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12 Gripping Shows and Movies About Scams to Stream Now

Stories of brazen criminals abound on Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and more

spinner image dianne weist in a file still from the film i care a lot and salma melngailis in bad vegan
Actress Dianne Weist in the film "I Care A Lot" (left) and restaurateur Sarma Melngailis in the documentary "Bad Vegan"
Courtesy Netflix (2)

Ever since Harold Hill sold his musical instruments to the unsuspecting townsfolk of River City, Iowa, in The Music Man, fraudsters have made for fascinating Hollywood fodder. These days, those old-school schemes seem almost quaint, as we live in a world of ever-evolving, often highly sophisticated new kinds of scams, from phishing and catfishing to guardianship abuse and identity theft. These 12 TV shows, films and documentaries entertain, while bringing needed attention to and awareness of these devastating crimes.

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1. Inventing Anna (2022)

After plumbing the depths of complicated fictional antiheroines like Olivia Pope (Scandal) and Annalise Keating (How to Get Away With Murder), Shonda Rhimes, 53, turned her attention to a real-world criminal, the fake socialite Anna Delvey. In this Netflix limited series, two-time Emmy winner Julia Garner stars as the Russian-born Delvey (real name: Anna Sorokin) who mingled with the New York elite while pretending she was a German heiress with a trust fund and then scammed banks, hotels and friends out of hundreds of thousands of dollars on her quest to finance a contemporary arts center. The limited series also stars Anna Chlumsky, 43, as the journalist who uncovers Delvey’s schemes and Laverne Cox, 51, as her personal trainer and confidante.

Watch it: on Netflix

2. The Dropout (2022)

With her trademark Steve Jobs–inspired black turtleneck, Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes promised to revolutionize the health care world. Her pitch: The company’s machines would be able to run hundreds of rapid blood tests using only a few drops collected from a simple finger prick. The only problem was that the tests flat-out didn’t work. Holmes raised more than $700 million from venture capitalists and private investors, and she was ultimately found guilty of four charges of fraud this year. The case inspired books, a podcast, a documentary and this Hulu miniseries, which stars Mamma Mia’s Amanda Seyfried as the baritone-voiced fraudster and Lost’s Naveen Andrews, 54, as her business partner, Sunny Balwani. The series picked up six Emmy nominations, winning one for best actress in a limited or anthology series.

Watch it: on Hulu

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Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.

3. The Wizard of Lies (2017)

Based on the book of the same name, this HBO television movie stars Robert De Niro, 80, as Bernie Madoff, perhaps the most famous Ponzi schemer since, well, Charles Ponzi himself. For 16 years, Madoff cheated his investors out of $64.8 billion, which amounted to the largest financial fraud of all time. The film earned four Emmy nominations, including one for Michelle Pfeiffer, 65, as Bernie’s wife, Ruth, whom New York Times critic Noel Murray described as “a woman who’s lived the high life for so long that she can’t understand why her husband’s mistakes should keep her from getting a hair appointment at the best Manhattan salon.” If you can’t get enough of his financial crimes, seek out the 2016 ABC miniseries Madoff, which starred Richard Dreyfuss (76) and Blythe Danner (80) as Bernie and Ruth.

Watch it: on HBO Max

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4. The Tinder Swindler (2022)

This true-crime documentary follows the notorious Israeli con man Simon Leviev, who used the dating app Tinder to manipulate women into financing his extravagant lifestyle. His ploy involved pretending to be the son of a billionaire diamond mogul, wooing women, asking them to lend him large sums of money and then using that cash to take the next unsuspecting woman on lavish dates, complete with private jets and whirlwind weekend getaways. In a sense, he was operating a Ponzi scheme with an added layer of romantic catfishing, and his plan was so scarily ruthless that Kevin Maher of The Times called the Emmy-nominated film “the Jaws of internet dating documentaries.”

Watch it: on Netflix

5. Bad Vegan: Fame. Fraud. Fugitives. (2022)

In this stranger-than-fiction docuseries, New York raw-vegan restaurateur Sarma Melngailis finds herself falling for a mysterious yet charming man named Shane Fox whom she meets on Twitter. Fox — whose real name is Anthony Strangis — convinces her that, if she keeps funneling money toward him, he will pay a deity who will keep Sarma’s rescue pit bull Leon alive forever. (Yes, you read that right.) Soon, Melngailis starts illegally siphoning almost $2 million from her celebrity-hot spot restaurant and stops paying her employees before eventually going on the run with her new hubby. Buckle up for a truly wild ride.

Watch it: on Netflix

6. Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened (2019) 

In 2017, tech bro Billy McFarland and rapper Ja Rule announced an ultra-exclusive music event, Fyre Festival, to be held on a private island in the Bahamas, and they got a slew of celebrities and models to promote it. What followed was a flop of epic proportions: The “luxury yurts” they promoted were actually disaster-relief tents left over from a hurricane, workers didn’t get paid, food was sparse and terrible (including a sad cheese sandwich that went viral), bands canceled and concertgoers were left stranded. McFarland had defrauded investors out of $27.4 million, and the festival was such a schadenfreude-inspiring mess that it yielded two documentaries, this one for Netflix and Hulu’s Fyre Fraud.

Watch iton Netflix

7. I Care a Lot (2020)

Rosamund Pike, 44, picked up a best actress Golden Globe for her role as the con artist Marla Grayson in this satirical thriller about elder abuse. Marla’s scheme involves becoming a court-appointed guardian for vulnerable elderly folks, placing them in assisted living facilities, having them sedated and then selling off their assets. Dianne Wiest, 75, plays her victim, Jennifer Peterson, who turns out to be tougher than she looks. Be warned that, while many critics applauded the film’s wicked amorality, it left many audience members feeling outraged: To wit, it has only a 34 percent audience score on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes. Owen Gleiberman wrote in Variety that director J Blakeson and Pike created “a femme so fatale that she seems to have left a century’s worth of movie nice girls in the dust.”

Watch it: on Netflix

8. Operation Varsity Blues: The College Admissions Scandal (2021)

Chances are you’ll remember the recent college admissions scandal, which saw wealthy parents — including celebrities like Felicity Huffman, 61, and Lori Loughlin, 59 — trying to bribe and defraud the right people to get their kids into America’s top universities. If you need a refresher, Netflix’s juicy documentary took a unique approach, which included reenactments of the FBI-wiretapped conversations between mastermind William “Rick” Singer and his co-conspirators. Matthew Modine, 64, earned praise for channeling the slimy Singer, a basketball coach–turned–college counselor who helped parents bribe test proctors and members of university athletics departments to boost teens’ bona fides. 

Watch it: on Netflix

9. Can You Ever Forgive Me? (2018)

Melissa McCarthy, 53, has a penchant for playing lovable, good-natured characters, but she went decidedly darker in this biopic about literary forger Lee Israel — and she was rewarded with her second Oscar nomination in the process. A moderately successful celebrity biographer, Israel is a bit of a curmudgeon who has fallen on hard times when she hatches a plan to make some money: She’ll forge and sell handwritten letters from historical figures like Dorothy Parker and Noël Coward. Along the way, she recruits an old acquaintance named Jack (Richard E. Grant, 66) as her confidant and partner in crime.

Watch it: on Amazon PrimeApple TVYouTube

10. Hustlers (2019)

Based on a viral 2015 New York magazine article, this true-crime comedy follows a team of New York City strippers who target the rich men that frequent their club by drugging them and maxing out their credit cards. Jennifer Lopez, 54, earned some of her best acting reviews in decades for her role as the criminal mastermind Ramona Vega, and she went on to be nominated for a Golden Globe, a Critics Choice Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award. But the entire ensemble is firing on all cylinders, with standouts including Constance Wu, Keke Palmer, and A-list musicians Lizzo and Cardi B.

Watch it: on Amazon PrimeApple TV, HuluYouTube

11. Art and Craft (2014)

Before he was caught, prolific art forger Mark Landis convinced over 45 museums that his copies of works by René Magritte, Pablo Picasso, Mary Cassatt and more were originals. But rather than try to get rich by selling them, he had done the unthinkable: He’d simply given away his creations to museums for free! In this cat-and-mouse documentary, the jig is up when Landis lands on the radar of Oklahoma City Museum of Art registrar Matthew Leininger, who tries to expose his artistic deceptions. Documentary subjects don’t come much more compelling than Landis, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 17 and has said that his forgeries have been a way to manage his mental illness.

Watch it: on Amazon PrimeApple TVPluto TVYouTube

12. Queenpins (2021)

Kristen Bell, 43, stars in this underrated crime caper that’s based on a true case of what’s been dubbed “pink collar crime.” Connie Kaminski (Bell) is a former gold-medal-winning Olympic racewalker who’s bored living out in suburbia and decides to defraud corporations out of millions of dollars with a coupon scheme: She and her best pal figure out a way to nab free coupons by writing complaint letters about products and then selling them to other consumers who will be able to benefit from the discounts. Their seemingly victimless crime soon puts them on a collision course with a supermarket chain loss-prevention office (Richard Jewell star Paul Walter Hauser, 37) and a U.S. postal inspector (Vince Vaughn, 53).

Watch it: on Tubi

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spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.