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.