For four years, a woman who called herself Anna Delvey and claimed to be a German heiress lived in New York City’s luxury hotels, dine at some of the city’s best restaurants, partyed at its coolest nightclubs. and billed both friends and institutions. Total $275,000. for, She announced that she plans to open a United Artists Center/Exclusive club in a historic Park Avenue building, and came close to securing a $22 million loan for that project. He was eventually arrested after leaving behind an impressive trail of unpaid debts and fictitious excuses, greatly reducing a hotel bill. Her story is a cautionary tale for everyone in who we choose to believe — and why — both in business and in life.
Delvy (whose real name is Anna Sorokin) has been a source of intense fascination ever since her story was first reported. he is the subject of a key feature in New York MagazineOne Vanity Fair Confessions by a Thug FriendAt least three books, and most recently a nine-part Netflix series created by Shonda Rhimes, of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy fame.
Delvy’s story raises some tantric questions. How did a 23-year-old manage to create this fictional alternate reality and make it so real? Where did he get the $100 bills he made famous in luxury hotels? And in particular, how he continued the trend for four years, constantly borrowing from new sources to pay off the old.
Some would ask the question my husband posed to my husband while watching the Netflix series: “Why would anyone believe in someone like that?” It’s the only one of these questions I can easily answer, not because I’ve ever met Anna Delvey or traveled across the stratosphere of wealthy New York society, but from my own experience. Years ago, I was sucked in by someone who claimed in his case to come from a wealthy family – Peruvian. And although I didn’t lend him a large sum of money or give my credit card, I did something equally disastrous – I married him.
What does Anna Delvey have in common with my ex-husband.
I know why suckers like me buy the impossible stories told by people like Anna Delvey or my ex-husband. We believe in them because we want to believe in them. We really, really want to live in the world they seem promising. We want to see how the rich really live, we want their attention and their friendship, and sometimes their love. They often come across as lonely or sad, despite their perceived wealth, we feel equal amounts of envy and compassion. It can be a powerful mix.
Ultimately, we don’t fall for these charismatic liars. We also deceive ourselves by believing that what we want is true. This explains why, after continuously making impossible excuses for over a month, Vanity Fair Photo editor Rachel Deloche Williams continues to hope that Delvey will refund the $62,000 charged from Williams’ credit card for a luxury trip to Morocco that supposedly wealthy Delvey said would cure her. This is why, for a very long time, I believed that my ex-husband came from a wealthy family, even though I wasn’t allowed to see where he lived.
It’s not that we’re stupid, or at least not that much. It is that we are against our own mind. Different studies Show that humans are biased to believe things we want to be true, and expect things to be the way we want them to be. The more we want something to be true, the more inclined we are to believe it, even when there is plenty of evidence that it is not. The danger of this bias becomes apparent when people like Williams and me are embraced by people like Delvy or my ex-husband. But there is an even greater, though less obvious, danger when wishful thinking bias leads people to believe that climate change is not real, or that real estate prices will never fall. Or, that a new company, new product, or new investment is sure to be successful, even if the numbers suggest otherwise.
How to fight cognitive bias.
How do we overcome this brain bias? There’s only one way, and it’s not fun. Every time you decide to believe a sales rep’s promise, or a lover’s declaration of allegiance, or an employee’s reassurance that a problem is under control, ask yourself this simple question: How true do I want it to be? Am?
Be very honest with your answer. If you really don’t care, or don’t care too much, you’re at little risk of being deceived. But if, as is often the case, you have a very strong desire for something to be true, then you need to search further. Ask yourself what evidence do you have that it is true, and what evidence do you have that it is not.
Most importantly, ask yourself this: What if it wasn’t true? What would you do? What will you change? This is why I stopped taking my earlier statements at face value and started fact-checking what he told me. It’s also what eventually prompted Williams to reach out to law enforcement and report what Delvey had done.
None of this is easy, not for Williams, not for me, and not for you if wishful thinking bias has led you to take dangerous risks or ignore dangerous problems. But you have to do this. Because we all know one thing: If you convince yourself that something is true and it isn’t, sooner or later that lie will end. And if you don’t protect yourself, it can bring you down.