Anna Delvey might be in prison now, but for a few years she lived the kind of lavish lifestyle Instagram was made to record.
Even more impressive than the designer clothes, high end hotels and glamorous nights out she portrayed, however, was the way she paid for it all: in short, she didn’t. Instead she conned banks, wrote bad cheques and eventually took money from her friends as the lies and debts caught up with her.
Her exploits have been a major talking point on social media over the past day or two, following a fascinating article in the Cut, which examines just how the ersatz socialite pulled the wool over the eyes of so many people for so long. To my mind, most of those she managed to scam bear at least some of the responsibility, so willing were they to be taken in because of all the lovely money involved. Or not, as it turned out.
The mere appearance of wealth was enough to draw dozens of New York scenesters into Delvey’s web of fake names and false promises. What’s even scarier is that her European society darling bit also worked on banks.
Delvey, whose real name turned out to be Anna Sorokin, presented herself as a wealthy heiress, and despite the fact that she actually seemed to be lacking in funds on several occasions, her family money story held more sway over acquaintances than any evidence to the contrary.
There are a few red flags throughout the story that really raise questions about how eager people are to suspend their disbelief when there might be a monetary value to turning a blind eye.
First of all, the fact that "Anna" apparently wasn’t that appealing as a person – employees of the hotel where she based herself for most of the protracted con she almost pull off described her as annoying and ill-mannered, but she still had staff clamouring to deal with her, because she couldn’t dole out hundred dollar bills fast enough. That’s understandable. People need to make money, and if someone is literally giving it out for (almost) nothing, it’s hard to say no.
Whether it’s necessary to strike up a friendship based on not a lot of liking and big wads of cash, however, seems questionable. But plenty of people, who now admit to finding Anna rude, tactless, even abhorrent, found it easy to put personality clashes aside for as long as the good times continued to roll.
Then there’s the flag that isn’t so much red as on fire and attached to a blaring foghorn: she didn’t speak the language that she claimed was her native tongue. “She told people she was from Cologne, but her German "wasn’t very good” according to the Cut. (She lived in Russia until she was 16.)
It’s almost farcical, except that it comes across as so very cynical for all these people to have ignored major clues that something wasn’t right, as long as they stood to gain from it. After all, it wouldn’t have been very difficult to poke holes in Anna’s story. A quick quiz in German could have cleared it all up very speedily.
Maya Angelou once said: “When people show you who they are, believe them.” To an extent, Anna showed everyone who she was; she didn’t pretend to be a particularly nice, charming or even polite person, she frequently had to borrow huge amounts of money, she didn’t even bother to brush up on German. But people didn’t want to see or believe what was right in front of them. As soon as they allowed reality to encroach on the A-list daydream they were living in, it would be over.
More importantly, the "friends" and hangers-on who helped perpetuate the myth around Anna had shown her who they were – happy to look the other way if it paid off.
Money doesn’t make people more trustworthy, but it does allow people to buy silence, which means they don’t need trust. But the power arising out of wealth runs both ways. If people weren’t so easily bought, Anna would never have got as far as she did.
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