Just... How?!

10 Con Artist Shows & Movies Based On True Stories That Will Blow Your Mind

The craftiest of con artists and the most elaborate heists for your binge-watching guilty pleasure.

Julia Garner as Anna Delvey in the con artist TV show 'Inventing Anna.'
Aaron Epstein/Netflix © 2021

Sometimes we all want to watch something that shocks us, but some people just aren't the biggest fans of horror movies. OK, it's me — I am some people. While others look over their shoulders in their dark living room, scaredy cats like me need a good binge that keeps us on our toes without giving us nightmares. Sorry Stranger Things, but even your latest season is a bit too dark for my liking, and (sadly) Lifetime’s holiday lineup isn’t out all year long. So, what do you do when you're too put off by thrillers but need something more mischievous than a comedy? You binge-watch con artist TV shows and movies instead.

There's a surprising wealth of riches in this genre: true stories that cover the greatest heists in history, accidental criminals who made counterfeit coupons, and a festival that sold out and never happened. Or maybe you spend the weekend glued to the couch watching a docuseries of a con man who steals from women on Tinder.

They say the truth is stranger than fiction, and watching people pull off such mind-boggling scams feels like validation. With that said, here are 10 of my favorite con artist tales that will have you shaking your head in disbelief, asking, "How? Just... how?!"

01

Molly’s Game | 2017

Molly’s Game follows the life of skier Molly Bloom, who trained for the Olympics but was injured while attempting to qualify. She went on to write a memoir that inspired the film.

The movie, directed by Aaron Sorkin, covers how Molly ran an illegal gambling ring that was so exclusive it caught the attention of the FBI. She ran her business for a decade before being arrested, and the film depicts her proceeding federal trial.

02

The Dropout | 2022

While the popular downfall of Theranos Founder Elizabeth Holmes has been depicted in a feature film created by Netflix, streaming competitor Hulu recently released its own limited series that recounts the true saga.

Played by Amanda Seyfried, Elizabeth is a Stanford student who comes up with a wild idea: One drop of blood is enough to complete all your lab tests. Her level of conviction gets her investors, scientists, and a full launch of her product, Theranos, making her a self-made billionaire... only to find out that the science behind the technology isn’t real.

03

Queenpins | 2021

Queenpins is an American comedy that follows the hilarious but true story of a mass couponing scheme that got big enough to be tracked and monitored by the FBI. Kristen Bell stars in the lead role as Connie Kaminiski, who is addicted to couponing. When she writes a scathing letter to a company after receiving stale cereal, the company sends back coupons, and she gets the idea of making a business out of reselling them.

The business began to grow as she partnered up with her friend JoJo Johnson, played by Kirby Howell-Baptiste. The film's plot is based on a real-life coupon scam done by three Arizona women, Robin Ramirez, Marilyn Johnson, and Amiko "Amy" Fountain.

04

Can You Ever Forgive Me? | 2018

This story follows the story of author “Lee Israel” who is having trouble getting the publishing world to pick up a new book from her. Faced with financial struggles after her plummet in book sales, she falls upon an old letter written by a famed writer and takes it to a shop to sell. The clerk mentions that if the letter was more “juicy,” the shop would have provided a higher price for the letter. This gives her the idea to embellish, or even full-on fake, “new” letters by various literary icons. She starts making big money on her “authentic” historical letters until a buyer starts to ask questions about one in particular, and it gets her into hot water.

Directed by Marielle Heller, the series stars Melissa McCarthy as Lee Israel, alongside Richard Grant, Dolly Wells, and Ben Falcone.

05

Inventing Anna | 2022

I’ll admit; I started this one and didn’t know where this story was going, but it was so juicy I had to find out. This Netflix mini-series follows the story of real-life Anna Sorokin (changed to Anna Delvey in the movie) and her mission to be part of NYC’s elite philanthropist circle.

The ex-pat, formerly from Russia, befriends wealthy locals by wowing them with her own riches, posing as a wealthy German heiress. The ruse was so convincing that she got a slew of high-level investors to back her charity foundation — which, as it turns out, did not exist.

Anne is played by actress Julia Garner, and she stars alongside familiar faces such as Laverne Cox, Katie Lowes, and Arian Moayed. The real Anna was released from prison in October 2022.

06

Fyre | 2018

Remember that time when the Fyre Festival was supposed to be the most iconic festival of all time? Yeah, people don’t forget. The catastrophe that involved numerous high-profile celebs etched itself into history, and Hollywood made it into two documentaries. Fyre covers the fraudulent music festival created by Billy MacFarland and rapper Ja Rule.

The festival was promoted by big names like Kendall Jenner, Bella Hadid, and Hailey Baldwin, and as a result, they sold out entirely in ticket sales. Once concertgoers arrived, however, the “luxury” experience that they paid top dollar for ended up being a total fluke. Instead of fancy villas and gourmet meals, they received tents to stay in and pre-boxed sandwiches.

07

Bad Vegan | 2022

This Netflix mini-series follows former NYC restauranteur and vegan food specialist Sarma Melngailis, the founder of One Lucky Duck and Pure Food and Wine. However, things quickly took a turn for the worse when she met a man on Twitter known as Shane Fox, who led her down a bewildering path of fraud and crime.

The true story details the bizarre downfall of a seemingly successful celebrity in New York’s hottest scene to a woman on the run, who ends up doing time on Rikers Island. The series is directed by Chris Smith, with interviews from the real Sarma and others involved in her story.

08

The Tinder Swindler | 2022

Born Shimon Hayut, Simon Leviev got more creative with his con artistry. In fact, he may have even one-upped Anna Sorokin since he got away with no jail time. Leviev used the art of persuasion instead, which in the eyes of the court, isn’t totally illegal. The Tinder Swindler follows the true story of a man who referred to himself by the fake moniker Simon Leviev, and like Anna, he portrayed himself to women on the dating app Tinder as being incredibly wealthy.

He was constantly traveling and paying for everything, enough to convince his victims that there was no way he needed anything from them — until he asked to borrow money he’d “pay right back.” He cons his way into racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars from his girlfriends and still cruising in jets as we speak.

Leviev is featured in the Netflix documentary film through archival footage, while real-life ex-girlfriends Cecilie Fjellhoy, Pernilla Sjoholm, and Ayleen Charlotte all have interview footage.

09

American Animals | 2018

This is the tale of a silver-spooned heist — four wealthy college kids make a plan to steal rare books worth millions. American Animals, directed by Bart Layton, retells the story of the “Transy Book Heist” with scenes of re-enactment and also real interviews with the original gang and their family members.

Is there anything better than a story that gets told straight from the horse’s mouth? I think not. The films lead, “Reinhard,” is introduced to the special collections library at his college while on a tour of the small liberal arts institution. Housed there were preserved rare books such as “Birds of America by John James Audubon — a set of life-sized engravings by the wildlife pioneer valued at around $12 million,” according to People.

When he realized the security for this section was pretty basic, he and a couple of friends plot to steal some of the books.

10

Vanishing Act | 2022

Don’t sleep on this Hulu mini-series! It follows the wild real-life mystery surrounding the disappearance of Australian high-roller Melissa Caddick. Her crime? She allegedly embezzled millions from friends, family, and clients before completely vanishing. Her bizarre Houdini act left authorities perplexed and questioning what they really knew about the con artist as they investigated her disappearance.

The gripping Hulu show was produced by Screentime Banijay for Nine Network Australia and stars the always exceptional Kate Atkinson (Wentworth) as Caddick.