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Anna Sorokin is one of the most glamorous and infamous con artists ever. She bragged about being an heiress named “Anna Delvey.” Her young life took her across the world.
She was born near Moscow, and spent her adolescence in Eschweiler, Germany, then moved to London, Paris, and New York City. She bragged about her luxurious lifestyle and coveted designer fashion.
But she wasn’t a real heiress and she wasn’t actually rich. Her dad was a truck driver.
She tricked other people into paying for her hotels, restaurant bills, wardrobe, and private jet flights.
Michael Xufu Huang, one of her many victims, is an art collector and socialite who actually does have rich parents.
Rachel DeLoache Williams, one of her victims, was a photo editor for the prestigious Vanity Fair.
And, Kacy Duke, another well-known victim, has worked as a personal trainer for stars like Bruce Willis, Gwen Stefani, Lenny Kravitz, Julianne Moore, and Dakota Johnson.
Her most publicized targets are smart people with successful careers. They’re not your stereotypical fraud victims.
Question everything you think you know about victims of identity fraud and financial fraud. Anyone can be fooled.
I’ve spent years writing about social engineering and cybercrime, and yet, I’m as susceptible as anyone.
And that’s why Anna’s story makes me so angry, but there’s hope. You’re not powerless against these thieves.
There are things you can do to protect yourself from identity fraud and financial crime.
But first, let’s examine Anna “Delvey” Sorokin’s story a bit deeper.
Anna Sorokin. Creative Commons License
The Con Artist Who’s All Style, No Substance
Anna’s beginnings were a lot more humble than the lies that she told. She was born in the quaint working-class Moscow suburb of Domodedovo, where her father worked as a truck driver and her mother ran a convenience store. But by the time Anna was a teenager, her dad had some luck in his career. He got a job as an executive at a transport company in Germany. So the Sorokin family moved to Eschweiler in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Teenage Anna didn’t have an easy time learning German, but she became fascinated by the glamour depicted in fashion magazines like Vogue. She likely dreamt of covering New York Fashion Week and being invited to the Met Gala.
She did eventually make it to New York Fashion Week. But if Anna’s life was more like “The Devil Wears Prada,” she’d be in the role of the poorly paid assistant Andrea “Andy” Sachs, not the magazine editor-in-chief Miranda Priestly. (Interestingly, Priestly was based on another real-life Anna, Anna Wintour of American Vogue.)
Anna worked briefly as a public relations intern in Berlin. Then she moved to Paris, what many consider to be the fashion capital of the world. However, she was paid a mere €400 per month to intern for Purple, a rebellious but lesser-known fashion magazine.
€400 is only about $430, and there was no way that she could live on that. So her dad sent her money when she needed it. It may have been enough to pay rent on a modest apartment and buy groceries, but it was nowhere near the $60 million she later claimed to have made or inherited.
In an interview with The Daily Mail, her father Vladim Sorokin said, “She wanted to live like Paris Hilton but we weren’t able to give that to her… I’ve sent her thousands of dollars in the past.” Thousands, not millions.
In 2013, Anna finally got her dream to visit New York City and attend New York Fashion Week. She was definitely not in the front row of any shows though. She was probably in the Badgley Mischka equivalent of the nosebleed seats.
Although she was broke and still financially dependent on her parents, she was likely in some swanky circles already. She decided to quit Purple and stay in New York. She made new friends and she got to restart her life and identity from scratch.
She became “Anna Delvey,” a German socialite. She was going to start the “Anna Delvey Foundation,” an exclusive club for up-and-coming artists. It was going to be the place to see and be seen.
She planned to rent an entire six-floor historic building in Manhattan, the Church Missions House. She would create a fine art exhibit and host many trendy pop-up shops curated by artist Daniel Arsham.
The son of renowned architect Santiago Calatrava gave her planning advice, but her efforts to raise funds from some of the wealthiest members of New York’s social scene were unsuccessful.
She would never give up though.
DJ Elle Dee said that in 2014, Anna “Delvey” bragged at a party about how expensive her clothes were because that’s what wealthy socialites do, apparently.
Dee also said that other people usually covered Anna’s expenses. Anna presented a glamorous facade on Instagram and she also bragged about the $12,000 per month apartment she was going to rent.
By 2015, Michael Xufu Huang paid some of her airfare and hotel bills with the expectation of being reimbursed. Anna would make up lies saying she forgot her wallet or didn’t have the right credit card on her. She promised to pay him back as soon as possible. But when Huang realized that he would never see any money from her, he wisely cut all contact with her.
In 2016, while living in a room at The Standard, High Line, she met Vanity Fair photo editor Rachel DeLoache Williams. Once they were friends, Anna kept “borrowing” money from Williams.
Once when Williams was down to her last $400 in her bank account and she begged to be paid back, Anna made up another excuse. Williams said Anna was “demanding and rude to waitstaff.”
Anna soon met a personal trainer to the stars, Kacy Duke. Duke’s access to celebrities was likely a draw for her.
As with Huang and Williams, Duke would often pay Anna’s bills when she “forgot” her wallet or had other excuses.
Anna introduced Duke to Williams, and they’d often go to fine dining establishments together.
At least once Anna was finally made to pay a restaurant tab, and all of her credit cards were declined. Williams or Duke would reluctantly come to the rescue.
There was also a time when Anna “dined and dashed” at the restaurant at the Le Parker Meridien hotel. That led to an incident with the police while, unbeknownst to her, she was under investigation by Manhattan District Attorney for financial fraud.
Toward the end of Anna’s last months prior to arrest, she took a private plane to Morocco with Williams and Duke, and they stayed at the Kasbah Tamadot Hotel in Marrakesh, and at the Four Seasons in Casablanca. They were waited on hand and foot with a personal butler and drank very expensive champagne. In the end, the bill was footed by Williams.
With some intel from Williams, Anna was arrested by the New York Police Department on October 3, 2017. Anna was in jail and under trial for multiple larceny and fraud charges from that point until her sentencing on May 9, 2019.
She was ordered to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution to multiple banks and she was sentenced to 4 to 12 years in state prison. That was quite a hefty punishment! But at least Anna looked good while she was under trial and got lots of media attention. She had her attorney arrange a fashion stylist for her.
Plus, she got $320,000 to pay off some legal fees and restitution from selling Netflix and Shonda Rhimes the rights to make a show about her in June 2018. By February 2022, “Inventing Anna” debuted on Netflix.
Anna has been released from prison but was almost deported to Germany. Now she lives in New York City while the police monitor her with a tracking device on her ankle.
She’s forbidden from using social media, but she has planned gallery showings of her art. Her art dealer says the collection of her own drawings is worth “$400,000 to $500,000.” She has also talked about selling her own NFTs. That scam is so last season.
She has a deal to film a reality TV show tentatively titled “Delvey’s Dinner Club,” and she still hasn’t given up on the “Anna Delvey Foundation.”
Anna has no remorse. She said in an interview with 60 Minutes Australia: “I have no patience for people’s stupidity and I just don’t feel guilty. They did not strike me as too smart or too talented.”
Anna’s criminal activity included promising individuals and financial institutions that she’d pay them back while lying about assets that she didn’t actually have and using Microsoft Word to forge bank statements to receive expensive loans.
She exploited her friendships with powerful people to make her trustworthy to other powerful people. For example, architect Santiago Calatrava is very well respected and trusted in wealthy and influential circles. He designed beautiful building structures in many major cities around the world.
When Anna befriended his son, she wasn’t able to get money out of him. But she convinced him to help her plan parties. And she knew that when wealthy people saw Calatrava’s son helping her, they’d assume that she was trustworthy and one of them. A girl who’s that close to one of the most celebrated architects must have no problem paying off a half-million-dollar loan!
She would get other people in glamorous circles to trust her from that point. It’s similar to how stealing one piece of ID can get an identity thief other pieces of a victim’s ID.
Be very careful to keep all of your ID and sensitive information safe. Also, just because some powerful people trust someone, that doesn’t make that person actually worthy of trust. Err on the side of skepticism.
Understand that entire groups of people can be fooled by a con artist. Even if those people have doctorate degrees, fame, or lots of money. Identity fraud victims are both rich and poor, and both highly educated and high school dropouts. Absolutely anyone can be a victim of identity fraud.
An Aesop’s Fable For Everyone
Any of us can become victims of identity fraud and financial fraud.
Identity fraud is when a person’s sensitive credentials, such as their Social Security number or credit card number, are exploited by a criminal who uses their target’s identity to pretend to be them.
Many years ago when I opened a checking account with my bank, I needed to prove who I was. I used my birth certificate and passport, which each have a unique identifying number.
I also had to give my bank my social identity number, the equivalent of a Social Security number here in Canada.
When I replaced my birth certificate about a decade ago, I needed to tell the provincial agency the full names and birthplaces of my parents. My mother was born in a small town in Europe, so I’m very careful to never mention the name of it online. I also needed to tell the provincial agency my social insurance number. That’s a lot to prove my identity. Somehow, thieves get around all these hoops and hurdles to get what they want.
Identity fraud often leads to financial fraud. For example, a criminal could acquire a credit card in my name and with my identity if they acquire enough ID and sensitive information about me. There’s a reason why I don’t mention my mother’s maiden name or the name of the town where she was born on the public internet. That knowledge can be powerful in the wrong hands.
One of the most interesting jobs I’ve ever had in my career as a cyber threat researcher was when a Canadian bank assigned me to research crimes targeting their institution on the dark web.
The dark web (darknet) is a part of the web that’s only accessible through special encrypted proxy networks, namely Tor and I2P. In most of the world (including the US and Canada), the existence and general use of the Tor and I2P networks is perfectly lawful.
Using these technologies to commit actions that are illegal in any medium is when the law is broken. Because proxy networks like Tor anonymize people and servers, they’re an attractive means for crimes like selling illegal drugs and cyber attack services.
The dark web contains illicit markets where massive databases of stolen credit card data and sensitive identification credentials of all kinds are sold. Criminals even sell software to other criminals to help them engage in financial and identity crimes.
I found stolen credit card data connected to the bank I was working for. I also found phishing kits that were designed to help a criminal imitate the bank’s real website.
Because data breaches happen constantly, your sensitive data can easily end up on the dark web.
You’re Not Powerless! Here’s What You Can Do
As an ordinary individual, you don’t have full control over all of your data on the Internet and out there in the world. But there are measures you can take to significantly decrease your likelihood of becoming a victim of identity crime and financial fraud.
Think of it this way. As a motorist, you can’t eliminate the risk of a dangerous driver crashing into your car, but you can reduce your risk by being an attentive driver, being cautious, wearing your seat belt, and obeying traffic laws.
First, acknowledge that you can be scammed by a con artist/threat actor. Thinking you’re too smart to be fooled ironically makes you even more susceptible because overconfidence will make you let your guard down.
Scrutinize emails, texts, and call you receive from strangers or people claiming to know you. In other words, don’t be too trusting.
Second, if you use the Internet a lot to pay bills or carry out sensitive transactions, get a password manager such as Bitwarden or 1Password.
It’s crucial to use a password manager so you don’t have to remember the passwords to any of your online services. The password manager can generate a unique strong password for each of your accounts.
Password managers encourage users to create long complicated passwords and to not repeat any of them. Shorter passwords are much faster to crack. And repeating passwords leads to credential-stuffing attacks – that’s when an attacker uses a password that was breached to log into the victim’s other accounts.
Third, mitigate man-in-the-middle attacks with a good VPN. A Virtual Private Network encrypts your data as it travels through the internet. So if an attacker performs a man-in-the-middle attack on your data in transit (when you’re connected to Wi-Fi, for example), all they’ll get is a bunch of scrambled gibberish that they can’t understand.
Finally, subscribe to identity theft monitoring services that can alert you when there’s an indication that a criminal may have stolen your sensitive data. A timely alert can help you stop an attacker in their tracks before they can do more damage to your identity and bank account.
Aura provides a convenient multi-faceted personal cybersecurity solution that takes care of all of these matters for you and also adds antivirus, a VPN, safe browsing protection, and anti-spam protection for a low monthly fee.
You can greatly reduce the risk of life-ruining financial fraud and identity crime, and be alerted whenever something looks suspicious.
Not every con artist is as famous or glamorous as Anna Sorokin, but you can make yourself a very unattractive target.
Unauthorized credit card charges were so last season.
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