number of hit documentaries and series about high profile, headline-stealing, white-collar fraud cases such as The Tinder Swindler, Inventing Anna, and The Dropout.
Perhaps the emergence of the con-artist content craze is a more palatable off-shoot of our true crime obsession – all of the dramatic sociopathic tendencies with none of the gore and violence. Maybe it’s the endlessly bewildering question of how so many could so easily be taken in by one individual’s deceptive schemes.
In any case, if you can’t get enough of scams, hustles and cons, we’ve got your binge watching schedule covered. From the unmitigated disaster of Fyre Festival to the fake biotech innovations of Theranos, keep scrolling for our list of fraud-focused shows to sink your teeth into.
Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives.
The latest scammer scandal must-watch to come out of Netflix, Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives is a four-part documentary series that tells the story of celebrity restaurateur Sarma Melngailis’ fall from being the queen of vegan cuisine to being touted by tabloids as the ‘Vegan Fugitive’. After falling for a man who promises to make all her dreams a reality, the vegan food extraordinaire behind New York hotspot Pure Food and Wine began funnelling her restaurant’s funds to him and unquestioningly obeying his every request. The docuseries involving love, deception, immortal pitbulls, meatsuits and a $2 million fraud is already a hit, boasting 27 million hours viewed within the first five days of its release last week.
Hulu’s buzzy new miniseries about the highly publicised Theranos scam follows the rise and eventual downfall of biotech entrepreneur Elizabeth Holmes. Based on the ABC Audio podcast of the same name, the documentary series shows how the ambitious Stanford student fought to establish her health-tech company by making false claims about having developed a ground-breaking blood test that could provide rapid results with very small amounts of blood. Holmes, who has been found guilty of defrauding investors and faces up to 20 years in prison, is played by Amanda Seyfried in this six-episode series, and to answer the most pressing question of all: Yes, she does do the voice.
The Tinder Swindler
Netflix gives us another solid offering in the fraudster flick category with The Tinder Swindler, which introduces us to several women who were conned out of millions after swiping right on a man who called himself Simon Leviev. Posing as the son of a luxury diamond magnate, his modus operandi was to impress women with costly extravagant first dates and then after gaining their trust, convince them to take out massive loans to pay his expenses, claiming it was so he could protect himself from dangerous ‘enemies’. The documentary follows three of Leviev’s victims, who set out to turn the tables on him by banding together to bring him to justice.
Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened
Expectation: a luxurious music festival on an exclusive private island filled with bikini-clad supermodels, big name musical performers, gourmet food and posh accommodations. Reality: soggy mattresses in emergency relief tents, cold cheese sandwiches in styrofoam boxes, empty stages and stranded guests. Netflix’s documentary on the infamous 2017 Fyre Festival goes behind the scenes in the weeks and months leading up to the disastrous event, particularly focusing on co-founder Billy McFarland’s fraudulent misdeeds that scammed investors out of millions and turned himself a viral meme.
Based on an explosive 2018 New York Magazine article, Netflix’s limited series Inventing Anna revolves around Anna Delvey, the fake German ‘heiress’ who infiltrated Manhattan’s elite circles and conned a number of banks, hotels and unwitting friends out of millions. Produced by Shonda Rhimes, the series is presented from the perspective of the article’s author, who made it her mission to uncover Anna’s true story. Along the way, we get a glimpse of luxurious yachts, fancy restaurants, five-star resorts and all the sparkly trappings of the glamorous, high-flying life Anna led as a result of her crimes of fraud and theft.
Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal
Most of us were made aware of the 2019 College Admissions Scandal due to the involvement of high profile Hollywood names like Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin. However, Netflix’s documentary invites viewers to take a deeper look at the wider, corrupt network implicated in the scandal, with one man, Rick Singer, at its centre. As an admissions coach, Singer was paid by wealthy parents to ensure their children’s entry into the country’s top universities, which he accomplished through means like offering bribes, manipulating test scores and even photoshopping fake athletic pictures for students. The documentary tells the story through a combination of interviews interspersed with dramatic re-enactments of real life conversations from FBI wiretaps.
Set in LA and New York during the financial boom of the early 2000s, Sour Grapes tells the story of Rudy Kurniawan, an Indonesian wine collector who sold millions of dollars’ worth of fake wine at auctions. By collecting empty bottles, filling them with cheaper wine, and then forging the labels, he duped countless wine experts, connoisseurs, and collectors for years. That is, until a French wine producer noted that bottles from their estate were being sold in years that the particular wine hadn’t been produced. Streaming on Amazon Prime Video, Sour Grapes is an intriguing look at not only the excesses of wealth of the era but also the often obsessive, status-driven world of wine collecting.
Feature Photo: Hulu