An Incredibly Bizarre, Totally Unsurprising Story

Last week I came across one of the oddest stories I’ve ever seen. And yet it was totally unsurprising.

Let me explain… 

The article appeared on The Cut, a publication of New York Magazine. The author, Charlotte Cowles, recounted how she fell for an elaborate scam that started with a call from someone pretending to be from Amazon and ended when she “put $50,000 in cash in a shoe box, taped it shut as instructed, and carried it to the sidewalk in front of my apartment.”

The author has been the subject of some ridicule, so I’d like to go on the record with my admiration for her. For two reasons: 

  1. She’s a talented writer and storyteller; 
  2. She made the decision to share an embarrassing story, and by doing so will hopefully prevent others from falling for a similar trap. 

So, my hat is off to her. I applaud her bravery in sharing such a vulnerable moment. 

But here’s the thing…

The author of this article is not a fashion columnist or restaurant critic. 

She’s a financial advice columnist. 

As in, she makes a living telling other people how to manage their finances. And yet she took $50,000 out of the bank and handed it over – in a shoebox – to someone who she thought was working with the CIA and FTC.

This is insanity!

My beef here actually isn’t with the author. It’s with: 1) monsters who implement these awful scams; and 2) her employer – and financial media as a whole. 

Hiring journalists with zero or limited financial experience is, unfortunately, the rule rather than the exception. This content – financial advice – often gets outsourced to freelancers or junior writers with little or no financial expertise. 

Here’s a section from the author’s bio

Previously, I was the senior features editor at Harper’s Bazaar and a senior editor at The Cut. I was also the editorial director for MM.LaFleur.

My work has also been published in Glamour, Art in America, Politico, and other places. I’ve written about everything from personal finance to fashion, art, pop culture, politics, beauty, interior design, and male strippers.

It’s an impressive resume. But it is not the background of someone who should be giving financial advice for a living. 

Financial Media Failures

A lot of Americans turn to the web for answers to their finance and investing questions. This should be a very good thing; widespread access to information is generally a surefire way to fix a problem. 

But, unfortunately, what they find is often disappointing. At best, it’s generic, vague, regurgitated… and generally useless. 

At worst, it’s misleading or confusing or flat out wrong. 

And stories like this one explain why that is. For some reason, financial advice on the web is outsourced to journalists with no relevant expertise or experience. 

As you can probably tell, this struck a nerve with me. It’s one of the observations that led me to create WealthChannel Academy, a collection of simple and actionable investing advice – created entirely by our team of experienced investing experts. Not as much as a comma is outsourced to freelancers or interns. 

It’s a lot of work, but articles like this remind me how necessary it is.

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Michael Johnston, CFA
Michael Johnston, CFA

Michael Johnston, CFA is the co-founder and President at WealthChannel, and host of WealthChannel Academy.

Michael previously founded ETF Database, the leading independent authority on exchange-traded fund investing.

Michael's professional experience includes positions in corporate finance and investment banking, as well as entrepreneurial experience as a co-founder and early employee in multiple high growth, venture-backed companies.

Michael graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a degree in Finance. He lives in Oregon with his wife and son.