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8 Gripping Shows and Movies About Scams to Stream Now

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

Leonardo DiCaprio looks through a door that says Check Fraud on the glass in the film Catch Me if You Can and Julia Garner sitting in a plane looking out a window in Inventing Anna

DreamWorks/Courtesy Everett Collection; Nicole Rivelli/Netflix

Leonardo DiCaprio (left) as Frank Abagnale Jr. in "Catch Me if You Can" and Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in "Inventing Anna."

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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 eight TV shows, films and documentaries entertain, while bringing needed attention to and awareness of these devastating crimes.

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, 52, turned her attention to a real-world criminal, the fake socialite Anna Delvey. In this Netflix limited series, two-time Ozark Emmy winner Julia Garner stars as the Russian-born con artist (real name: Anna Sorokin) who tricked the New York elite into thinking 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 Veep’s Anna Chlumsky as the journalist who uncovers Delvey’s schemes and Laverne Cox, 50, as her personal trainer and confidante.

Watch it: on Netflix

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 as her business partner, Sunny Balwani. The series picked up six Emmy nominations, including outstanding limited or anthology series and best actress.

Watch it: on Hulu


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The Wizard of Lies (2017)

Based on the book of the same name, this HBO television movie stars Robert De Niro, 78, 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, 64, 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 financial crimes, seek out the 2016 ABC miniseries Madoff, which starred Richard Dreyfuss (74) and Blythe Danner (79) as Bernie and Ruth.

Watch it: on HBO Max

The Tinder Swindler (2022)

Released in February just in time for Valentine’s Day, 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, tricking women into lending 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

Catch Me if You Can (2002)

Frank Abagnale Jr. was a con artist and forger who claimed to have pulled off some impressively elaborate schemes, including posing as a lawyer, a doctor and a Pan Am pilot. While many of his tales have since been debunked, his 1980 autobiography made for such a rollicking adventure that Steven Spielberg, 75, adapted it into this beloved crime comedy starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale and Tom Hanks (66) as the FBI agent with whom he engages in a globe-trotting cat-and-mouse game.

Watch it: on Amazon PrimeApple TV, NetflixYouTube

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

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 staged 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 it: on Netflix

I Care a Lot (2020)

Rosamund Pike 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. 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

Nicholas DeRenzo is a contributing writer who covers entertainment and travel. Previously he was executive editor of United Airlines’ Hemispheres magazine and his work has appeared in the New York Times, Conde Nast Traveler, Travel & Leisure, Sunset and New York magazine.

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