14 People Who Committed True Crime Scams That Were Really, Really, Really, Really, Really Shocking

We recently asked the BuzzFeed Community to tell us about the best true crime "scammer" story they'd ever heard, read, or seen. Here are their fascinating responses:

1.The bold and messy story of Lisette Lee, aka the "Pot Princess of Beverly Hills," a self-described model-socialite who scammed people into believing she was an heiress to the Samsung corporation (among many other things like being classmates with Paris Hilton, attending Harvard, and dating Leonardo DiCaprio), when in fact, she was actually trafficking thousands of pounds of marijuana across the United States.

Lisette Lee

"There was a Rolling Stone article about her years ago. She was Anna Delvey before Anna Delvey, from the fake rich socialite claims to the loyal entourage.

She claimed to be a K-pop star and the heiress to a Samsung fortune. She called herself the 'Korean Paris Hilton.' She pretended she was filming a music video when she had actually been trafficking marijuana. The DEA busted her in 2010, and in 2011, she was sentenced to six years in prison."


Channel 10 News / Via youtube.com

2.The shocking scandal around Sandra Anderson, a well-known trainer of cadaver dogs (yup, dogs who are specially trained to use their sense of smell to locate human remains) who faked evidence, planting bones and using her own body fluids, in cases she worked on.

A trained dog sniffing for evidence

"She was a celebrated trainer and handler of a search and rescue dog named Eagle. The issue is that she was planting bones and using her own blood to make it seem like Eagle had found evidence in several cases in Ohio and Michigan (where she was based).

They were even featured on an episode of Unsolved Mysteries and were invited to ground zero in New York after the September 11 attacks.

She pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and making false statements."


Azmanjaka / Getty Images/iStockphoto

3.The truly fascinating story of Doris Payne, aka "Diamond Doris," a 91-year-old jewel thief who used 22 aliases while stealing millions of dollars worth of jewelry from around the world and was arrested more than 20 times in countries like Greece, France, England, and Switzerland over the course of six decades.

Doris Payne on the news

"OMG. Let me tell you about the fantastic, always amazing Doris Payne. This woman was a jewel thief and an international one at that. Her attitude was brilliant and she kept stealing things well into her old age. There is a documentary — The Life and Crimes of Doris Payne. Watch. It. She is priceless."


WSB-TV / Via youtube.com

4.The truly awful story of Belle Gibson, an Australian con artist who lied about having cancer (among many other things) in order to scam people into believing she was a wellness expert.

Closeup of Belle Gibson


According to the Guardian, "Diagnosed with a brain tumor aged 20, Gibson had four months to live. She blogged her journey of radiotherapy and chemotherapy, treatments she shunned after eight weeks. Instead, she cut gluten and dairy and turned to oxygen therapy, craniosacral treatments, and colonic irrigation. Against all odds, she made it. Her followers were inspired. If Belle could make it, maybe they could too."

However, not long after, in an exclusive interview with the Australian Women's Weekly, Gibson admitted that it was all a lie. “No. None of it’s true,” she said.

In 2017, Gibson was fined $420,000 for "misleading and deceptive conduct," which eventually went up to more than $500,000. However, Gibson claimed she was unable to pay the fines. According to ABC Australia, it was revealed in 2019 that she had spent over $90,000 in two years including trips to Bali and Africa. Her home was eventually raided in 2020 and again in 2021 to try and recoup the unpaid fines.

60 Minutes Australia

5.The unbelievable Simon Leviev, aka the "Tinder Swindler," drama about an Israeli con artist who allegedly swindled what is believed to be more than $10 million from women around the world. The story was so wild that Netflix actually made a doc about it.

Simon on Tinder

"My current favorite is the Netflix doc The Tinder Swindler. That was beyond fascinating."


Simon Leviev was born Shimon Hayut, but changed his name to Simon Leviev, in order to make people think he was related to Lev Leviev, a known Russian-Israeli diamond oligarch.

He committed fraud-related crimes in his early 20s and then fled Israel to avoid going to jail for said crimes (although he was later convicted and sentenced to 15 months in prison for them in 2019).

He eventually landed in Finland and apparently began running a scheme where he would meet women on Tinder and then lead them on to believe he was a diamond heir. After dating these women for some time, they said he'd eventually scam them into thinking he was in danger and ask them to send him credit card information to get him out of trouble, and then "pay" them back with bad checks, fake watches, and failed bank transfers.

Inside Edition

6.The scandal around Martin Shkreli, aka "Pharma Bro," who became known for raising prices on the life-saving medication Daraprim (according to the New York Times, "a 62-year-old drug that is the standard of care for treating a life-threatening parasitic infection) from $13.50 a tablet to $750 (more than 4,000%) while he was the head of Turing Pharmaceuticals.

Martin Shkreli pointing

"Probably the most evil non-world leader/politician of all time (or at least past decades). 🤮"


Shkreli was also charged and convicted of securities fraud in 2017 for mismanaging two investment funds and sentenced to 7 years in prison in 2018. However, he was released from federal prison in 2022.

Drew Angerer / Getty Images

7.The ongoing fraud case of Thomas Girardi, a Los Angeles-based celebrity attorney who appeared in several episodes of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills alongside Erika Jayne, who he's currently in the process of divorcing. Girardi was disbarred in 2022 after accusations of embezzling $15 million in client money, and has since been placed under conservatorship after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's.

Closeup of Tom Girardi

"Right now, I'm really caught up in the Tom Girardi embezzlement/fraud case. It's ongoing and keeps getting messier and messier."


According to ABC7, "Some of Girardi's famous cases include representing Erin Brockovich and Bryan Stow, the San Francisco Giants fan who was severely injured in a 2011 incident in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium."

Jim Steinfeldt / Getty Images

8.The old story of Charles Ponzi, an Italian con artist active in the United Statues during the 1920s, who became so well known for a particular fraudulent money-making scheme that it would later be called a "Ponzi scheme" (although, for the record, he did not invent the practice).

Closeup of Charles Ponzi


In case you're wondering how it works, according to Time, "At its essence, a Ponzi scheme involves a phony investment in which early investors are paid with the investments of later investors making the enterprise appear legitimate."

Ponzi's particular fraudulent investment scheme involved postal reply coupons. He basically told investors that he could get these coupons abroad at a "discount" and then sell them at full price in the US. He promised investors 50% profit within 45 days and 100% profit within 90 days. Although his business seemed successful (especially to early investors), after some digging, it was found out that Ponzi was actually paying earlier investors back with money from new investors, not with profits.

Pictorial Parade / Getty Images

9.Speaking of Ponzi schemes, Bernie Madoff, who masterminded the largest Ponzi scheme in history estimated to be worth roughly $64.8 billion. Madoff, who was a former chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange, ran the decades-long scam that conned many, many people including celebrities like Steven Spielberg, Larry King, Kevin Bacon, and John Malkovich.

Closeup of Bernie Madoff

"Built a massive name for himself with his legitimate brokerage firm, all the while running a Ponzi scheme on the side that amounted to the largest in history. He somehow managed to not only con individuals but banks and the SEC for decades without getting caught. Had the market not crashed in 2008, who knows how long it would have lasted."


Mario Tama / Getty Images

10.The really weird story of Brandon Lee (real name: Brian MacKinnon), a 30-year-old Scottish man who, for a whole year in 1993, enrolled in high school and managed to convince everyone that he was just a regular 17-year-old kid.

Brandon Lee


It's not entirely clear why MacKinnon pulled this con, but according to an article in the Yorkshire Examiner, "Brian says he only took on the great con because despite getting grades good enough to win a place to study medicine at Glasgow University, he failed two exams while there and was expelled and made to leave the course in 1983. He claims the expulsion was unfair because he had been ill and the university didn't take it into account.

After losing his dad to cancer, Brian chose to enroll in high school again, renamed himself Brandon, and concocted a tragic backstory. He even submitted two references, from Canada and London, which were not checked."

Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images

11.The headline-grabbing Sam Bankman-Fried/FTX fraud case, which is currently ongoing. Basically, Bankman-Fried has been accused of defrauding investors in his (now-bankrupt) company FTX, a cryptocurrency exchange, causing billions of dollars in losses. At his hearing, Bankman-Fried pled not guilty to criminal charges, while a federal prosecutor at the hearing said, "Customer funds were also used and laundered through political donations, charitable donations, and a variety of venture investments."

Sam Bankman-Fried


Bankman-Fried's trial is set for October 2, 2023.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

12.The Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos saga, which saw Holmes rise to the top of Silicon Valley, being named Forbes' youngest and wealthiest self-made female billionaire in the US, then fall after it was revealed Holmes and her company had committed massive fraud.

Closeup of Elizabeth Holmes

"I’ve been following the Elizabeth Holmes/Theranos saga from the jump, and it is wildly interesting. How could anyone build something so huge and so influential to the world’s most powerful people…on nothing but a con? It’s fascinating psychologically. Even if you’ve watched the documentary and seen the series (which are both very well done), I highly recommend reading the book Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup by John Carreyrou."


Cnbc / NBCU Photo Bank / NBCUniversal via Getty Images

13.The story of Ramon Abbas, aka Hushpuppi, a popular Instagram influencer from Nigeria who became "one of the most prolific money launderers in the world," according to the FBI. Abbas basically leveraged his social media clout to run scams and commit crimes. In 2020, he was caught, arrested, and given to the FBI and eventually sentenced to 11 years in prison over his scams in 2022.

Ramon Abbas on the news

"Netflix should (and I hope they will) do a doc on Hushpuppi. He worked as a sort of middle-man and amassed millions upon millions of dollars."


TVC News Nigeria / Via youtube.com

14.And finally, the popularized Anna Sorokin, aka Anna Delvey, story about a young Russian con artist who pretended to be a wealthy heiress in order to be a part of New York's social and art scenes, and then proceeded to defraud $275,000 out of all kinds of businesses and people.

Anna Sorokin


Sorokin's story blew up when her (former) friend and photo editor/producer for Vanity Fair, Rachel DeLoache Williams, wrote about their experiences for a 2018 piece. That was soon followed up by the book My Friend Anna, and the Netflix miniseries Inventing Anna, which they paid Sorokin $320,000 for the rights to do.

Sorokin was sentenced to 4-12 years in prison in 2019 for her crimes, including grand larceny. After serving almost four years, she spent some time in immigration detention (for overstaying her visa), and was finally released in October 2022.

Timothy A. Clary / AFP via Getty Images