Crook Albert Rosenberg has a taste for the finer things in life.
When I visited him at the Beaver Creek Institution in Gravenhurst, Ontario in 2014, he had managed to incorporate a Louis Vuitton belt buckle (contraband!) Into his standard prison uniform. When I asked about food at the less-than-glamorous address, he told me that the inmates prepare meals, that he was partial to a beef bourguignon recipe, and that he complained about the lack of good red wine. In prison.
Rosenberg has been convicted of fraud in Europe and Canada and has been in and out of prison for decades, but that hasn’t stopped him. In 1988 he was sentenced to four years for defrauding investors and two art galleries. In 2013, he pleaded guilty to assault, one count of possession of the proceeds of crime and eight counts of fraud and received a five-year sentence.
The documentary The talented Mr. Rosenberg examines how he convinced not only galleries but also banks, his wives and girlfriends and elite investors around the world that he is a sophisticated business tycoon worth millions. How did he get away with it for so long? The film features revealing interviews with his ex-wife and daughter and Rosenberg himself.
In 2014 I wrote Toronto Life feature of the magazine on which the documentary is based. When the film premiered at the Hot Docs festival in 2022, I was asked how it felt to come back to this topic and what was different almost a decade later?
My answer is not about the details of the story and neither is Rosenberg himself. Rather, I’ve noticed that his area of expertise – the art of cheating – has become mainstream.
The scam artist content keeps coming in
In 2018, the New York magazine announced the “summer of the scam”, which began with publication exhibition by Anna “Delvey” Sorokinthe false heiress recently appeared in the Netflix series Inventing Anna.
But when the summer was over, the stories of scammers and scammers kept coming:
The Tinder scammer it came out as we were making the final changes The talented Mr. Rosenberg. The story of an internet-enabled scammer got me wondering what Rosenberg could have done with an Instagram account. But really, Albert Rosenberg is an Instagram account. Who needs filters when you have false identities in real life?
I didn’t know any of this in 2013 when I started looking into a hit story describing a Toronto “billionaire” who had been arrested after posing as a Swiss investor and defrauding victims of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
My only cultural point of contact was Catch me if you cana film based on the memoir by Frank Abagnale Jr., who played a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer and grossed millions of dollars in forged checks, all at the age of 21.
Yes, the Bernie Madoff story was out, but while Madoff was a cheater and a con man, he was still himself. Rosenberg was a man of multiple identities: not only a Swiss billionaire, but also an heir to Ovaltine, an international tennis champion, a lawyer, a decorated academic, a film producer, a doctor and, perhaps, a bit of a pioneer.
Romantic scams have increased exponentially over the past decade. In 2018, they cost Canadians more than $ 22.5 million; last year, that number nearly tripled to $ 64.6 million (investment fraud saw a similar increase). The actual figures are likely much higher – the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center says only five percent of fraud cases are reported.
The cons are always evolving, but Rosenberg remains the same
The tools of the trade are constantly evolving. The scammers have traded fake identities and far-fetched biographies for messaging apps and untraceable banking information.
A fascinating story of the New York Times pulled back the curtain on a network of scammers operating outside Nigeria. These so-called “Yahoo Boys” (a reference to Yahoo Messenger, where romance scams appeared in the late 1990s) find their mark on social media. They never meet them in person.
They often work as a team, with one person specializing in the first courtship stage of a “relationship”. In the final scam, an unsuspecting individual transfers his life savings to his online boyfriend, who is stuck at the border or in need of an operation for her child. And they quit their work in the office.
The same cannot be said of Rosenberg, who invariably plays the part.
In his first interview for in the documentary, he showed up in Valentino boots and pale pink cashmere, weaving the same old yarns on his business acumen and status as an art world enthusiast, trust funds and tennis clubs.
To the extent that our film has a message, it’s that a kid like Rosenberg won’t change. Probably him I cannot change. Does that make him a monster? A megalomaniac? An irredeemable psychopath? The victim of his own complicated psychosis?
Viewers will have their opinions, but if we can agree on one thing, it is that the man is consistent.
Meanwhile, the scam culture has not only infiltrated our streaming services, it has become what cultural critic Jia Tolentino has called “the dominant logic of American life” (Canadian life too).
A reality star has snuck into the White House. Wellness influencers are making millions on magic beans. Matt Damon sells cryptocurrencies. It all seems a bit far from reality.
When I first met Rosenberg, I don’t think I ever heard the term “personal brand”. Today, everyone works from a social media point of view, highlighting some truths while obscuring others, projecting a filtered lifestyle, if not outright fiction.
I don’t want to minimize the gravity of Rosenberg’s crimes or the lasting impact his actions have had on his victims. I just want to note that the world has gotten a lot more scammer since I started learning more about a mysterious fake billionaire.
It hasn’t changed. But we have.