• Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

The host of Scam Goddess is in for the long con

Laci Mosley picks up the phone mid-fitting, as she preps for a show she can’t tell me about. “Do you want to do this another time?” I ask. “Sorry, just a sec,” she says, then asks if we can reschedule in an hour. I half hope that she’ll ghost me (this is an article about scams, after all) but she doesn’t, which is ultimately lucky. She might be busy jetting between Hollywood sets and podcast studios, but not too busy to put on Louboutins and talk about her all-time favorite cons.

Mosley is the LA-based actor and comedian behind the podcast Scam Goddess, where she chats with fellow comedy writers about “scams, cons, robberies, and fraud” — words that also double as her theme song. The show’s recent deep dives include Lou Pearlman, a record producer turned convicted Ponzi schemer; Jessica Krug, a white professor who posed as Black; and Seth Lookhart, a hoverboard-riding dentist ultimately convicted of Medicaid fraud.

Each episode opens with a “what’s hot in fraud” segment, where a listener sends Mosley a recent con, which she dissects with her guest. But the best parts are the scam-adjacent digressions: In an episode about Instagram grifter Caroline Calloway, a listener describes a former co-worker’s Tinder con, which began with him swiping right on everyone, in order to cast a wide net. “I mean honestly, love is a numbers game,” Mosley says, pausing from reading the note. “I treat it like the casino … I used to not date at all.” Her guest, actor Jameela Jamil, responds: “I mean I didn’t have my first kiss until I was 21, so I feel like it’s okay to just move at your own pace. Why did you not date?” Mosley quips: “I was busy. I was trying to get to the money.”

The rest of the show is dedicated to “historic hoodwinks” where Mosley walks her guest through the twists and turns of a world-class fraud, from the college admissions scandal to a devious romance scheme. Sharilyn Vera, her research assistant, compiles detailed notes, which Mosley reads off during the segment. This part is all improv — Mosley doesn’t look at the notes ahead of time, which makes her reactions even funnier.

What sets Mosley apart is that she doesn’t look down on scam artists. In fact, she says there’s a lot that can be learned from fraudsters. “I derive a lot of confidence from reading from scammers and learning about scammers,” she says. “I mean, I don’t want to do full-time crime, but at the same time, I love to see it.”

On Monday, Mosley announced she’s taking her podcast to Team Coco, Conan O’Brien’s podcast and production company. She’s also now a commentator on Whoopi Goldberg’s The Con which airs Wednesdays at 10PM ET on ABC.

I wanted to start with the question you ask your guests — what’s your relationship with scams? Why do you find them interesting?

Laci Mosley: It kind of goes hand in hand with my life. I used to go to nightclubs with my girlfriends and we would always find ways to sneak into VIP. One time we were at this really exclusive party. Beyoncé was there, Jay-Z was there, all these people were there and we couldn’t get into the VIP section. And so, one of my homegirls saw some cups and she was like, “Yo, we’re already dressed in black. Let’s just hold these cups over our head and act like we’re going in to serve the guests.” So we put the cups over our head and was like, “Okay.” And they let us through.

Getting over was always fun for me. I just love people who do that. There’s something about con artists, they have this confidence, usually to the point of delusion: even if you don’t belong there, feeling like you belong there and showing people you belong there. That’s all you really need in life.

I don’t want to do full-time crime, but at the same time, I love to see it. I love to watch people.

Yeah, there’s something very relatable about scammers. I don’t think I have the confidence to do it, but I love it and understand the impulse.

Yeah. But I think we all can. I think we all can get to the point where we have the confidence of scammers, because that’s really what separates a lot of people who are wildly successful from other people. We’re always lied to by capitalism. We’re lied to in this way of like, “These people who have more than you, who have more money or wealth, they’re just more special than you. They have something you don’t.” And that’s simply not the truth. They just have the confidence to act like they were supposed to be everywhere that they were supposed to be. And even if they didn’t have the tools or the information or the language, they just picked it up along the way. So I think it’s just about feeling like you deserve everything.

And we live in a system that teaches us that we don’t, because that’s how they oppress people. So I love doing this show, too, because I like to liberate people from capitalism. I always say, like, everything is made up: names, rules, laws. They change all the time.

I mean, look at weed. There are so many people rotting in prison over minor drug offenses for marijuana, and now you can go to the weed Apple Store and buy weed in a way that looks so technologically advanced and cool. Everything’s made up. So I just want people to not feel confined by rules and [laughs] laws.

Do you have a philosophy around what separates a scam-scam from say, an unjust legal system?

I think that they are very much the same. It’s just that one has a different vibe to us. Like the scam of authority and power is that we all have to empirically follow these rules, right? We all have to adhere to these things because they are law. When in actuality, it’s just somebody who told you that. All these laws were made by people and all these scams were made by people.

So for me, they kind of walk the same line. It’s just that one is viewed differently than the other. And I mean this more with scams that are conning the system. Like if you’re conning an individual person on the street, then that’s a completely different thing than the government scam. But if you’re getting over on major corporations and the government, you’re basically doing what they do every day. I mean, you look at any billionaire, you’ll find dead bodies, you’ll find tax evasion. Jeff Bezos be cleaning up these Amazon murders like next-day shipping!

I guess to more clearly answer your question, I think that there are different types of scam industries, but I do think that the fundamentals of scams are so similar to the society that we’ve built and how it works. You know what I mean? ‘Cause it was set up by people so that they could scam everybody else. The founding fathers made a country that would be a utopia for straight white men. And it still pretty much is.

Do you have a favorite scam that you’ve covered in the past year? It feels like this was a year full of scams.

It was. My favorite scam is still the first episode of the show. And that’s Anna Delvey with Paul F. Tompkins. They’re doing a TV show about her on Netflix. [Disclosure: The show is based on an article by Jessica Pressler for New York Magazine, which shares a parent company, Vox Media, with The Verge.]

And the reason I love Anna Delvey so much is because not only did she have confidence, she had props, she had actors, she had a trainer friend, and she made it look like she was paying him. And then beyond that in court, when she was being sentenced, she literally said to the judge in the courtroom, she said, “I am not a good person.” And I thought, wow, how liberating.

Not that I want people to be bad or whatever, but just to see somebody who is so fricking honest with themselves and what they’re about, versus everyone pretending to be good people. Like Donald Trump’s not a good person. And I would love it if he was just like, “I’m a bad guy.” We could get somewhere with that.

I think she’s out now, also. She just got early parole.

Really? Oh my god, I’m so happy for her.

How do you choose which scams to cover?

This is a true con show. So it’s like true crime, except I really don’t like to cover nice ladies getting murdered or whatever. I try to give people a break from that. So I try to choose scam artists that I can root for, for the most part. Now sometimes the scam is so good that I have to cover it, but I’ll be like, “Okay, I don’t like this man. He’s a bad man.” Like for example, Lou Pearlman. Lou Pearlman was a hilarious scammer. He was also an awful human being. So I’ll make that distinction. But I like to highlight scammers that I really like over dastardly people.

And then also something that’s fun. I love fun details. I love a wild person who’s doing a lot of crazy shit.

And then like, who are they scamming? I try to stay away from stuff that feels like you’re a predator. But sometimes we do have to cover people who have been duped. Love relationships and stuff like that. So, yeah. But I look for stuff that’s fun, nonviolent, and just a good-ass time.

That’s one of my favorite things about your show — you root for the scammer in a subversive way. We don’t always see scammers covered in that light.

Sometimes I watch shows where they’re trying to catch the scammers and it just feels not fun. Cause it’s like, “You’re the hater, you’re the hater guy that we all… we don’t like you.”

I pride myself in trying to be kind and find the good in people. Especially if I feel like they haven’t done anything that is oppressive or wrong to other people.

One of the things that made me really happy was I had one of the scammers that I covered for “Scammer of the Week,” this rapper Chad Focus. He was buying billboards and all this stuff with his company credit card to promote his rap album and his music was actually kind of good. And we played some of it on the show and when he got out of jail, he emailed me and was like, “Thank you for the shout out.”

I feel like both sides could listen to your show and feel understood — the scammer and the victim.

Right. And now that doesn’t always happen. We did have a Twitter fight with Caroline Calloway.

She doesn’t seem like a true scammer to me, though…

Oh, she is.

Really?

She just came out with a book called Scammer and then had everyone preorder it and never mailed it. It still hasn’t come out and she stopped posting all that.

Okay, I take that back.

She’s a true artist. Oh my god, she’s one of my favorites.

Can you tell me a bit more about the Scam Goddess team? I know you work closely with a research assistant.

So, Sharilyn Vera is my research assistant and she’s fantastic. Chelsea Jacobson is my producer. Marina Paiz is my engineer. We have an all-female team. We’re all women. We’re pretty diverse, which is great because Chelsea is Jewish. And for some reason, there’s always something… like, for example, I said that Anne Frank was the most famous Jewish girl and I was like, is this problematic? I didn’t mean it in a bad way. And so we have fun conversations like that.

I rarely read the episodes beforehand because I like to do improv on the entire episode. And it’s just more fun and fresh for me if I’ve not seen it.

At first, the people who will come and listen to this show are like, “Laci doesn’t read these beforehand?” And then they get used to us. I want people to feel like we’re on a journey together. And we’re learning about the person together. And the only time I think it’s even obvious that I haven’t read one is Lou Pearlman. We seriously fully didn’t know that he died. And I was talking about him in present tense, I was like, “I hope they are beating your ass, Lou.” And then I was like, “Lou dead?”

You recently announced some big news — Scam Goddess is joining Team Coco [Conan O’Brien’s podcast and production studio]. How did you decide to bring your show there?

I decided to join Team Coco because I’ve always admired Conan O’Brien’s work and when he took an interest in my show, I saw an opportunity to grow and learn from one of the best to ever do it. His team is so enthusiastic and hardworking and the experience has been wonderful. Team Coco produces Scam Goddess alongside Earwolf now, and I couldn’t imagine a better situation.

I’m also a talking head on the new ABC series The Con hosted by Whoopi Goldberg. It was my first shoot during COVID and my first time being a consultant on a documentary-style show. I feel like I scammed my way into being an expert, but I’ve also just learned a lot about con artists studying them for years. I’m having a lot of fun with this show and it’s growing in ways I certainly didn’t fathom. It makes me so curious and excited for what’s to come and incredibly grateful for everything I’ve experienced.

Do you have any scam predictions for what types of schemes we might see more of in the future?

My fraud forecast is, you’re going to see a lot more interpersonal scams. And what I mean by that is people reaching out on a one-on-one individual basis. Either with, like, “Hey, I have this opportunity for you to make money really easily from home,” or, “Hey, I know you’re working from home and I’m from your payroll department and I need this information,” or it’s coming via text message or social media. That has gotten very large on the scam front, too. So you’re on Facebook and someone’s inviting you to the “circle of gold,” and that’s a pyramid scheme. Even dating apps, people are getting DMs that are like, “Hey, I lost this money or I just need this money for the taxes and fees, and then I’ll send you back your portion.”

Why do you think 2020 was such a big year on the scam beat? Did it feel that way to you?

I think 2020 was a great year for scams and for scammers because this is the time where I think everyone across the USA realized that everything we fucking knew about our government was a scam. They have been lying to us. They are not helping us. In a time where everyone needed a stimulus, there was only one check that went out. You know what I mean? Outside of unemployment, we’re seeing that you’ve been paying taxes, you’ve been showing up, you’ve been doing your part, so where’s your government? Not here, right?

I think that this really opened everyone’s eyes to how much we’ve allowed ourselves to be scammed by authority and by people who are not taking care of the best interests of the country. It’s been a wonderful year for us to take capitalism’s boot and just loosen it on the neck a little bit, you know what I mean? It’s more like a toe now. It’s more of a stiletto. So I think that’s really liberating.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.