Jessa Crispin

This is the golden age of the grifter – and there’s a podcast for every con

The best of these is Trickster, about a man who was so good at conning the world that every couple of years we entirely forget he was a liar

A man in Yaqui indigenous dress. Charlatan anthropologist Carlos Castaneda claimed to have the ear of a Yaqui shaman called 'Don Juan'. Image: © Sacramento Bee /

Truly we are living in the golden age of the grifter. From Fyre Fest to the WeWork empire to Theranos to the personal development cult NXIVM, we see a charismatic person promising us endless growth, pleasure or wealth and we give them all our money.

The con-man economy doesn’t just stop at the men and women leading these frauds and profiting wildly from them. (Some of them go to jail, yes, but WeWork leader/charlatan Adam Neumann was paid many millions of dollars just to go away.) There is also now a podcast, usually sponsored by a security system, for every con.

Barbara Kruger’s shopping bag indicting shopping has become a collectible

There’s a ten-part series on the ‘orgasm cult’ One Taste (reviewed in The Spectator’s 6 February issue), an 11- part series on multilevel marketing wellness scams (The Dream), a ten-part series on the ‘Hollywood Con Queen’ who lured random actors, make-up artists and trainers to Indonesia for filmmaking jobs that didn’t actually exist and then had them driven around Jakarta to look at its main tourist attractions, like some terrifyingly insistent tourism bureau (Chameleon). There are so many con artists working today, it allows for a weekly show that takes on one new fraudster every episode, which would be fun except, like 98 per cent of all podcasts these days, it’s always excruciatingly just a couple of ‘comedians’ sitting around reading Wikipedia entries about specific cases to one another and laughing at their own bad jokes (Scam Goddess).

We love listening to these stories so we can think to ourselves, yeah, there’s absolutely no way I would be that dumb and fall for something like that, then we go and invest in Tesla stock believing we are acting entirely rationally.

The best of these podcasts has to be Trickster, about the grandfather of all these frauds, the man who was so good at conning the world that, even once it was revealed through an extensive journalistic investigation that he was a fake, every couple of years we entirely forget he was a liar, start reading his books again and have to re-remember that it’s all made up.

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