How to Fool Everyone Into Thinking You’re a Billionaire

Wilbur Ross

He managed to convince people he was a billionaire. | Joe Raedle/Getty Images

  • Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has been purporting his billionaire status for years.
  • It recently came out, however, that Ross has been lying about his financial status.
  • Ross’s boss is in a similar boat — how did they (and many others) fool so many people?

Multitudes of people lead double lives. That may mean that they work as an accountant during the day, and moonlight as musicians. Or that they have two or three romantic partners. There are all sorts of ways that you can be or claim to be something you’re not. But few, if any of us, strut around pretending to be a billionaire. There are secret billionaires, sure. But fake ones? C’mon.

Interestingly enough, fake billionaires are now a thing. And we’re not just talking about the president (though we will — hang on to your hats). This mostly concerns the Commerce Secretary, Wilbur Ross.

Before we get to Ross, though, you have to sit back in awe at the fact that a man was able to fool so many into thinking he was much richer than he actually is. It’s easy to fake it, to an extent, especially when you’re worth eight, nine, or 10 figures. But when you’re that rich, people are also going to want to comb through your finances and assets. Forbes, for example, is the authority when it comes to figuring out who the richest people in the world are. Its Billionaire List outlines the world’s wealthiest and gives an estimate of how much they’re worth.

This is a list that Ross used to be on. But recent revelations prove him to be a liar. A fake billionaire. How did he manage to fool everyone?

First: The saga of Wilbur Ross, and how he was outed as a fake billionaire.

The Wilbur Ross saga

Wilbur Ross

He just pretended to be a billionaire. | Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images

  • Ross’s mystery money centers around $2 billion that he doesn’t have.

The entire account can be found at Forbes (and you should read it). But the fast version of the story is that Ross was mistakenly assumed to have $2 billion more than he actually had — it belonged to other investors and he was managing it. He didn’t correct Forbes, though, and ran with it. He lied repeatedly for years about his net worth, going back and forth with Forbes but never revealing the truth. At one point, they even had his net worth estimated as high as $3.1 billion — and he argued that it was too low.

It did, finally, catch up to him, though.

Next: How did Ross fool everyone — even Forbes?

Ross: A billionaire who isn’t really a billionaire

Wilbur Ross

He refused to admit it wasn’t true. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

  • The short and sweet of it all? Forbes made a mistake — and Ross ran with it.

So, Ross knew that Forbes had screwed up, and instead of correcting them, went along with it. And lied for years about it. How did he finally get caught? When he had to fill out a public disclosure form to work in the Trump administration. As you might expect, that “phantom” $2 billion” wasn’t listed. This raised questions. When Forbes asked, Ross said that he had moved the money into family trusts and refused to provide documentation due to “trust issues”. As we know now, though, he never had the billions to begin with.

Next: This story might sound familiar…

Ross’s boss — another faux billionaire?

Donald Trump squinting and pinching his fingers together

He may be lying just a little bit. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

  • By refusing to release his tax returns, Trump has been able to maintain the mystery surrounding his personal fortune.

Ross’ saga is strange, but it’s oddly not the most high-profile case of self-inflation that we’ve witnessed recently. Ross’s boss, President Trump, has also been heavily scrutinized regarding his net worth. Trump, on his initial public disclosure form, said that he’s worth as much as $10 billion — but that amount varies depending on his “mood”, as he’s said in the past. Forbes, on the other hand, puts the number closer to $3 billion. So, how much is he actually worth? With no tax returns to go off of, it’s hard to say.

Next: The mystery of Donald Trump’s net worth.

Trump’s net worth

Donald Trump

We know he’s rich, but how rich? | Win McNamee/Getty Images.

  • Trump estimates his net worth at $10 billion. But it may be as low as $150 million.

If we seriously dig into Trump’s net worth, things get even stranger. We know that he values himself partly on how he feels on any given day, and we don’t have any clear documents to go off of, like tax returns. He’s rich — nobody really disputes that. But how rich is the key question. While, like Ross, Trump identifies himself as a billionaire, he could be worth between $150 and $250 million. This, according to journalist Timothy O’Brien — who apparently snuck a peek at Trump’s tax returns — and was subsequently sued by Trump for defamation.

Next: How did Ross fool everyone — even Forbes?

How they get away with it

Donald Trump and Wilbur Ross

It wasn’t like he was poor, so he could easily hide it. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • They secret? Lying, gaslighting, and projecting.

We might never find out what Trump is truly worth. And guys like Ross will be found out, with little or no fanfare. But how do they do it? How, and why, did Ross fake it? We may never know why, but as for how? It’s could be as simple as just saying it out loud — who’s going to question it? Again, Ross had enough money to live like a billionaire, even if he wasn’t one. If you have the clothes, the cars, and the house, who’s going to wonder? In this case, it was a “fake it until you make it” type of situation.

Unfortunately, we all can’t play that game. If the average American pretended to be a billionaire, they’d probably last a month before it all caught up with them. If they could get enough credit or loans to keep the ruse up for longer than a week, that is.

Next: The opposite of the Rosses and Trumps of the world.

The reversal: Living like a normie

He lives a comparatively simple life. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

  • Warren Buffett is one of the world’s richest men, but lives in Omaha and drives a Corolla.

Let’s turn the tables, now. While some people pretend to be billionaires, there are billionaires who pretend to be, well, average. Take Warren Buffett as an example. Buffett is the third-richest man in the world. He has tens of billions. And yet, he lives a relatively simple life. He lives in Omaha, Nebraska — not on 5th Avenue in New York or in Beverly Hills (he does have multiple houses, though), and drives a normal car. In short, it’s not the type of behavior or habits you’d expect from such a wealthy man.

Finally: Should you adopt one of these tactics in your own life?

Should you project success or live within your means?

Man in suit with falling money

Just don’t get in over your head. | Dean Drobot/Getty Images

  • Is it better to keep it real or to pretend that you’re rich?

Is there a lesson to be learned from Ross, Trump, and Buffett? Perhaps. You can play the appearances game, if you feel you must, to give the impression that you’re wealthier than you actually are. Or, you can do the opposite — it all depends on what you’re trying to achieve, and the impression you’re trying to relay. But you don’t want to get in over your head, like Ross did. He may have been able to keep the ruse up for a while, but it did, eventually get revealed.

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