Hosted by Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi, Scamfluencers unpacks what it means to be a scammer in the digital age
From a certain fake German heiress convincing hotels that the wiya transfuh is really on the way, to a Ponzi scheme run on Tinder, to a Stanford dropout trying to pull wool over the healthcare industry’s eyes, scams are everywhere right now. We look on in horror and empathise with the scammed – and also secretly wonder what it would be like to be as audacious as the scammer.
If you’re a scam obsessive looking to sink your teeth into even spicier stories of deception and fraud, then Scamfluencers is the podcast for you. The new Wondery podcast series, which premieres today, is hosted by writers Scaachi Koul and Sarah Hagi. With new episodes dropping weekly, Koul and Hagi hope to unpack what it means to be a scammer in the age of social media. “These are the people who will do anything for influence,” Koul says in the trailer.
Koul and Hagi will be digging into a plethora of different scam cases in the podcast – they describe one as “the Fyre Fest of the ballet world” – from within a variety of industries and worlds including religion, fashion, finance, health, and wellness.
Speaking to Dazed, Koul and Hagi share what inspired them to create the podcast and their thoughts on why our collective fascination with scammers is so enduring.
What inspired you to create the podcast?
Sarah Hagi: Scams are having a real moment right now, but scams have always been popular. It’s not something that goes away. It becomes even more interesting when you factor in the influencer aspect – like, when it’s not someone who is quietly trying to scam people, but they’re trying to get famous at the same time. There’s always a moment where we’re like, ‘they could have just stopped there.’ They could have made like 100,000 dollars and got out of it and never gotten caught, but they can’t stop because of their thirst to be famous.
Scaachi Koul: A lot of these stories also involve the internet and how the internet helps the proliferation of these sorts of stories and how people use it to fool other people. Sarah’s right: there have always been scammers in every single industry and at every single point in time. We’ve always been compelled by these stories – the difference now is that when we talk about them, we talk about Facebook or Instagram in the same breath.
SH: And everyone has this idea that ‘what you see on social media isn’t real’. There’s already this baseline idea that everything we see on social media is fake, which I don’t necessarily agree with, but I think that combined with actual criminal activity is so juicy.
Why do you think people are so captivated by stories of scammers?
SH: It’s almost like when you’re watching reality TV and you’re thinking about how you would act, or what you would do differently, or whether you would fall for it. I think people like injecting themselves into those stories. You don’t have to be stupid to fall for a scam. It could really happen to anyone and I think there’s something very captivating about that.
SK: There’s such a proliferation of scammers in the world and there’s such an interest in those stories. I think people are really compelled by them because we all want to know that there isn’t an easy way out. It’s kind of reassuring in a weird way. And these stories are just fun – they’re fun, they’re conspiratorial, they’re instructive, they’re interesting, they’re tragic. They have it all!
I think a lot of young people are a bit disillusioned with capitalism at the moment, and to some extent scammers show a way out of the system – albeit an unethical one. Do you think that’s another part of the reason why we’re so fascinated by scamming stories?
SK: Maybe on some level. The tough thing about a lot of these scams is that often the people who are punished are people who are already being punished by the system. There usually is some person who is being affected by it negatively in a way they don’t deserve. But I think we’re all looking for a way out, and some of the stories we’re talking about deal with people who start with good intentions, then they get lost. The most compelling ones to me are about people who see a problem and they want to present a solution, but they either don’t have the skillset to do it or they’re trying not to follow the law while they do it. We have such a wide variety of stories on the podcast and our ability to empathise with different characters really varies. It depends on the story completely and their context: we get into people’s backgrounds and childhoods and where they came from, and how they got to a point where they were committing some sort of scam. There is a ‘why’ which we try to tackle in every episode.
SH: People are so drawn to this bootstrap, capitalistic mentality, where they’re like ‘I can do that, I can be rich, and I deserve it because look at this idiot who was able to do it.’ And I feel like there are scams we’re totally OK with – like tech companies being valued at billions of dollars that don’t make any money and never will. I think that there’s so much wealth flaunted in front of us that seems so within reach, and it’s so appealing to people to try and get that.
What are you hoping that people will take away from the podcast?
SH: The biggest takeaway that we come to whenever we discuss episodes is, they’re doing so much work here when they could have just done something legitimate and gotten wealthy in a different way. It’s so crazy how much time and energy these people spend – multiple identities, different phones, lying to everyone in their lives. That is so hard! You clearly are smart in some way – just apply it elsewhere!
SK: That is the big thing. Scamming is expensive and time-consuming and you might as well just do something else. Honestly, I think the only thing stopping Sarah and I from becoming scammers is that we’re just lazy. I don’t have the wherewithal to do that. But I also think we wouldn’t get scammed, because we’re too lazy to participate in anything. Like, you want me to believe in something? I’m very busy.
Scamfluencers premieres on April 11. You can listen on Apple Podcasts, Amazon Music, Spotify, and more. New episodes come out every Monday for free, with early access for Wondery+ subscribers.