Why Hollywood Loves Fraud


Sarah Hofmann
ACFE Public Relations Specialist

On the big screen and small screen alike, it appears that there’s a new villain in town — fraud. From ABC’s miniseries Madoff, Oscar winner The Big Short, Showtime’s thriller Billions and many more projects in production, fraud seems to be the new hot topic for studios to explore.

The timing of pop culture tackling fraud is undoubtedly tied in some way to the Great Recession of 2008. While fraud is a crime that, by definition, is mainly hidden, the entire world saw how far-reaching the effects can be when big banks began to fail. Script analyst Mars Incrucio explained, “The subprime mortgage crisis in the states left the American public in a state of outrage, and it needed someone to blame. The words ‘banker’ and ‘Wall Street’ suddenly became even more vile and rapacious than they had before. All of this is to say, bankers, brokers, hedge fund managers, and any one percent figures now make for a great bad guy.”

As the dust began to settle on the destruction caused by unethical businessmen, there was another side of human nature that lent itself to being interested in stories of fraud and corruption. Vice President of Education for the ACFE, John Gill, J.D., CFE, explained that movies and shows about fraud can also appeal to a basic curiosity in people. “I think part of it is [the audience asking], ‘Would I ever do something like that?’... People find themselves facing ethical dilemmas more than they think.”

Luckily, Hollywood is beginning to pay attention not only to the greedy villains responsible for fraud; they are celebrating the men and women who uncover these schemes. Incrucio said, “Be on the lookout for the new hero motif, the investigator. These characters use research, wit and hard work to bring down ostensibly greedy and negligent corporate figures. Films such as Spotlight and Truth utilize this character as a direct challenge to the villains beget by the same public outrage.”

In addition to raising awareness about the investigators that ferret out these crimes, seeing more tales of fraud on the screen can lead to the public having an increased awareness of what to lookout for. Gill said, “Many stories are real and the ones that aren’t show an accurate depiction … they’re very helpful to get the word out about some of these schemes … [they] put a face to some of the realities of fraud.”

Whether they serve as PSAs for the general public on red flags to avoid or show entertaining tales of dogged investigators defeating the “evil fraudster,” it’s a safe assumption to make that there will be even more movies and shows in the coming years that show what we already know: fraud is a real issue that needs to be tackled.