Con artists, scammers, and tricksters—the world has always been filled with people who pretend to be someone or something they’re not. Talented con artists can get away with lying for years, and some of these people have become the famous in legends, movies, or documentaries. The current state our online engagement means it’s easier than ever for us to fall for scams. But social media has also shown new ways that scammers can be caught, their lies brought to light, and their victims revealed. Fraudsters are out there: from the CEO of Theranos to the creators of disastrous festivals to robocallers telling you about getting an inheritance from a long-lost uncle. Cons are as fascinating as they are dangerous. These juicy books are about cons, lies, and frauds, so dive in…and watch out.
Patricia Highsmith’s psychological thriller is a classic for a reason. The main character, Tom Ripley, is a small-time scammer who gets the opportunity to travel to Italy to retrieve the son of one of New York’s wealthiest men. Through a thrilling story of murder and chaos, Ripley assumes the son’s identity and lives a life of luxury—when he’s not on the run. THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY has readers on the edge of their seats with every twist and turn and is as much about the consequences as it is about the crime itself. The book was made into a 1999 film, starring Matt Damon as Ripley.
Lee Israel was a biographer and writer who fell on hard times. Desperate to keep her home and some semblance of her life, Israel began forging letters from famous authors. Over the course of two years, she sold more than 300 letters to autograph dealers. In this rare perspective from the con artist herself, Israel is painfully honest about her feelings and failings. CAN YOU EVER FORGIVE ME is incredibly engaging and totally worth the read. Melissa McCarthy starred as Lee Israel in the 2018 movie.
There are many fascinating themes in THE GREAT GATSBY, including unrequited love and the power of wealth. But Jay Gatsby is a ultimately a fraud, presenting himself as a multimillionaire to the world in the roaring 20s. His goal is to get his long-lost love, Daisy, to fall in love with him. His false identity has fatal consequences, and watching the lies fall apart is haunting and painful. There’s a reason THE GREAT GATSBY is one of literature’s most widely read and beautiful classics.
Some consider it “the great American novel.” The story of the fabulously wealthy Jay Gatsby and his powerful love for the beautiful Daisy Buchanan is an exquisitely crafted tale that has been essential reading since it was published.
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Phoebe is the wife of Jake, a Wall Street magnate. She’s known him since they were teens and has no reason to doubt the solidity of the financial empire he’s built. When her husband’s business is revealed to be a Ponzi scheme, it all falls apart. Phoebe finds herself one of the many people that he has tricked and has to navigate the press, her family, and her relationship amid the chaos. This riveting novel delivers on the hopeless feelings of loss and the consequences of financial fraud.
The seemingly blind love of a wife for her husband as he conquers Wall Street, and her extraordinary, perhaps foolish, loyalty during his precipitous fall, is expertly explored in this “ripped-from-the-headlines story about love, ambition, and forgiveness” (PopSugar)—perfect for fans of the TV show Billions.
Phoebe recognizes fire in Jake Pierce’s belly from the moment they meet as teenagers. After they marry and he creates a financial dynasty, she trusts him without hesitation—unaware his hunger for success hides a dark talent for deception.
But when Phoebe learns her husband’s triumph and vast reach rests on an elaborate Ponzi scheme, her world unravels. While Jake is trapped in the web of his deceit, Phoebe is caught facing an unbearable choice. Her children refuse to see her if she remains at their father’s side, but abandoning him feels cruel and impossible.
From penthouse to prison, with tragic consequences rippling well beyond Wall Street, Randy Susan Meyers’s latest novel exposes a woman struggling to survive and then redefine her life as her world crumbles. “An engrossing emotional journey” (Kirkus Reviews) and USA TODAY bestselling author Diane Chamberlain raves, “With all the suspense of a thriller, The Widow of Wall Street quickly pulled me into the story and didn’t let me go until the last page.”
CATCH ME IF YOU CAN details the life and scams of Frank Abagnale, Jr. Starting in his teens, Abagnale passed himself off as a doctor, lawyer, teacher, and pilot and cashed approximately $2.5 million in forged checks before he was caught. CATCH ME IF YOU CAN provides fascinating details about Abagnale’s scams, while maintaining the thrilling tone of a crime novel. Abagnale’s skill and confidence are clear on the page; and he shows how susceptible people are to cons and the talents required of the perpetrator. An interesting and exciting book, CATCH ME IF YOU CAN is a must read and was turned into a successful film in 2002.
Frank W. Abagnale, alias Frank Williams, Robert Conrad, Frank Adams, and Robert Monjo, was one of the most daring con men, forgers, imposters, and escape artists in history. In his brief but notorious criminal career, Abagnale donned a pilot's uniform and copiloted a Pan Am jet, masqueraded as the supervising resident of a hospital, practiced law without a license, passed himself off as a college sociology professor, and cashed over $2.5 million in forged checks, all before he was twenty-one. The basis for the great Leo DiCaprio film, hopefully he's not flying your plane.
EMPIRE OF DECEPTION tells the story of Leo Koretz who defrauded people out of millions of dollars by getting them to invest in nonexistent oil wells. The book also discusses other scammers, and how the economic boom of the 1920s created the perfect environment for fraud. People had money to spend, and tricksters of all calibers rose to the occasion. EMPIRE OF DECEPTION describes some incredible scams but also gives an understanding of the circumstances (and people) who were taken in by them. It’s an interesting read, reminding us that no matter what, we’re never safe from being scammed.
Unlike the rest of the books on this list, TO RISE AGAIN AT A DECENT HOUR is about the scammed, not the scammer. This funny and moving novel features Paul O’Rourke, a regular guy with a regular job as a dentist and a regular obsession with the Red Sox. Paul is already concerned with figuring out who he is, when someone begins to impersonate him online. As Paul tries to track down the culprit, he uncovers things he never knew about himself—and some things he wishes he didn’t. This novel is about something that could easily happen to any of us in the age of social media, and Ferris treats it with disdain, concern, and humor. It’s a reminder that we are not always our real selves, and just how important it is to know who those selves are.