Our Obsession With Scam Culture Raises Major Issues About The Ethics Of Entertainment

Where condemnation meets fascination.

From fake heiress Anna Delvey to disgraced biotech founder Elizabeth Holmes and the Tinder Swindler himself, Simon Leviev, there are no shortage of criminals who have made a name for themselves by preying on the naivety and vulnerability of others. Every time a new case surfaces, we’re quick to condemn these people for their actions. But then, in the same breath, , we’re equally as quick to consume any content which tells their questionable stories over and over again. 

Delvey, arguably the biggest name of the bunch, successfully scammed major financial institutions, banks, hotels and friends, while Leviev, who used dating apps to prey on his victims, conned multiple women out of nearly US$10 million. Holmes, who founded failed biotech company Theranos, deceived and defrauded investors about the legitimacy of her medical device and which also endangered the lives of sick people.

Despite these three figures having already served jail time (or staring down the barrel of a sentence), they have each seen their stories told on screen, with Holmes and Delvey being portrayed by Amanda Seyfried and Julia Garner   some of the biggest names in Hollywood. It’s the kind of recognition we typically reserve for those we admire, but our unwavering curiosity for the macabre has given these real-life villains a global platform to share their story with the world, and for some, the opportunity to financially benefit from doing so. 


Would we be this excited to hear from someone who had been convicted of a heinous sexual crime? Arguably not, but when it comes to scammers, our response borders somewhere between condemnation and fascination. We plow through every show, book and podcast available to learn more about the people who have ruined the lives of so many. At what point, then, does our desire to be entertained become unethical? How do we separate a ‘good’ criminal from a ‘bad’ criminal and draw the line over whose story has the right to be told, and whose doesn’t? 

As a collective, we’ve fallen deeper and deeper into the world of scam culture and all the convoluted issues that come along with it. Unlike the grisly true crime stories we’ve grown accustomed to consuming, the problematic aspect of scam-based crimes is that they’re typically perceived as a ‘victimless’ crime. It tells stories where there is one clear villain, but multiple (oftentimes faceless) people who have suffered at their hand. Without a clear cut idea of who has been wronged, we lose sight of the fact that at the heart of the Hollywood adaptations, red carpet premieres and magazine covers, there are real people involved in these cases. Where is the redemption story for the victims? Where is their sense of peace? 

In the rare instances that the victim’s stories get as much airtime as the villains, it’s not always a cut-and-dry case of the odds being in their favour. In fact, Rachel DeLoache Williams, the most vocal victim of Delvey’s scams, is currently undergoing a victim/villain arc in real time. After footing a $62,000 bill during an infamous trip to Marrakesh and testifying at Anna’s trial, Rachel has gone on to write a book, countless articles and later sold her own story rights to HBO and Lena Dunham. She has since been dubbed an ‘opportunist’ who is now facing significant backlash about her seemingly endless desire to profit off her traumatic experience. The three most well-known victims of the Tinder Swindler started a GoFundMe over a month ago to recover some costs, but aren’t even a third of the way towards reaching their goal, despite global awareness of the case being at an all-time high. 


For the very real victims of these scams, having their perpetrator glorified and immortalised on a global scale is hardly the vindication they deserve, yet we have decided that it’s worth it, if the entertainment value is high enough. By retelling their stories, we run the risk of creating a culture of acceptability when it comes to certain crimes. Rather than be disgusted at what these people have done, we find ourselves impressed by what they can get away with on account of their tenacity and sheer cocksureness. 

Until recently, our collective experience with scammers was through the lens of fiction where the characters involved were either entirely made up  (think The Talented Mr Ripley) or had a greater level of distance from their subject (think Catch Me If You Can). These depictions weren’t hurting anybody and existed solely for the purpose of pop culture and public imagination. Now, our insatiable need to blur the lines between real life and make believe could be leading us down a dangerous road, where valorising criminals is considered the new norm. 

While entertainment, and our desire to be entertained will always form a large part of our culture, our obsession with con artists and convicted felons is something we desperately need to reassess.

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