Is 2022 the year of the grifter? Judging by the slew of TV shows about this subject, the answer is most definitely, yes. From documentaries like The Tinder Swindler to Bad Vegan to narrative series like The Drop Out, WeCrashed and Inventing Anna, there is serious fascination with these white-collar crimes. If this is a subject you love like I do, you’ll dig these podcasts featuring classic con-artist stories. Some have already been developed for television, and I predict others will be soon.
Young entrepreneur, Elizabeth Holmes, was the Silicon Valley darling. Now she’s guilty of one count of conspiracy and three counts of wire fraud in connection with her multi-million-dollar scheme to defraud investors. Theranos, the blood test start-up, was all the rage until it came to a crime crashing halt. The new show on Hulu is based on Rebecca Jarvis’s excellent series on Holmes’s vision from start to finish. You’ll learn about her humble beginnings at Stanford, why she changed her voice and the infamous black turtleneck. Also check out Bad Blood: The Final Chapter from The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou, produced by Sony Podcasts. He was the first to report on Theranos’s shifty business practices. His articles ultimately led to Holmes’s downfall and Theranos’s demise.
These two podcasts are about the rise and fall of WeWork founder Adam Neumann. WeCrashed: The Rise and Fall of WeWork from Wondery has already been developed into an Apple TV + series. Foundering features extensive reporting from Bloomberg News. Both series address the rapid growth of the real-estate start up We Work, along with all the narcissism, corruption, bad business practices and total debauchery that followed. Interviews with former employees describe the inner workings of one of the most talked-about and scrutinized companies in the U.S. You’ll hear in great detail how they went from a $47 billion company to one that’s been plagued by scandals and lawsuits.
Journalist Kathleen Golhar’s close friend, Arya, found a new love interest after a bad divorce, and Mordechai Horowitz seemed to have it all. He was attentive, funny and rich. Even when Arya noticed some red flags, she stuck with him knowing how hard the dating world can be. Everything appeared sort of perfect, until it wasn’t. When a woman came to her door unannounced saying she was seeing Horowitz, too, Arya found out he was lying to countless other women. Goldhar’s persistence to find the truth unravels into situations that you never expected. You’ll be captivated from the first episode. Why did he do this? Why do people lie? How many victims are there? It’s majorly binge-worthy.
An invitation to spend a free weekend at the Silver Saddle Ranch sounded like a great way to mix some business and pleasure. And when groups of people ranging from young couples to hard-working immigrants arrived at the Mojave Desert “resort,” they were presented with an investment opportunity and the promise of building a better future for themselves. Guests were sold on the idea of buying land in this new booming desert community. The problem was that it was all a mirage. For decades, people took the bait and the grifters took the cash. In California City, host Emily Guerin takes you through the history of this longtime grift on the town that never was.
A charismatic 12-year-old kid wanted to help other kids in Africa by building schools. Craig Kilburger went on an inspiring speaking tour and made a splash. He was a media darling, getting on shows like Oprah and CBC News. He started a global movement with the WE Charity that promised to help the needy. The whole family got involved, locking in partnerships with Hollywood celebrities and major corporations. Turns out, the organization wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Corruption and lies were exposed in a giant scandal that even touched Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Their hearts may have been in the right place, but the grift quotient was strong.
If you can’t get enough of Anna Delvey after Netflix’s hit series Inventing Anna, this is the show for you. Produced by BBC4 it takes you down the road of her ultimate swindle of New York’s wealthy elite. Dramatic audio recreations give you a blow by blow of her outbursts, conquests and unlimited excuses on how her father was going to wire the money. The podcast follows the same track as the TV series, you just have to decide which actress dishes out phrases like, “You’re so basic” or “This is not VIP” better.
Nothing says grift better than multilevel marketing companies. Hosted by Jane Marie, an alum of This American Life, and partner Dann Gallucci [full disclosure, I’ve worked with Gallucci on the amazing Shirley Manson podcast The Jump]. The series goes deep into MLMs and the shady side of the wellness industry. Interviews with people on the front lines expose how they manipulate the economy and Marie’s own experiences in this world. For anyone who’s been obsessed with the Lularoe documentary on Amazon (ME!)—you get four bonus episodes on “banana leggings’’ as Jane Marie calls them. Want more Lularoe? Try The Rise And Fall of Lularoe from Discovery Networks; it’s also great.
Mara Davis is a media personality based in Atlanta, Ga. In addition to hosting the VoteHer podcast with Senator Jen Jordan, she also is a senior talent booker for various television networks and podcasts.