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Trust but Verify: Lessons Learned from “Inventing Anna”

If “fake it till you make it” were a person, she would be fake German heiress Anna Sorokin, a.k.a. Anna Delvey. Netflix’s latest viewer obsession Inventing Anna, created by Shonda Rhimes, tells the “completely true, except for the parts that are totally made up,” story of Anna’s elaborate get-rich-quick schemes. The show is based on Jessica Pressler’s 2018 New York magazine article “How Anna Delvey Tricked New York’s Party People.” It stars Julia Garner (Ozark), Anna Clumsky (My Girl), Laverne Cox (Orange is the New Black), Katie Lowes (Scandal), Arian Moaeyd (Succession), and Alexis Floyd (The Bold Type).

Between 2013 and 2017, Anna, a Russian-born, broke, 20-something woman with caviar dreams and champagne tastes, convinced luxury New York hotels, private equity firms, banks, elite law firms, and the most influential members of elite society that she had a $60 million trust fund. Throughout the show, Anna racks up tens of thousands in unpaid hotel charges, perfects the art of dining and dashing, steals a private jet, and uses various other shady methods to get everyone else to pay for her lavish lifestyle. You might be wondering how she could possibly pull off scamming New York’s most sophisticated businesses and socialites. Simple: She claimed to have issues with her credit cards, always swore that the check was in the mail, and cried that daddy periodically cut off her access to her trust fund. 

Anna’s most ambitious scheme involved her attempts to secure multimillion-dollar loans to finance the “Anna Delvey Foundation,” a private members’ club and art foundation. To secure these loans, Anna submitted false documents, failed to provide the source of alleged assets, and fabricated a nonexistent business manager. Thankfully, the due diligence process at the financial institutions prevented Anna from actually getting the millions she had hoped for. Unfortunately, she still was able to secure a $100,000 overdraft allowance from a bank and promptly overdrafted her account to make a good-faith deposit to an investment group to keep the rouse going. I’ve got to hand it to her: Robbing Peter to pay Paul was her specialty.

Anna’s friends were tragically not immune to her lies. In episode 6, Anna convinced her friends Rachel DeLoache Williams, Vanity Fair photo editor, and Kacy Duke, a celebrity personal trainer and videographer, to take a lavish trip to Morocco with her. Inspired by the Kardashians, Anna insisted that the group stay at La Mamounia, a luxury resort with a $6,000-per-night price tag. In typical Anna fashion, her credit card was conveniently nonfunctional when the bill was due. Anna left Rachel to foot the $62,000 bill—more than Rachel made in a year. In a terrible twist of fate, Rachel was forced to give the resort her Vanity Fair credit card. She believed Anna was a true friend and would repay her for the charges before her employer ever found out. I bet you can guess how that turned out.

Ultimately, the real-life Anna was convicted of 4 counts of theft of services, 3 counts of grand larceny, and 1 count of attempted grand larceny in April 2019. Anna was released from prison in February 2021 and was promptly rearrested by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) 6 weeks later for overstaying her visa. She is currently in custody awaiting possible deportation to Germany.

Employer Takeaways

What can employers learn from the antics of a wannabe heiress? Due diligence is key. One of the best tools in an employer’s arsenal is the background check. Employers can use background checks to verify the accuracy of applicants’ credentials; reduce the risk of employee violence, theft, and other crimes of dishonesty; and reduce liability for negligent hiring. The most common preemployment background checks are reference checks, past employment and education verification, credit checks, driving records checks, and criminal history checks.

Employers may choose to conduct background checks themselves or use information from a third party or consumer reporting agency. If an employer chooses to use a consumer reporting agency, it must follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act’s (FCRA) rules. The FCRA requires the employer to notify the applicant it is obtaining a consumer report, get written consent before obtaining the report, provide the applicant with a copy of the consumer report and written summary of consumer rights before taking any adverse actions based on the result of the report, and provide the applicant with an adverse action letter after taking the action.

Employers should note that many states have additional state laws concerning background checks they must follow.

Another useful tool employers can use to protect against less-than-scrupulous employees is a detailed travel and business expense reimbursement policy. That policy should clearly detail which expenses are reimbursable, as well as set out the procedures employees should follow to be reimbursed, including deadlines to submit receipts and whether advanced approval is required for certain expenses or amounts. Finally, the policy should describe the consequences for abusing the policy.

This above all: Trust but verify.

Alyce Ogunsola is a senior associate at FordHarrison.