TechCrunch posted an article in August 2012 exposing a young woman’s tale of fraud, deceit and a whole lot of photo retouching. Shirley Hornstein wormed her way into Silicon Valley by photoshopping herself into photos with famous people. Misrepresenting herself and pretending she was on friendly terms with the rich and famous bought Hornstein a way into the inner circles of the tech elite.
If you thought her celebrity-packed Instagram feed was bad enough, think again. She went on to say that she “has experience working with a number of Silicon Valley companies, including iMeem, Nitro PDF, Dropbox and Founders Fund.”
I understand why people fell for it. Verifying her information would be too easy, so you wouldn’t think that she would be bold enough to falsify such a long list of credentials and qualifications.
I’m surprised at how far faux job titles and pulling non-existent connections out of thin air got her; she not only convinced a fair number of the tech industry’s top dogs of her credibility, but she also somehow landed herself on one of the ‘top women investors’ list. You’d think that the ‘tech elites’ would know a thing or two about spotting shady people, but the charade went on for quite some time until finally, she just couldn’t deliver on her promises anymore.
A few days ago, Hornstein published a letter of apology on her Tumblr:
“…In short, my house of cards collapsed. After TechCrunch outed me as a liar and (ab)user of photoshop, I was subjected to the humiliation and judgement from people I have never met and probably never will. More articles surfaced, and my entire credibility was essentially erased. I lost my job. My friends. My life came crashing done on me. I was devastated, confused and ashamed of myself. Deep down I knew this would happen eventually because you can’t build your life based on lies, but what did I do to stop it? I told more lies, created more elaborate stories, abused trust that been given to me and pretended that everything was going to be okay. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? I was so lost…”
Credit card theft, misrepresentation, fraud… the list goes on. There’s no telling how far Hornstein’s web of lies extended, but one thing’s for sure: she isn’t the only one out there capable of such a charade.
I’ve always believed in a healthy amount of skepticism towards people or things that are too good to be true. In this case, it’s either she’s that skilled at pretending, or people are just too easily impressed by connections and namedrops these days.