Previous: How To Save 7 Figures By The Time You Retire
Next: Kim Kardashian, Kylie Jenner, & “Feminist” Consumerism



View count:119,032
Last sync:2024-07-04 23:45
Chelsea talks with writer and producer Ryan Houlihan all about the scammers infiltrating our lives, from reality stars touting MLMs to celebrity cults to crypto scams.

Thanks for sponsoring this episode of The Financial Confessions!

Find Ryan here:

Debunking the Hollywood Medium:

A Dietician on All In by Teddi Mellencamp:

Join this channel to get access to perks:

The Financial Diet site:

Hello, everyone.

It's your girl, Chelsea Fagan, founder and CEO of The Financial Diet and person who just loves talking about money back with an all new episode of The Financial Confessions. But before we get started, I wanted to thank Avast for supporting today's episode of The Financial Confessions.

Avast's new all-in-one solution, Avast One, helps you take control of your safety and your privacy online. Learn more about Avast One at And today is a very exciting milestone for TFC because we have in-studio our first ever-- first ever? --first ever three-time guest.

He's been on season one. Then we had him again on season two. A lot of you guys were big fans of that one particularly because it came at what I believe to have been the bleakest moment of the past couple of years.

To set the stage for his appearance on season two, it was May of 2020. We were 10 feet apart in a room here at the TFD office. My husband was out of the country for an indefinite period of time.

New York City was bleak. And many tales were being told of its inevitable decline into Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. And it was just a dark, dark time.

But we got together, my guest tonight today, and we talked all about the ways in which the world of aspiration, and influencers, and social media, and all of these things were changing in light of a world where we really honestly couldn't do all that much aspirational stuff. In the two years since, a lot has changed for the better and for the worse. But one thing has remained the same and that is that our guest today is one of my dearest friends.

He is writer, tech journalist, purveyor of fantastic articles and video essays on all kinds of fraudsters, and just generally all around really cool person to talk to, my dear friend, Ryan. Hello. Welcome back.

I'm so happy to be here. Oh, my god. We're excited to have you and excited to have you in, as I mentioned in the intro, a slightly better time for us all.

Yeah, slightly. Ever so slightly. Welcome.

For those who may not be familiar with your oeuvre here on The Financial Confessions, who are you? I've had many lives. I worked in many a job.

I've worked in TV. I've been a writer. I've been an editor in a magazine.

I do drag. I've done live comedy events. I've been a Real Housewife.

Not a real, real housewife, but a fake real housewife. And now, I guess I'm just Chelsea's friend hanging out. Hanging out.

And what is particularly exciting about having Ryan with us today is, as I mentioned, he is launching his own YouTube channel after many years making truly fabulous video essays for other people. And we'll talk about that a little bit later. But he's also going to be doing one of the most exciting things that we're doing here at TFD.

A little bit later in the year, we're launching a marquee podcast. It's a deep dive podcast co-hosted by Ryan and another personal finance friend of ours to be revealed. It's called Too Good To Be True.

And what is it going to be, Ryan? It is going to be about the financial scams and the con artists that will dot your financial future and try their best to break their way into your financial habits. We're talking in a lens.

We're talking crystals. We're talking-- Ponzi schemes. Ponzi schemes.

We're talking housewives. We're talking a lot of things. Yeah.

It's going to be really exciting. So you guys will be hearing more about that in the next few months here at TFD, but that's one of the things we're super excited about. And since so much of what Ryan covers in his own work and what he's going to be covering with us is all about the duplicitous and fraudulent world of financial scams, especially as they pertain to more public figures, I thought nothing better to talk about than the overarching concept of financial scams because with all of the adapted for TV series we have out right now, it sometimes feels like we're in a golden age of scams.

Between the scams, and the cults, and the murders, we're having a rough one out here in the nonfiction land. But yeah, no. It is the golden age for scams.

I honestly think since-- I would say 2014, 2015 is when that trend began. And now we're out here-- people are straight up just telling other people that they're con artists. And people love it.

They'll cheer them on. It was in the post today that they want Anna Delvey in Real Housewives. I hate that my first reaction is I would like to see it.

She's qualified. Sure is. But that's the thing.

So right now, let's name them. So we got-- just right now on TV, we have WeCrashed. We have The Dropout.

We have Inventing Anna. What else do we have? There was the Beanie Baby one that was on Amazon.

That one was pretty good. There was Bad Vegan. Yeah.

There's been LuLaRich. LuLaRich and The Eyes of Tammy Faye, which is about her husband being a con artist. Yeah.

And then we pivot over to reality. We have Jen Shah. We have Erika Jayne.

Yes, we do. We have so many. And the thing about all of these people-- OK, so you have the Housewives.

Jen Shah is probably going to prison. That girl's still on the show. And we're still loving her.

We have WeCrashed that is all about how just unbelievably toxic, and manipulative, and fraudulent the business was. And my husband has a membership to WeWork right now. That man is at a WeWork as we speak.

An American institution. But it's just the degree to which we feel culturally fascinated with these scams and the degree to which they are being exposed feels like it's at warp speed. And yet the consequences have never felt less severe.

Yeah. I think there's an aspirational quality to-- there's a power fantasy part of it too. We all want to see rich aspirational people on TV sometimes.

And we want the power fantasy of what if I just did whatever I wanted? What if everybody had to-- what if everybody fell for my thing? And you watch it.

And there is a level of feeling clever. When you watch Catch Me If You Can, for example, that's a movie where the fun of it is to watch how inventive he can be. But I think we're living now in a world of capitalism and celebrity where you're so incentivized to have stuff like that to show off that the extractive financials of it all or seem so-- I guess it seems like the one way out for a lot of people because it seems like if you play the game fair, you're not going to win.

So you might as well cheat. And then if the cheater is charming, you're like, ha ha. Look at that guy.

Well, you're tapping into probably what is one of the bigger scams going right now at scale, which is cryptocurrencies and NFTs, which are fundamentally predicated on this idea that the old system cannot and will not work for you, so you might as well take a gamble with this new system no matter how dubious it might be. Yeah and a lot of the arguments for cryptocurrencies are well, look at the wealth redistribution. So-and-so made so much money so quickly.

People made a lot of money in pyramid schemes. They sure did. And they still are.

And they still are. People have made a lot of money in Ponzi schemes. I think when we're in such a bleak reality, I think people want to see other people succeed.

And they don't want to resent success. And they want to cheer on people for doing well. And I think there's also a whole personal responsibility angle where it's like if you get tricked, that's your fault.

And it's like, I actually don't think that is your fault. I think it's the fault of someone that tricked you. Morally, that person is culpable, not you.

So one of my favorite video essays that you made that I've showed to everyone is a video essay. A video essay, I think, is often a very editorial medium here on YouTube. And this is actually a lot more journalistic.

You were actually sitting in the room with him and got a lot of sort of original material for it. But you did a video exposing Tyler Henry, the boy psychic, the Hollywood medium. We both jumped up with the air quotes.

For those who don't know, this is a guy who has a show on E! where he pretends not to have any awareness of the very, very famous people that he's doing psychic readings on. He's a very young young gay guy who-- Former woman. He's like, I've never heard of reality TV.

What are movies? And then he'll run into Snooki and know every fact about her, which is amazing. What an amazing ability.

Even as far as psychics go-- and you do address in your video a lot of the Barnum effect, and the cold readings, and how these things are really done to make it seem as though these people have knowledge. But even beyond the normal ability to say vague things about people's lives and have them resonate, he's interviewing people for whom all of this information is readily available, in many cases, in their own memoirs. And so you did this video that I think was incredibly effective at dismantling the whole thing and even cornered him on the fact that he wouldn't give you a reading, which I wonder why.

And if you read it, there's also an accompanying piece that should still be up even though the outline is now rest in peace. If you google the piece, there's a larger piece with a lot of the facts linked and laid out. And it's kind of wild.

I sat with him and said, can I have a reading? No. Why not?

Well, I'm not ready to. Oh, OK. Well, could we do a validation study?

Pick a day. Pick a time. Pick a place.

You come up with the test. Let's do it. No.

Interesting, very interesting. OK. If I had magical powers, I'd be using them left and right.

No kidding. But so you make this video. It's got in the millions of views, and yet it doesn't even make a dent.

He has a Netflix special. He has a Netflix special. Yeah.

What is your feeling on that with him specifically given how far you went to sort of break it down? I have learned my lesson about trying to correct people with facts, or figures, or even research. I do it.

And I will present it to the willing parties. But there are people who are not in good faith reading the piece. They do not want to believe anything you say that is against him or any psychic, or any con artist because they really need it to be true.

They need this to be true. It's the same thing when you talk to people who are in pyramid schemes. I have a family member who's been deep in a pyramid scheme for a long time.

And you can try your hardest to talk them down. You can show them videos. You can give them resources.

But ultimately, emotionally, they want to believe that it's all going to work out, and that they're a business babe, and they are at the top of their game, and anybody who's talking otherwise is jealous or not working hard enough. And you can emotionally believe any-- That's kind of how I'm right now feeling about politics and economics, which is just like, if you want the information, I am so excited to give it to you. If you don't, well, I guess we'll see where that gets us.

And I think a lot of it with psychics, especially-- Henry, especially, it's so emotional. If you lost someone, and you felt this was the only way you could ever speak to them again, you're not going to take that end right. You can't.

You have to believe. Well, it's interesting you mention a loved one being deep into an MLM. And man, I had a family member who was very close to getting into this insane one where you have to buy a $5,000 water filtration system to get involved.

Oh. I've heard about the water filtration system. Don't worry.

And I swear to god. I felt like freaking Gandalf and the Balrog. I was pulling her out of the bed, and I was like, don't you dare buy that water filtration system.

And she didn't. But it could have gone either way. I could have a family member $10,000 plus-- five figures in debt on this MLM.

And you mentioned having a loved one doing that. And when you look at a lot of these scandals and scams, MLMs being another example-- and this is something I've gotten a little bit of pushback on saying in the past in terms of see the con artist at the top. But then there's a whole subsection of people who are at once probably victim, but also perpetrator.

It's a lot like a cult where everyone involved, besides the person at the top obviously-- everyone involved is a little bit the bad guy and a little bit the victim. And it's tough because it's so hard to pick apart. And especially, probably, those people do go through an enormous amount of trauma.

And it mixes those worlds. And at some point, I think, part of them doesn't care-- At least I can say from my personal experience, the people that I know who are in pyramid schemes, at some point, they don't care if they're a good person or a bad person. It just needs to work out.

This needs to end well. I have to prove it. We have to come to some good conclusion because if not, what does it say about you?

And I it's hard because you can contend with it on every level. But ultimately, it's an emotional decision that people are making. And I don't want to say people choose to be a victim.

But if you are perpetrating harm against people regularly and also having that harm perpetrated on you, and you're in that cycle, you are you have to at some level be aware that what's happening is a vicious cycle because it just keeps repeating. And I think it's different, too, with an MLM because there are paper trails everywhere. It's not like, oh, I just believe in aliens.

It's like, you can clearly see the numbers are not going in your or anyone at the bottom's favor. And that should give you pause. But I think, again, if you take it back to the crypto and NFT stuff, like there-- listen, I guess I'm just going to be bringing this video up every day now on TFD.

But Dan Olson's seminal video, The Problem With NFTs, it is hard for me to understand how anyone could watch that and not walk away thinking, well, hard to argue with that. It's right, but I do feel like there's that-- So there's that psychological effect from-- what is this? A psychologist wrote a book, I believe, in the 1970s or late '60s following a cult.

And it was called When Prophecy Fails. And it was about a doomsday cult that was essentially betting big on the world ending at a very specific date, which they rarely commit to because of how easily it can be disproven. Or just reschedule.

A lot of them will just be like, hey, I looked at the runes. Ends up it was September. So I'll see you guys in nine months.

I rearranged the crystals, so it didn't happen. The members didn't just become more committed. The cult actually grew after that happened.

I think it's Leon Festinger is the name of the psychologist who wrote that. But either way, it's hard not to look at what's happening with things like NFTs, and crypto, and these MLMs and see a little bit the same phenomenon. It's interesting because people will point at crypto and be like, but the line keeps going up.

The numbers are going up. I'm fine with that. And it's, well, who controls the numbers?

And for how long will those go up? Especially with something like you were saying a cult where the doomsday thing doesn't come true, it becomes its own cost fallacy where you're like, I've put so much into this. I might as well keep going.

But that's very much not true. It's like when you watch a TV show, and you watch two seasons, you're like, there's eight seasons, and I don't like this show, so two seasons in. Guess we're starting season three.

You don't have to do that. You don't have to finish it. You can walk away at any time.

But if you tell everybody the world is going to end, and it doesn't end, and then you've got some corrective number or whatever, if anything, it might make you even more of a zealot to be like, well, I know I'm right this time. People don't want to be wrong. The sunk cost fallacy is my exact relationship with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills.

It's been six seasons that that show is not good. And every season, I'm like, but I've come this far. Maybe this time, it will be different.

I had to have a talking to with myself about Vanderpump Rules about the same thing. Oh, no. I've still never seen it.

First two seasons, classic reality TV. You can't get any better than that. Talk about scams and con artists.

Well, that brings me to The Real Housewives question. For those of us who are fans of not just Real Housewives, but of reality TV in general-- and listen, if any of you in the comments are going to be like, I don't come here to listen about Real Housewives, goodbye. Leave the show now.

For those of us who do watch it and are compelled by it, to see the sort of ouroboros of how the women's drive to have this aspirational life has caused one after the other, after the other to engage in all kinds of levels of fraud and scammery-- and I mean, we have the Erika Jayne's and the Jen Shah's. But also, if you look at their cast, several of the other people involved in MLMs, being sued by former employees, all kinds of incredibly fraudulent behavior. And now it seems like although, occasionally you'll see consequences here and there, it's almost become something that makes the cast member even more bankable.

Yeah. I think Jen Shah is the perfect example of, well, I guess infamy is better than not being famous to her. It gives you a built-in storyline and all this stuff.

I think a lot of white-collar crime is completely ignored. And these are people for whom they refuse for-- no part of their life will be ignored. They're going to post it.

They're going to put it on Bravo. They're going to talk about it on camera. And some people put themselves out there that-- I think a lot of the time, you see the house husbands look a little like squeaky like, are you sure we're going to be on camera doing this, Teresa?

You know what I mean? Really? We're going to-- but I think some of the worst behavior isn't the headline makers.

We got Teresa. I forgot the two that have been to jail for a collective five years. Continue.

I think some of the ones that don't actually end up making headlines have done some of the worst stuff. It's becoming expected, I think, culturally in this country for a certain class of people to be breaking the rules or bending the rules. At least just doing tax fraud is the basic of-- creative accounting are the basics of being a real housewife.

It's a self-selecting group of people. You have this group of people that want to be on TV and have everything that they do either mocked, or praised, or taken apart. They're willing to subject their entire personal life, generally, their children, their marriages, anything going wrong in their marriages, relationships with their parents.

They're willing to give it all up to the audience in order to be seen and to have a level of fame, and a level of fandom, and response on social. You can become famous a variety of ways. But these are people who the just add water fame was enough for them.

And that's not judging people. I think there's a lot of reality stars I think are great, and do great work, and that I think are really nice people. But it is a self-selecting group.

And I think you're going to find in that group of people, people who are thrilled for a shortcut or people for who their scruples are [? un ?] because there's a lot of behavior also going to be asked to [? do ?] producers to people that you like, or friends you've just made, or people who are vulnerable. But it makes for good TV. It makes for drama.

It makes for discussion and water cooler moments. And if you're down to do all of that, you're probably down for a lot of stuff in life. Again, I don't want to besmirch the name of every Real Housewife.

There are lots of nice ones. It's just that the scammers-- a couple of bad apples spoils the bunch. But there are some Real Housewives for whom-- I love Kyle Richards.

I think Kathy Hilton is very funny on that show. However, when you look into the Hilton family, and there is a lot of interesting some interesting financials. Have you read House of Hilton?

Yes, I have. [INAUDIBLE] referring to specifically, but I didn't want to get down in the muck right away. TFD Book Club, House of Hilton. Please be House of Hilton.

Treat yourself. There is so much happening. But you know what's interesting?

You mention how some of the ones that get the least press are doing the worst stuff. And I have to say, the one that I find to be the most compelling in that regard is Teddi Mellencamp because she's very disliked in the fandom, for those who are not familiar. But for what I consider to be the most superficial reasons.

They're like, she's boring. She's annoying. Here's what Teddi Mellencamp does as her actual job.

She has an MLM where the product is berating clients by text message to eat less than 500 calories a day so that they lose weight. You pay thousands of for this service. Thousands of dollars for it.

You get bullied. And everything that you do is picked apart or criticized. And you're encouraged through motivational insults to build yourself your own eating disorder, which I think it's fair if you look at the actual amount of calories you're eating, very much disordered eating.

We'll link you to a great expose on this by a nutritionist. But is it nutritionist or a dietician that's the certified one? A dietician is certified.

Well, we'll link you to a really great breakdown of this by an actual dietician. But suffice to say, this is a program where you move up in the ranks, become a coach. You do all of this very typical MLM structure stuff.

But unlike yoga pants or essential oils, you're having women-- mostly women. --beneath you, send pictures of the scale every day, and report in to you about when they broke down and had an Oreo. And you berate them. And that, for whatever reasons, despite being fairly open knowledge-- and again, a business that's being marketed actively and openly has never crested.

So my question is for you, what do you think separates the scams that do really break out and the ones that go ignored? It's tough because it's like, who do people listen to? People come out of the woodwork when someone gets on reality TV.

And they'll say, gossip stories or whatever about how this person's a horrible and X, Y, Z. And most of it goes ignored. But what I thought was really interesting was that Teddi Mellencamp was on TV at the same time that NXIVM documentary was airing on HBO.

That was explaining how NXIVM basically functioned exactly like Teddi Mellencamp's all in MLM business. And I thought the reason that that was getting attention and Teddi's didn't was that it had an upper-level girlboss-type white woman who was willing to turn on the organization, and spill their secrets, and tell everything that went on, and verify stories that had come out. But Teddi hasn't had that yet.

She's kept her teams on lock. There hasn't been anybody to come out and be the whistleblower who people believe or find credible because if you come out of her system, and you don't look the way that Teddi looks, she can say, well, you failed. And you're a complainer.

And you just want your money back. But it's not my fault you failed the program. But if the program is incredibly abusive and doesn't work, it's a catch-22.

And so what, the producer is going to fight with her and try to keep her on the show despite trying to expose her? You have that push-pull like you had with Mary. Ooh, Mary Cosby of Salt Lake City.

Speaking of cults. She runs a church that believes she is an effigy of God, I think is how she ended up working it. She's some form of a deity and deserves to be praised and worshipped.

She also owns a-- Married to her grandfather. Married to her grandfather, we should say, her actual-- her step grandfather, who's the only grandfather she ever knew who raised her. And she owns a company that will refinance your mortgage in case you want to donate to her church and don't have any cash on hand, which is just such an interesting thing for the first lady of a church to run.

And man, did Andy Cohen make a deal with the devil when he went to Salt Lake City because she's the third most scandalous person on that show. By far. And what's interesting is that the minute that it began being brought up on the show, she ran because they brought in somebody to finally start spilling some of her secrets.

And he passed away. And so they didn't have any way to really nail her down at the reunion or anywhere else. And she knew the producers were onto her and wanted to maybe play out the storyline of what is her church really like.

And she ran for the hills. And I think they now know that unless it comes out in the public involuntarily and they decide to use the show to get people to them or to try to fix the scam-- you see that a lot. Jen Shah is a perfect example where she's trying to use marketing speak and the existence of fake Facebook to make excuses for spear phishing old and vulnerable people into credit card scams, which it's like, man-- Well, the Mary Cosby thing-- I've developed a theory on these scams over the years, especially as they pertain to public figures who otherwise have the means to pay for aggressive lawyers and to spin a PR narrative.

I have a feeling that when they really tuck tail and run a la Mary Cosby, that's when we're getting into tax fraud because generally speaking, if you are a rich, powerful, privileged white person, one of the very few things that will actually send you to prison is tax fraud. Yeah. Don't mess with the IRS.

Don't mess with the IRS. They get their cut. And I think historically, for example, what ultimately got Teresa and Joe Giudice in jail was in large part tax fraud.

And so I have a feeling that maybe, for example, Teddi Mellencamp's business is an affront to humanity, but it's probably filing its taxes correctly and probably categorized directly, whereas Mary Cosby's church having people refinance in order to give her money is probably playing around with the taxes. Yeah. And it's interesting, too, because there are certain organizations, which have been deemed untouchable, even by the IRS.

You look at your scientologies. And even NXIVM got away with it for a long time. But what's interesting to me is that the existence of something like that means that everybody thinks they're the exception.

And so a lot of these people end up on TV because they think it's never going to happen to me. I've clearly been so good at this. I'm a genius.

And now they want me on reality TV. I couldn't I couldn't fail. I'm a charmer.

And I think when they talked to [? Alan ?] [? Rein, ?] you're right.

I think that that's when they realized that maybe, maybe this might catch up with me. And I'd rather keep the money than the fame, which maybe that speaks to their character. No.

I'm just kidding. I mean, maybe it does. But on the subject of protecting yourself against all kind of nefarious behavior, especially while online, I want to take a second to thank today's sponsor, Avast.

As a digital-first media company and as you can tell from today's episode, digital safety is incredibly necessary in all forms and is something very important to us here at TFD. Today's sponsor, Avast, has been a global leader in cybersecurity for more than 30 years and is trusted by over 435 million users. Avast empowers you with digital safety and privacy no matter who you are, where you are, how you connect, or your budget.

Avast One offers both free and premium options. Learn more about Avast One at And just to highlight a few of their amazing features, they, of course, have antivirus software, which is award-winning and helps you stop viruses and malware from harming your devices.

They also have Smart Scan, which will find and remove viruses already present and resolve the most common privacy and performance issues through an optimization scam, something we have to use frequently here at TFD because you never know what's hanging out on that internet you're on. Avast prevents over 1.5 billion attacks every month. And with Avast One, you can confidently take control of your digital presence without worrying about viruses, phishing attacks, ransomware, hacking attempts, and other cyber crimes.

Learn more about Avast One at And now let's get back to our juicy chat with Ryan. OK, you mentioned it a couple of times.

We got to go there, NXIVM. Now, I will say-- You mean Scientology with the label scratched off and quickly replaced with like a metallic Sharpie of something else? Yeah.

Well, what truly blew my mind about the NXIVM thing was two things. One was-- The volleyball. [LAUGHTER] OK. I swear to god, when we talk about living rent-free in our heads-- the scene where Keith Raniere meets Allison Mack, and he's in that disgusting sweat band, and she's like, cannot choose a side.

It takes everything in my ethical soul not to do a live show where I just perform that as a one man, one woman-- Note to self, future show here. Comedy clubs. So the two things that really jumped out at me about the whole NXIVM story-- and to be honest, again, we did actually have some real consequences on the part of Keith Raniere and Allison Mack.

We love to see it. But what jumped out when it was really trending that A, very few people were talking about the fact that it was very fundamentally at its core, an MLM. Yes.

What struck me when we were watching, at least the first one, the HBO series, The Vow, which came out, made a huge, huge splash-- aside from the MLM factor was that we were following two of the very, very high up members, which if you look at a typical MLM structure-- I'm sorry. We can debate all we want about the degree to which people who are actively recruiting others in MLM schemes are culpable, but there is a small cabal at the top. All those [BLEEP] should be in jail.

And what was unbelievable about The Vow is that they were able to narrate the story as protagonists. And later in other NXIVM shows, you did get a much more critical view of the two narrators. But that, the degree to which people were taking them on as sympathetic storytellers, despite the obviously terrible stuff they were doing at the very top-- And continuing to live with the wealth they gained via the scam.

Reported live from their glamorous Vancouver townhomes-- I mean, they were like, why aren't we on the front page of The New York Times while sitting in a glass and chrome encrusted tower in the sky. And it was a little tough because they had been burning people, branding them. Burning them literally.

So as a former TV producer and someone who's worked in TV, do you think that was just a question of them giving unprecedented access to the producers of the show, or do you think that that was more a storytelling choice? I think that they were so used to being filmed at that point because NXIVM was one of those cults similar to the family or like the source family where the filming was part of it. The documentation is part of the cult.

And I think that they were just at some point-- and this is also true of reality TV. You lose an awareness of being captured and that everything you're doing is being documented. And you can tell yourself a story of they'll lose it in editing.

They'll fix that. Oh, it might have come off bad, but they know I mean well. But some people don't mean well.

With NXIVM especially, we should talk more about the ways that Silicon Valley and wellness self-help culture set the stage for them. And Silicon Valley, it's a place with a lot of high goals that necessarily you can't prove. You look at the Theranos case and that someone who because the science is complicated and those companies are, by nature, secretive, you're able to keep a scam, a complete fraud going as possible with people at the top, VCs completely in on it.

When it comes to a cult, when it comes to the difference between a company that's taking a ton of money and not actually producing a product-- with a cult, it's behavioral. And it all has to play out between the members. They're all culpable because they're doing this stuff to each other.

In Scientology, the people auditing, the people recording your secrets and doing blackmail, calling each other squirrels and running around are all Scientologists. You can't be shielded from it. Some of the people that worked at Theranos were in the lab.

And they worked on the paint that one on the outside of the device. They had no idea that the device itself didn't work. But I think the difference between NXIVM and say, Scientology is that because NXIVM came up in an environment with the veneer of self-help and the veneer of self-care over it, they could do things like referrals and say, well, we're just like Uber.

Bring in a friend. And we'll give you whatever. It's not a pyramid scheme.

We're not trying to get you to trap people. We're just giving you a referral code or whatever. And they could turn around and say that any problems that you-- or things you weren't understanding about the business model.

And these people at the top had to have had that information. [? Sarah ?] is a perfect example of someone that understood how the business worked. She understood how the money worked.

And she had no problem with it until they had a problem with her. And it's different from say, Mike on Leah Remini-- Scientology and the Aftermath. Did you ever watch that?

Mm-mm. That was a very different case because Mike had defected long before anyone had caught him, or named him, or whatever. And he's made his life goal taking apart Scientology and not just getting famous for being a good person.

Is he the Australian one? Yes. OK.

Yeah. I remember him in Going Clear. Yes.

Excellent. He led the media campaign for Scientology. So then when he turned around, he was uniquely able to then be a counter to them in the media because he knew their techniques, and he knew what worked against them because it had worked against him.

And he's now made it his life's work to take apart Scientology, which I haven't seen. I'm sure she still is involved in it. But I haven't seen a lot of [?

Sarah ?] in the news or doing a whole lot. And I think the difference is-- there's different personality types. But I also think the difference is when you put this veneer of self care and this veneer of wellness on top of something as opposed to calling it a religion or whatever, you can say, well, there's a lot of good in there.

We told you a lot of great self-help stuff that's in every self-help book without talking about whether or not those self-help books are themselves at all helpful. Very true. And also, you could just buy one for $10.

You don't have to lose your life, and get branded, and pay tens of thousands of dollars, and get trafficked. Anybody who's taking you to meetings regularly and charging you a lot of money for something that should be available on Google, or could be a YouTube video, or in a slideshow isn't trying to be expedient about it. If you want to go to a class, you should be taking notes.

But those notes should be applicable even if, say, you didn't go to the class. It's not a magical experience. You know what I mean?

There's this belief a lot of the times with MLMs that if you're not in the room getting hyped up, none of it matters. But it actually should. If you go to college class, you sit down.

You're being instructed. It's not a hype session. You're not being convinced of what you're reading.

You don't need someone there selling it to you. The information itself is what you're paying to see or whatever. The difference is with an MLM or with any of these self-help cults that the part of the experience is that togetherness, is the groupthink, is the learning to deny things together.

And I do believe at some level, maybe the first six months, you might have no idea. But at some level, you know you're doing that to other people and that it was done to you. You have to.

Of course you do. And that's the thing that can be really, really infuriating. But one of the things that-- going back to the more overtly financial frauds, again, like cryptocurrency and MLM-- so when we were initially starting to do some content on cryptocurrencies, I talked to my husband about it who works in tech, specifically in cybersecurity, and is really familiar with all of this stuff, and probably one of the most staunchly opposed people I've ever known in my life.

And when we were initially starting to approach it, I think like a lot of people, I had a very naively neutral opinion on the subject. Well, teach people what they need to navigate the system. And he was very adamant from day one.

If you're going to talk about these things, you have to talk about them like an MLM. You can't give people a false sense of security or legitimacy with these things. And you have to protect them.

And he said one thing about NFTs, for example, early on that stuck with me where he said there's only two kinds of people in this. There's marks and there's cons. And I was like, OK, but I'm sure-- I mean, I know enough to know that there are a lot of true believers.

And he was like, no. True believers are marks. He was like, they're marks who maybe have a better vocabulary around the subject.

They're marks who maybe have more of a strong technical background or a strong financial background. But if they're approaching this as any kind of financial instrument or an economic model, they're marks still and very liable to being exploited in ways similar to-- Look at all the hedge funds right now shorting a bunch. I mean, there are people out there who are willing to take advantage of even the truest believers.

So my question is in doing a lot of the content that you've done around these fraudsters and these scams, do you feel that there is that binary? I do. And I think it's tough.

Say you get real estate, business, behavioral science, tech, and finance, extractive capitalism in a room, nobody good's coming out. However, I think there are people uniquely tricked into coming into the tent. And they can be at every wealth level.

But I have a family member who's a super deep into crypto. And I just have made it super clear. We don't play with the house money because I don't know the line for him.

And I don't know the line for anybody. I do know that at some point, even if you think you are a con, you might be a mark, especially if you're convinced that you are the one perpetuating and going to win in the end, even if this ends up going belly up. Who told you that?

Who is convincing you of that? And I think another thing that crypto really benefits from that you see in so many of these frauds, the Theranos one being another great example, is the number of people who have a sufficient level of subject matter expertise on all of the various components of the concept are so few. What shocks me is that people were turning their nose up at that Dan Olsen video about NFTs because they were like, it's two hours long.

I'm going to sit here and listen to this guy talking to camera for two hours? And it's like, you're willing to put a significant amount of your wealth into an instrument that you won't listen to a two-hour informational session about? But also, with the technical angle, with the Web3 concept, with macro and microeconomics, psychology, I think two hours and 18 minutes is brief honestly.

You ever go to Epcot and you go on Ellen's Energy Adventure? You spend about an hour where Ellen DeGeneres explains to you how oil and renewable energy works. It's sponsored by Exxon, so it is itself a scam.

However, similar to that, it felt like in a short amount of time, he was able to give you a tour of all the problems without necessarily proving that they are problems, without necessarily belaboring the point. And if you could make it a half hour in and we're still like not either shocked, and horrified, and running away, or locked in for more info, sometimes I think that we think that the people falling for these scams have all of the resources that we do, both informationally, but also intellectually, academically, financially. And they don't.

And a lot of scams position the circus tent that they're getting you into to be worth passing by for people who aren't going to be tricked. Email scams are generally misspelled, and filled with grammatical errors, and clear factual distortions because they want people who won't be put off by that right to continue on. And it's the same thing with say, NXIVM is at the top.

They make sure that when you're at a leadership conference that if they neg you, if they say stuff about men and women that's clearly a huge generalization and probably unhealthy, if you're not going to walk out on that, well, then we've got some finance stuff to tell you about too on the other end of this. I think NFTs and crypto, they make people feel a certain way. Come in the door, and you will all be an investor.

You're a banker now. You're a hotshot stock market Silicon Valley-- you're Mark Zuckerberg. You're Peter Thiel.

But the thing is you're not. You're a guy who walked into a tent that says everyone in here is Peter Thiel. It doesn't make you one of the masters of the universe.

And it trades on a very, very specific-- and again, it really leans on the fact that so few people have the range of expertise to fully debunk it. Who at the time? Who has the time to read the news, let alone, learn about every new scam or whatever?

And so they trade on that and take it up to the level of because you can't thoroughly debunk it, there must be something important, or special, or inherently true about it that you don't know. And to take it to the Theranos thing, one of the most interesting aspects of it was that the type of science she was doing literally defied the laws of physics. And many qualified scientists spoke to that effect and said, this is the sort of thing that physically won't work at least for the next 100 years with the kind of technology we have.

But she had [BLEEP] senators, including one who's an actual medical doctor who were on her board of advisors and investors. And it really speaks to this idea that not only does the very thin patina of tech or wellness-- and I think Theranos really hit both of those head-on-- --allow people to suspend their disbelief and feel that there must be something inherently good or worthy. But also I think there's this real-- and it taps into the cult-like aspect of it. --this feeling that if you want it to be true, if enough people are saying that it's true, that anything can work, including things that are physically impossible.

We just lived through a very interesting political time, which I think-- every time someone tells me The Real Housewives or con artists, all of this stuff is tawdry and unimportant, I'm just like, guess who was president of the United States? A guy who ran a fake school and starred in a reality show where they built him a set that made him look like a businessman. That's essentially what televangelists were doing to in the '80s, and '90s, and to today is they basically built themselves as set that puts up this image that they're something that is created to tickle certain parts of your brain, and create certain associations, and create certain levels of trust.

But I think just belief is a seductive thing. And it is something that you should have. It's a human impulse.

But you should believe in your family members. You should have faith in certain institutions. You should learn to have trust.

But public trust right now is at such an all time low that anyone who even tries to create some, it's an attractive proposition. And the thing is I think a lot of people are lumping in a lot of the fictionalized versions of this or even the reality TV versions that are playing out with true crime exploitation, which to a certain degree, yes. There are victims who probably don't want to be famous for being victims, but for whom the facts are being reported.

But I do think that there is a net good to having people repeatedly see these stories that involve con artists, scammers, similar techniques, cults, because it starts to train you for signs to look for if they're well made. And the vast majority I've seen are well made. There was a Hulu show about wellness that was fictionalized that Nicole Kidman starred in, which don't watch that for good information.

That was the perfect example of things you shouldn't do. But I think The Dropout instructive should be instructive to a lot of people when it comes to cryptocurrencies. And I think we have to hope that there are a lot of people watching it who might be able to see the narrative similarities between what Elizabeth Holmes was doing and what these crypto people are trying to do.

But of course, that's not going to be everybody. And you're not going to teach everybody through Amanda Seyfried doing Oscar-level performances. You've been telling me to watch this.

Just the best people. I think I actually might tune in to it tonight. You know what?

It's great. It is a beautiful-- and it is interesting. And it was in the HBO doc and in the book, so they're not breaking new ground there.

But to watch it play out in real time and watch the rationalizations people make-- and because the actors are doing such a good job and the scripts are really tight, you can see how gradual, and how easy it is, and how turns of phrase can turn someone's head. And also generationally. I was talking about Silicon Valley before the point that I wanted to get to, and I don't think that I did, was for a certain generation, they have seen impossible things happen.

They have watched-- but we all had magic wands in our pockets. We wave them, and food appears. That's wild.

To my parents, that is [BLEEP] that they never-- it's Star Trek. So when you tell them that someone invented a new kind of money, and we're all going to be rich because of it, they're like, sure. That sounds great.

It isn't fair because they've been told the story over and over again, especially by the media, how great Silicon Valley is or how great wellness culture is. And it's shoved down your throat from every angle by advertisers, by media figures, by media companies, by even just friends and family who have had success based on it become infamous. And I hope that these TV shows and the fact that we all have crippling addictions to television at this point post-pandemic might spread a little bit of awareness.

My dad got super into Inventing Anna, and I loved that. I love that for him. I was like, now you know.

I will say I think a huge factor in a lot of these scams, too, and a lot of the mythologizing is the total and devastating collapse of expertise on the internet, which has been a huge, huge factor in the past two years, especially as it pertains to public health, and obviously politics, and things like that. And you look at-- for example, Jordan Peterson, to me, is one of the big all-time all-stars of the death of expertise in the sense that this man, who is a clinical psychologist, who has a very, very narrow field of personal expertise-- and most academics, most legitimate academics will go as far as they can out of their way to minimize the things that they have real expertise on, and qualify their statements, and make sure to really limit the scope of what they're talking about [INAUDIBLE].. That's why when I do video essays, I try to have facts because I don't want anyone in the comments mad at me.

I want to be like-- Exactly. --here are the facts that are listed. But the Peterson fans have so-- and he has so widely and of chaotically spread around the breadth of things that he will speak on authoritatively. We're talking posts like being in a drug-induced coma for months at a time in some Russian hospital.

And you have him on the Joe Rogan Experience. Climate is everything, so climate is nothing. And people are still looking at that and thinking, well, because he is an academic in this one respect, the things that he's saying about this other subject, which have zero relation to his subject of expertise must be legitimate.

And you see a ton of that with these scammers. There is a lot of that in the last few years with COVID, too, which was a lot of medical scams and a lot of medical quacks were coming out of the woodwork being like, you just need to be alkaline and have vitamin D, which is not going to solve a viral infection. But I think it's because right now, too, part of it is you look at something like TikTok or YouTube.

And these are things that I love and that have had wonderful great effects for the world. They brought me to you. But I will say to be further and further pigeonholed into little niches of media where it's just a little bubble-- there are whole TikTok phenomenons I've never heard of because I'm not the target audience, and they don't really leave that bubble.

And so you can find anyone on the internet with any letters next to their name to tell you anything you want because there's just so many people that you might find that one person you want to hear. But that's why I say to a certain degree, if people in good faith don't want to hear the truth, they're not going to. Emotionally, people are broken.

And we have really-- unfortunate to say, we have terrible mental health care in this country. And people couldn't afford it if we had better mental health care. And so it's tough because part of it is you're being victimized.

You're being victimized by the system. You're being victimized by these institutions that are exploiting you. You're being victimized by the con artists themselves.

But you're also going along with it a little bit. Part of you has to. Part of you has to because we all know Google exists.

We all know that we can double fact-check stuff and that there is information there. But you want to believe that the fact-checkers are lying to you because you really need to believe that Arbonne is going to make you super rich. Or Mary Kay is such an old company.

And they're so iconic. How could they be bad? So you mentioned at the beginning as a closing thought that you have people in your life who are involved in scams, which you personally have done a fair amount of debunking on in your professional life.

And my personal life. I've poured hours into it. How can people who feel a sense of hopelessness and frustration about others in their life in this respect-- what do you advise them for their mental health?

You have to compartmentalize your love for people. And I have to put that part away and say that when they're at a rock bottom-- I'm not enabling them. But when they're at a rock bottom, they know that I love them, and I am here to talk to them, and to help them find actual financial help and maybe a real job that like is productive, and will teach them things, and get them involved in community.

I'm here. I'm ready to help at any time. And I think people maybe don't feel a safety net.

And so you get caught into an MLM, for example. And then your upline and your downline become your safety net. They become the closest people to you.

And I've let them know I'm not giving you any money. I don't want to hear about it. I have no patience for hearing about how your crypto MLM is going to bring God or whatever.

Anything in any of those sectors, I don't have patients for. But I do have patients for the people that I love. And I've told them I know that they mean well.

I know that they believe that they're right. And if ever they change their mind, I'm here for them. Another part of this that I think goes underdiscussed is the people around them-- you need to inoculate people as quickly as possible.

If you know that someone is super into QAnon, or they're falling down the rabbit hole of say, a religious organization that you think has some shady financials, it's a sibling, go to your parents. If it is an aunt or an uncle, go to your other aunts and uncles, your cousins, and say, hey, I saw so-and-so is getting into this thing. And they're really excited about it.

And they were talking to me about it. I know that that's actually a bad organization. And I sent them this info.

They're not open to hearing that right now. But I just want to make sure that you have this info in case they wanted to get you into it. And you can create a circle around people of no, of a wall that says uniformly no.

And similar to addiction, you can have an intervention where all these people say whatever. But you cannot control that person. You cannot make their choices for them.

It will backfire for you. It has backfired for me so many times. What you have to do is step back and say, when you are ready, when you want to, I'm ready to change this.

You can sleep on my couch. We'll figure it out. What I'm not going to give you is $1,000 for 15 intro classes or whatever [? on ?] how to move things with your mind or something.

So you got a YouTube channel coming out. Yes. Plug.

Plug. Plug. I have a YouTube channel, which will be linked.

I'm in drag as a character named [? Aria ?] [? Woman. ?] Oh, my gosh.

I didn't know that. Yes. And Oh.

I'll be doing a series on YouTube called Bad Ideas. And in every episode, I'm going to take one idea, which I think is a bad idea and try to disprove it as much as I can with facts, figures, research, jokes, and drag race memes. And then I'm also doing a new podcast called The Academy of Drag Arts and Sciences where we break down the queer art form of drag every week.

We'll talk a lot about RuPaul's Drag Race, yes, but there are other parts of drag worth discussing and people worth talking to. And those are my first two projects. But please stay tuned on social to both @ryanhoulihan.

And [? Aria's ?] socials are-- I have never told anyone this because it's officially launching post filming. But it's @aolkeywordwoman.

I love it. Oh, my gosh. You can find her everywhere.

And you can find me @academyofdrag as well everywhere. All of this will be linked. And as a reminder, we have our new podcast, Too Good To Be True that will also be coming out this year that will be all about financial scams with Ryan and another beloved figure in the PF community who shall be revealed to you soon.

The juice will flow. It is so full of-- Yes. Exactly.

Well, Ryan, thank you for joining me. Thank you for having me. And it's always a pleasure to be here.

Always a pleasure. And thank you guys so much for tuning in. And I will see you guys back here next Monday on an all new episode of The Financial Confessions.