Stories about male con artists abound. The handsome man, sliding into his victim’s life, charming them, infiltrating their lives so completely that by the time the con is set, it’s not only too late to extricate themselves, it’s often too embarrassing to report to authorities. One study I came across in my research showed that only 37% of victims over the age of 55 will admit to being conned. A little over 50% of people under 55 will report it. Most con artists are never brought to trial because the people they con don’t ever report the fraud to police. I used that fact in my upcoming novel, The Lies I Tell, to explain how easy it was for my main character, Meg, to slide from one place to another with little to no consequences.
I don’t remember when I first became obsessed with con artists, but I remember the moment when I realized I wanted to write a book about one – a female con artist that the reader would root for. I was waiting for my youngest son’s piano lesson to be over, listening to a podcast called “Who the Hell is Hamish”. It was about an Australian man who conned people out of huge sums of money under the guise of “can’t-lose” investments. I sat in the lobby of the apartment complex, lost in the story of Hamish when it occurred to me: Surely women must be pretty good at this too. Women are less threatening, PLUS we have the added bonus (?) of people always underestimating us. Especially powerful men.
At that point, the beginning of Meg’s character was born. A woman who played a role, sought out deserving men and then conned them out of their money, their reputations, and left them so bound by her lies they were unable to report her. Because Meg was always careful to never steal from them. Everything she ended up with was given to her willingly.
In order to research the mind of a con artist, I first turned to the book The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova. Aside from that, I avoided anything related to con artists for fear I might appropriate ideas subconsciously. But when the book was done I inhaled the shows, books and podcasts listed below, astonished to see that women are, in fact, just as good – if not better – at conning people as men.
Unravel Season 4 “Snowball“ The story of Greg Ward, a New Zealand man who falls in love with a beautiful California woman who ends up stealing more than a million dollars from his parents and their home. Greg’s brother, Ollie, tracks this woman down to find out how she did it, and why. The confrontation in the parking lot is superb.
Queen of the Con Seasons 1 and 2: This podcast focuses solely on female con artists. Season 1 focuses on Mair Smyth, the “Irish Heiress”. Johnathan Walten was Mair’s best friend, until he learned she was an international con artist. Season 2 focuses on Lizzie Mulder, a CPA in Orange County who used her position to steal from her clients. Both women are outrageous and bold, using charm and resourcefulness to get what they want from their marks.
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown – Pretty Things is the compelling story of a woman who returns to con a childhood friend who wronged her long ago.
Lucky by Marissa Stapley – This is the story of a woman who grew up alongside her con artist father, learning the trade at his side. But when she wins the lottery, she realizes the only way she can claim the prize is to out herself to law enforcement.
Confident Women by Tori Telfer – This is a nonfiction book that focuses solely on female con artists. The author posits the question “Don’t we all kind of wish we could be breathtakingly selfish sometimes?” For some reason, it comes as a surprise when we read about real-life female con artists, as if women are hardwired to be honest and forthright. Anyone who’s been through high school knows how wrong that statement is. Telfer’s book focuses on the women who aren’t afraid to lie and steal to get what they want.
The Confidence Game by Maria Konnikova – This book was never far from my side as I wrote The Lies I Tell as it goes into great detail about the psychology of con artists, both men and women. It’s filled with fascinating stories about the most famous con artists throughout time and how they continue to find willing victims.
Inventing Anna – Netflix’s big hit of the winter and spring of 2021-22 features a diabolical Anna Delvey (Sorokin) pretending to be a German heiress. She convinces her friends to loan her money, pay her bills, and she nearly cons the biggest bankers in New York to loan her millions of dollars. I was fascinated by how easily people wanted to believe her lavish lifestyle was real.
The Dropout – Hulu’s limited series about Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos was a fun and fast series to binge. I don’t know if I’d consider Elizabeth a true con artist in the same lane as Anna Sorokin, however there were many instances where Elizabeth lied and misled her investors in order to continue to enjoy the millions of dollars pouring into her startup.
Imposters – I loved this Netflix show that starts with a man realizing that the woman he married had disappeared with everything he owned and that she wasn’t who he believed her to be. In fact, she was part of a team of three people running cons facilitated by a “home office” of some kind. Her husband decides to partner up with another man she conned to track her down and get their money back. Highly entertaining!
I Care A Lot – The story of a woman who uses her job as a court-appointed guardian to steal from the patients under her care. She runs into trouble when one of her victims happens to be the mother of a well-connected mobster.
The list above should keep you steeped in the female con artist world – for a little while at least. Writing Meg, my female con artist in The Lies I Tell was incredibly fun, and while what she does isn’t exactly moral, my hope is that you will root for her anyway. If you learn nothing else from reading The Lies I Tell, or consuming any of the media I’ve suggested above, it’s that you should lock down your social media as soon as possible. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!