Scams, cults, schemes, & frauds

A reclist of good (and free!) listens, in a genre I’ve been diving into pretty hard lately.

Some are ongoing series; others have ended (officially or unofficially), but their back catalogs are still worth checking out.

MLMs/Pyramid Schemes

  • The Dream (podcast): Season-long deep dive into the social and legislative history of MLMs. Then a follow-up on the “wellness” industry. Great background knowledge to have for some of the other recs.
  • Life After MLM (podcast): In-depth, sympathetic, long conversations with survivors of pyramid schemes, from the obscure to the famous. The stories are personal and unique! The underlying grift is always exactly the same.
  • Sounds Like MLM But OK (podcast/Youtube): A tour of pyramid schemes. Not so much deep-diving here, it’s more about the rubbernecking.
  • Multi Level Mondays (YouTube series): Wide-ranging survey of MLMs. You probably knew about the makeup/clothing/vitamin ones, but did you know they’ve sold insurance, chocolate, ants, CBD, and dirt? (Literally! Dirt.)

Finance & Cryptocurrency Scams

  • Coffeezilla (Youtube channel): Finance scams! With a focus on crypto scams, especially recently. Videos are mostly short, all energetic, and really accessible for those of us without business degrees.
  • Crypto Critics’ Corner (podcast) Crypto scams, plus analysis of shady behavior that suggests “Scam Reveal on the horizon, it’s gonna be all over your timeline any day now, get the popcorn ready.” Always a fascinating listen. Gets a lot more technical/into-the-financial-weeds, so if you’re like me and don’t have much background in that already: binge Coffeezilla for the accessible explanations first.
  • Exit Scam (podcast): Or binge this first! Season-long deep dive into a career fraudster, how he pivoted from traditional Ponzi schemes to running a crypto exchange, and how it all came crashing down. Walks you through lots of backstory really well.

Other Tech & Business Scams

  • KickScammers (Youtube series): Stories of crowdfunding campaigns that were misrepresenting their products. Or ran off with the money. Or, in one memorable case…backers got the rewards, only to find out the device exploded. Can reach a bit too hard to zazz a story up (e.g. an ominous “The rewards…were never delivered” on a KS that didn’t fund, i.e. the creator wasn’t paid to deliver any rewards in the first place) — but there’s enough genuine drama, it’s fun even thru the spin.
  • The Great Fail (podcast): Officially tells the stories of failed businesses, but a ton of them were scams from the start (think Theranos, Juicero), or crashed because they *got* scammed (think Toys’R’Us).
  • Easy Prey (podcast): Less “history of individual scam incidents,” more “outlines of different scam genres, and how to stop/avoid them.” Plus interviews with people in security fields. Sometimes experts! Usually interesting. (Had a personal interview with John McAfee not long before his death, for anyone who wondered “okay, these stories sound unhinged, but what’s he like firsthand?”)

Romance & Interpersonal Scams

  • The Perfect Scam (podcast): 1-2-part overviews of different scam types, guest interviews with specific survivors. Focused on the ones most likely to target older people – romance scams, tech support scams, grandparent scams. The co-host of the early seasons is the Catch Me If You Can guy, so you also get regular tidbits about his IRL scamming history — up to you whether you think they’re more or less interesting than the main topic of each episode.
  • Fool Me Twice (podcast): Host’s mother gets romance-scammed, host does a season-long breakdown of how it went down. Then returns for a breakdown of a diamond scam (more specific than “the whole diamond industry”) (but there’s some of that too).
  • Something Was Wrong (podcast): Host’s friend gets elaborately scammed, host does a season of interviews with friends/family to unpick all the lies, one listener goes “whoa that happened to me too,” host sets out to interview *their* friends/family…It must be such a relief, when someone tells a multi-year web of lies to a big group of people, when a journalist-minded person comes in with fresh eyes and the goal to systematically unravel it all. (And it’s a good listen, too, since it’s 9 seasons and counting.)
  • Scientology: Fair Game (podcast): More long conversations, this time about the same cult. Abusive, fraudulent, always worse than you think. Hosted by two survivors, great at expositing all the weirdest details for those of us from “the real world.” (The podcast is a follow-up to their documentary TV show on the same topic — it’s not free, but if you have a streaming service that carries it, you might want to watch that first.)
Comedians Tell Their Friends About Scams Of All Kinds
  • Lie, Cheat & Steal (podcast): Two comedian friends take turns telling each other about famous liars, frauds, thieves, and cons. Some historical, some ongoing, all entertaining. With bonus episodes on their Patreon!
  • Scamtime (podcast): Two comedian friends take turns telling each other about famous scams. Funny, interesting, and they’re Canadian, which makes everything 25% more charming.
  • Scam Goddess (podcast): Comedian host tells her comedian friend guests about history-making frauds, ongoing cons, and reader write-ins about their non-headlining adventures in low-key scamming.
…got a favorite that isn’t listed here? Please tell me about it, I’m always looking for more.

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