Remember Anna Delvey (or Anna Sorokin), the infamous fake heiress that conned New York's elite? Hers was like a story straight out of Gossip Girl—grand parties with New York's party people, enormous amounts of wealth to spend, the best of everything in fashion, and of course, drama. They say money can't buy happiness, but wouldn't you rather cry your heart out somewhere luxurious donning the most expensive items? For one Filipina, this was the dream.
(The following text does not feature their real names).
Serena, former flight attendant, took a break from her career after getting married and had children. Through her friend, she met Nate, a gallery director, wherein she ended up working at the said gallery. Even with no background in the art scene, Serena was excellent at making sales. Eventually, she moved up the ranks; to industrial partner then managing director. Along with this was the widening of her social network, especially those with money.
"When we first met, Nine West or Cole Haan were already expensive for her. When she started hanging out with people from the art scene and several of her former flight attendant friends who had married rich, that all began to change. Louis Vuitton, she had a lot of those. Then this Birkin thing came about...", said Nate.
Whenever Nate would travel to Europe, Serena would ask him to buy some designer bags that she will sell to her "clients." She would order three Chanels, five Goyards, one Hermes... all of these I would finance. I made money by keeping the tax fraud, and for each bag, depending on the price, I would get P10,000 to P25,000 each as a carrier's fee. I did that for two and a half years," he said.
Nate said that with the money, he was able to pay for his flights to Europe—although he did clarify that he only did it for fun. He didn't travel to Europe just for Selena's bags.
Things got complicated as Hermes opened its first boutique.
The Hermes Birkin is THE bag. The cheapest Birkin is only worth P500,000 in the Philippines. If you want your hands on one, you better act quick as their boutiques don't stock up as much per bag.
Serena wanted in on the Birkin hype. She would ask an investor to pull in P450,000 as the cheapest Birkin in Europe cost around P400,000. She would sell the bag for P550,000. For those who didn't want to travel to Europe to buy the bag, an additional P50,000 was nothing. That P50,000 goes to the middleman, and the other P50,000 goes to the investor.
Nate even had his nephew in on the scheme as they laughed all the way to the bank. But will they still be laughing when the truth is finally revealed?
As Nate prepared for another trip to Europe, Serena asked for P2 million. Back then, Nate believed that Serena would use the money to pay off the due payment investors. He didn't suspect anything suspicious yet. Nate's nephew wanted to invest the P2 million, but Nate didn't agree with him.
Days later, Serena gave Nate a check for the investment plus the profit. According to Nate, she looked gaunt and sick. "I didn't know then that her financial woes were already piling up."
"Can't you see, the pyramid is crumbling?" Eric, Nate's partner, had his reservations about Serena's deals but wanted to give her the benefit of the doubt as she was a good friend to Nate. As it turns out, his gut feel was right.
For months, Serena had not been seen nor heard from by her friends. She was suspected to be hiding in the US. Eventually, it became known that she had scammed many people, especially those close to Nate. Those friends, while out and about with him, never brought up their dealings with Serena. "It just seemed like good business that they wanted to keep it a secret."
An estimated P500,000 was believed to be what Serena had earned from different people, but its exact amount was yet to be determined as more victims came out with their claims.
According to Nate, Serena had transformed from a simple girl to a Birkin-toting social butterfly. During her birthday, she had a salon in Makati closed for her private party, hired a top caterer, then had her guests chauffeured to a five-star hotel where she hosted dinner and after-dinner cocktails. It was questionable as to how Shiela was able to maintain her lifestyle. It was assumed that her Birkin business was doing extremely well.
Serena's husband, Dan, was working for a high-profile veteran politician at the time. He never wore Hugo Boss as it was "beneath him", that's why he only donned the likes of Hermes and Louis Vuitton. His shoe closet would rival those of a shopaholic's, boasting over 200 pairs of designer brands—from Prada to Dior to Gucci. He even had his own shoe blog.
Serena and Dan's son also enjoyed the lavish lifestyle. After liking a painting at an art fair, Serena didn't hesitate to buy it worth P75,000.
Serena didn't stop with just Birkins. She would also sell paintings—even a Monet. Depending on the person, it could also be jewellery or watches. Serena knew how the tastes of those she wanted to scam.
She had different stories for each one. It was either she was getting chemotherapy, or her house was foreclosed.
Nate found out that Serena never sold the Chanels and Celines that he had been buying for her in Europe; instead, she was using them herself. She wouldn't use it when out with Nate, but she would boast that the bags were gifts from him when with other friends. "No wonder when someone had a birthday, they would tease me, pa-Chanel ka naman."
Serena's tastes got even more expensive through the years. During one trip to Bangkok, instead of joining her friends to go shopping in the city at bargain prices, she opted to stay at the hotel, got spa treatments, and only went to the high-end malls. Her Twitter account, which was public at that time, gave her followers a peak into her lavish lifestyle. It seems like she's pulling off an Anna Delvey.
"She just had to keep up with friends! She must have thought they wouldn't stay friends with her if she didn't have the same things they had." Nate looked back on his friendship with Serena as she was not this kind of person when he met her. "She was nice. We never knew she would be scamming everyone."
The solution would be to go to the authorities, but there has been no collective effort among the victims to file a class action suit against Serena because they didn't want undue attention to themselves. They were prominent businessmen and women. They didn't want the BIR (Bureau of Internal Revenue) to look into their finances.
Ever since Serena's disappearance, Jake was left behind. He even closed his store in Makati that sold limited-edition footwear.
Blair, Serena's former co-worker, was absolutely enraged by the whole situation. "I wouldn't mind coming out in the open and screaming her name for the world to know, but she put me in a position where I can't even do that. She wiped me out! I don't have the P400,000 needed to file a lawsuit. Now I'm just trying to make sure that I don't compromise myself in this lawsuit that was filed against me because of her."
One reason Serena was able to get away with what she did was that she had no paper trail. One such victim, who lost P35 million, couldn't do anything about the situation because she had no evidence; she had no receipts to prove their transactions.
Being so in love with the idea of popularity and the things that one aspires to have has enabled Serena to do such things. Donning luxury brands doesn't make you a better person, nor does it make you a lesser person. In the end, Serena's greed got the best of her.
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