Financial fraud has been around for centuries, destroying the lives and fortunes of countless victims around the world. But the most recent crop of con artists has an advantage that Charles Ponzi and even Bernie Madoff never dreamed of: social media. It may be the most effective tool for fraudsters since money itself.
"I wouldn't say it's changed the nature of fraud in America, but it's definitely made it more accessible to the average person," author and social media expert B.J. Mendelson told CNBC's "American Greed."
Take the case of Anna Delvey, who had much of New York society convinced she was a German heiress, a fashion icon and an up-and-coming entrepreneur. Former Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel Williams was among those taken in, and she told "American Greed" that Delvey's social media accounts were a big reason.
"I had seen Anna in photos on Instagram and saw that she had over 40,000 Instagram followers," Williams said. "She had a lot of artsy photos of travel and art and shopping, pictures with people in the fashion world."
The two became fast friends. Indeed, Anna had lots of friends in high places, and she managed to get many of them to pay for a lavish life of parties, high fashion and international travel. She even came tantalizingly close to securing more than $20 million in credit from a big New York bank to create an arts and social club to be called "The Anna Delvey Foundation."
Her flashy lifestyle and legions of social media followers notwithstanding, Anna was not Anna Delvey. She was Anna Sorokin, born in Russia. And while she did come to the U.S. from Germany, where her family had moved when she was a teenager, she was no heiress. She was a criminal. A New York jury convicted her on five out of seven criminal counts, including theft of services and attempted grand larceny. A judge sentenced her last year to four to 12 years in prison.