5 Books about real-life scammers

Lucy Morgan 16 March 2022

As the hit Netfix series Inventing Anna grips millions, here are some shocking must-reads about scam artists

If our streaming habits are anything to go by, it appears that we’re all utterly obsessed with scammers. Whether we’re watching Inventing Anna––the improbable tale of an ordinary woman who fooled New York’s high society––on Netflix, or The Dropout––the equally unlikely tale of a Stanford dropout who defrauds investors out of millions––on Disney+, it’s fair to say: we’re hooked.

Inevitably, however, adaptations cannot replicate all the dramatic details behind these outrageous scams. If you want to uncover the truth behind the greatest fraudsters of our time, your best bet is to start with one of the following books, which––through interviews and meticulous research––paint a much fuller picture of how (and why) we’re so easily fooled.

  1. Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou

You probably know Elizabeth Holmes as the disgraced former CEO of Theranos, a biotech start-up that promised revolutionary blood testing that––to put it plainly––didn’t exist.

Long before Disney+ adapted her spectacular downfall into a series, The Dropout, Holmes was celebrated as a pioneering businesswoman, who even graced the cover of Forbes as the world's youngest “self-made woman billionaire.”

It fell to an investigative journalist, John Carreyrou at The Wall Street Journal, to uncover the lies that underpinned Elizabeth Holmes’s megalomaniacal leadership of Theranos. Three years after his devastating expose of the company in 2015, Carreyrou released Bad Blood, a meticulously detailed retelling of the egos, lies, and betrayals that ultimately led to Holmes facing up to 20 years in prison. 

  1. Bad Influence: Money, Lies, Power, and the World that Created Anna Delvey by Jessica Pressler

Who is Anna Delvey? It’s the question at the heart of a wildly popular Netflix series, Inventing Anna, and is something Jessica Pressler––a journalist at New York Magazine––is one of the most qualified people to answer.

In her 2018 article, Maybe She Had So Much Money She Just Lost Track of It, Pressler detailed Anna Delvey’s (born Anna Sorokin) rise into the upper echelons of New York Society.

Following the success of Inventing Anna, which Pressler co-produced, Bad Influence (released 7 June 2022) will tell the whole story of how Anna transformed herself from an “unknown Russian girl” to a "Major European Heiress” and how she managed to get away with it for quite so long. 

  1. Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong by David Walsh

When Lance Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France titles in October 2012––after admitting to using performance-enhancing drugs––shock and betrayal felt by the cycling community reverberated around the world. One person who wasn’t surprised, however, was David Walsh, a journalist at The Sunday Times. In fact, he’d finally been vindicated. 

In Seven Deadly Sins, Walsh charts his dogged, 13-year investigation into Lance Armstrong, from his initial reporting in 2001 to being dubbed a “little troll” by the cyclist in 2004, and finally receiving an apology (of sorts) during Armstrong’s infamous interview with Oprah Winfrey in 2013. 

Ten years later, the story is still one of the most compelling scandals in sporting history, with the antagonistic relationship between Walsh and Armstrong deserving of it’s own Netflix spin-off.  

  1. The Woman Who Fooled The World: Belle Gibson's Cancer Con and the Darkness at the Heart of the Wellness Industry by Beau Donelly & Nick Toscano

Belle Gibson was once considered an Australian national treasure. As one of the original Instagram influencers, she used her platform to share an inspirational story about how she treated her terminal cancer with nutritional therapies––forgoing established medical treatments.

Her story resonated, leading to her creating an app and writing a book, both called The Whole Pantry, which contained “a back-to-basics approach to wellness.” The only problem? She never had cancer.  

In 2015, Beau Donelly and Nick Toscano, journalists at The Age, received a tip-off that Belle––now a minor celebrity––was a liar. Not only had she pretended to have cancer, but she also lied about donating proceeds from her various projects to charity. Over a week, Donelly and Toscano wrote three damning articles, revealing the fraudulent exploits of Belle Gibson. 

The Woman Who Fooled The World is the full story of how they did it, interwoven with valuable insight into the murky world of wellness influencing. 

  1. My Friend Anna: The true story of Anna Delvey, the fake heiress of New York City by Rachel DeLoache Williams 

It’s one thing for an investigative journalist to uncover a fraud, but what about when the scammer happens to be your friend? It’s the heart-in-mouth situation Rachel DeLoache Williams, a photography editor at Vanity Fair, found herself in when she holidayed in Marrakech with Anna Delvey/Sorokin. Despite Anna’s promises that all her expenses would be covered, Rachel ended up footing the bill. All $62,000 of it. 

My Friend Anna poses uncomfortable questions about the nature of con-artistry and victimhood: why, for example, are people so sparing with their sympathy for Rachel, while Anna ascends to pop culture legend? Are we clinging to the belief that it could never happen to us? If so, allow this book to serve as a serious wake-up call.

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