Scamming and streaming

Viewers’ obsession with con artists raises troubling questions

Netflix’s series Inventing Anna is one of several successful new shows on the streaming service dealing with scammers or con artists. (Supplied photo)

Netflix’s scammer series have recently emerged as the new pop-culture trend. The Tinder Swindler, Inventing Anna and even Bad Vegan have been well-received by critics and audiences alike. It seems rather strategic that these documentaries and series based on true stories premiered so close to one another, keeping the audience hooked and wanting more.

Many of these stories have audiences sympathizing with people who were hurt by these scammers. For instance, in the case of The Tinder Swindler, the narrative empathy is with the women who were victims of these crimes. Another example from the series Inventing Anna is when Anna Delvey (the antagonist) so easily charges thousands of dollars to her friend’s company credit card. Some of us may even judge the people who have fallen prey to such activities.

However, an issue arises when people start sympathizing with those who commit these crimes. One can argue that these shows do more harm than good. Rather than spreading awareness, they may help criminals gain Instagram followers. Anna Delvey from Inventing Anna is portrayed in a way that seems to emphasize her business skills instead of simply showing her to be a con artist. She represents a woman with dreams, who was incredibly close to achieving them before she lost it all. One must argue, though, that forging documents and fooling people into paying for expensive shopping habits are not the kinds of talents often associated with entrepreneurs. These scammers truly took “fake it till you make it” to an extreme.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reported $380 million lost to fraud in 2021. These stories on Netflix are not decades old but rather recent. Many people use Tinder today, and these swindlers are skilled, with convincing fake identities.

It is safe to say the victims of fraud did not doubt the authenticity of these con artists, since they were so good at providing supporting evidence of their created personas. These shows, while either documentaries or based on real events, seem like works of fiction: a man in a private jet or a woman dressing like she comes from old wealth. In one way or another, these con artists were truly deceiving.

Romance fraud is not rare. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reports that romance fraud was responsible for the second-highest amount of loss in dollars in 2021. The highest overall was investment scams. Evidently, The Tinder Swindler doesn’t seem to be an independent event. This is a genuine issue in Canada, as well as the United States and other parts of the world. When considering this, these shows may really work in getting their audience aware of the various types of scams that occur on a daily basis.

The extent of these crimes cannot be emphasized enough. It does make me consider what I would do in such situations. Would I offer to cover hotel bills of thousands of dollars for a friend because I trusted them enough to pay me back? Would I take loans in order to provide for my partners? Would I have been any different from the victims in these documentaries?

Published in Volume 76, Number 24 of The Uniter (April 7, 2022)

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