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Why we can’t stop watching scammers: ‘Tinder Swindler’ to ‘Anna’

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The con is on.

In this, the Year of the Scammer, grift is king. Just weeks after America’s most captivating con artist Elizabeth Holmes was convicted of ripping off investors at her criminal trial, Netflix debuted two blockbuster shows about flagrant fraudsters.

“The Tinder Swindler,” a documentary detailing the deceit of love rat Simon Leviev, hit the streaming platform on Feb. 2. “Inventing Anna,” a Shonda Rhimes miniseries based on notorious “Soho grifter” Anna “Delvey” Sorokin, landed on Feb 11.

Watching along as the two schemers rip off their wealthy victims has become downright pleasurable — for reasons that may have more to do with our own deeply disturbed psyche, experts told The Post.

Simon Leviev, otherwise known as “The Tinder Swindler,” is seen traveling via private jet in a scene from the Netflix documentary chronicling his scams.
Netflix
The con is on: Julia Garner plays conwoman Anna Sorokin in "Inventing Anna." The show has become a bona fide hit on Netflix.
The con is on: Julia Garner plays conwoman Anna Sorokin in “Inventing Anna.” The show has become a bona fide hit on Netflix.
Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

And these Netflix successes are only the tip of the iceberg in the genre we now hate to love.

In the coming months, both Hulu and Apple+ will release their own films about Holmes, while Netflix will drop “Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives” and “Trust No One: The Hunt for the Crypto King” — documentaries revolving around notorious swindlers.

Streaming services are wise to invest in programs about scam artists. “The Tinder Swindler” has become an instant global sensation, entering Netflix’s Top 10 chart in 92 countries. Meanwhile, “Inventing Anna” notched up the most viewing hours for an English-language Netflix series since the service began a new ratings system last summer. It’s outperformed mega-hits such as “You,” “Sex Education” and “Maid.”

So, with streamers bringing out the con in content, why can’t we get enough of these grifters? And what is it about these programs that keeps us glued to the screen?

Greg Kushnick, a Manhattan-based psychologist, told The Post that our sense of disgust causes us to cast moral judgments on swindlers, which in turn incites a sense of pleasure. In other words: It just feels good to judge someone so bad.

“When we judge the perpetrator, we stand on a moral pedestal,” he explained. “We say ‘I do the right thing, I’d never do that,’ and in that judgment our sense of self — our ego — expands and it gives us pleasure.”

Dual appeal: "The Tinder Swindler" allows viewers a pleasurable look at a life of luxury at the same time they can look down upon the scheming Simon Leviev.
Dual appeal: “The Tinder Swindler” allows viewers a pleasurable look at a life of luxury while simultaneously allowing them to cast moral judgements on the scheming Simon Leviev.
Netflix

That judgment is coupled with a sense of intrigue, he noted, particularly when it involves the glitz and glamour of the upper class, into which Simon Leviev and Anna Sorokin scammed their way.

Both “The Tinder Swindler” and “Inventing Anna” are chock full of fancy cars, private jets and designer threads, giving viewers a peep at how the 1 percent live. Viewing such opulence indulges our own escapist fantasies, which is also deeply gratifying, Kushnick added.

Meanwhile, as psychologist Dr. Pam Rutledge told The Post, narratives about scammers are also popular for educational reasons: We wouldn’t want to fall victim to one of their schemes.

“We instinctively want to know what happened, so we can determine our risk of a similar event and, more importantly, learn how to keep from being conned ourselves,” she wrote in a blog post.

Scammer Anna Sorokin is seen on board a lavish yacht in a scene from the Netflix smash "Inventing Anna."
Scammer Anna Sorokin (played by Julia Garner) is seen on board a lavish yacht in a scene from Netflix’s smash hit “Inventing Anna.”
AARON EPSTEIN/NETFLIX

In “The Tinder Swindler,” Simon Leviev proclaims to be the billionaire son of diamond dealer Lev Leviev. The lying Lothario, 31, love-bombed his dates with lavish gifts and Michelin-star meals before claiming he needed to borrow some quick cash to close on deals. The fraudster then made off with the money in order to keep funding his luxurious lifestyle.

Sorokin — the woman on whom “Inventing Anna” is based — bears striking similarities with Leviev. Like him, she is 31 years old, came from humble beginnings and changed her name in pretending to be the beneficiary of a family fortune.

The Russian-born blonde claimed to be an heiress named Anna Delvey, lying her way into New York City high society while bilking banks and well-to-do pals along the way.

Leviev is seen following his arrest in 2019. He served just a few months in jail before being released.
Leviev is seen following his arrest in 2019. He served just a few months in jail before being released.
AFP via Getty Images

Both Leviev and Sorokin served jail time for their fraudulence, but both appear to be unrepentant about their bad behavior. Take, for example, the fact that Sorokin, who has been outspoken in the press, was paid $320,000 by Netflix for the rights to her story. Leviev, meanwhile, has just signed with a Hollywood agent.

Kushnick claims these shameless scammers exhibit signs of narcissistic personality disorder. The psychologist shared that he has seen a “dramatic uptick” in NPD cases in recent years — so perhaps we see a bit of ourselves in these swindlers.

“Shamelessness is linked to narcissism,” Kushnick told The Post. “We are evolving into this place where behaviors that were once unacceptable are now okay. Narcissism is now a part of our culture and is somewhat accepted and not punished.”

The real Anna Sorokin, pictured in 2019, was convicted of swindling more than $200,000 from banks and pals.
The real Anna Sorokin, pictured in 2019, was convicted of swindling more than $200,000 from banks and pals.
REUTERS

Add to that our current cultural climate: FaceTuned selfies litter social media and on dating apps, with many users pretending to be better looking and more important than they actually are.

Rutledge told The Post that “scam stories bleed into the coverage of reality TV stars, TikTok and YouTube celebrities earning millions for unclear skills but a lot of chutzpah and persistence.”

She explained: “It’s not hard to see why boundaries can be blurred and why, broadly speaking, hustle culture has appeal, but also how it creates unrealistic expectations that can lead to disappointment.”

Posing as a wealthy, jet-setting diamond mogul, he wooed women online then conned them out of millions of dollars. Now some victims plan for payback.
Posing as a wealthy, jet-setting diamond mogul, Leviev wooed women online, then conned them out of millions of dollars. Now some victims plan for payback.
IMBD/Netflix
In the age of FaceTuned selfies aren't we all scamming? Anna (Julia Garner) is seen snapping a selfie in an episode of "Inventing Anna."
In the age of FaceTuned selfies, aren’t we all scamming? Anna (Julia Garner) is seen snapping a selfie in an episode of “Inventing Anna.”
AARON EPSTEIN/NETFLIX

Philip Cooper, a 33-year-old Manhattan-based lawyer, told The Post he was instantly lured in by the high-gloss appeal of both “The Tinder Swindler” and “Inventing Anna” while simultaneously judging the treacherous behavior of the scammers.

But Cooper confessed that he’s also been shocked by how some on social media are praising Sorokin and Leviev.

“People are giving kudos to Anna’s hustle, but she literally creates fake documents and knowingly misleads people and organizations,” he said.

Can you shame someone shameless? While the shows set out to shame the scammers, they inadvertently have made stars of their subjects. Simon Leviev is seen snapping a selfie.
Can you shame someone who is shameless? While the shows set out to shame the scammers, they inadvertently have made stars of their subjects. Simon Leviev is seen snapping a selfie.
SIMON LEVIEV/FACEBOOK

Cooper added that, while shows about scammers may come packaged as morality tales, the fact that they make inadvertent stars of their subjects is troubling.

“The shows disproportionately focus on the scammers’ high-end lifestyle and gloss over the negative impact their actions have on their victims and society in general,” he continued. “If something is made to look glamorous, we’re way more forgiving.”




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