LIAR!! LIARRRRR!!!!!!! MOHAMMED ISLAM IS A LIARRR!!!!!!
Well, now that that's out of my system, let me state that in a calmer tone. Mohammed Islam, the 17-year-old Stuyvesant High School senior who claimed to have made a fortune in the high eight-figures on the stock market, completely fabricated every single part of the story he told New York magazine, Business Insider, and, by proxy, me.
The story went, in short, that there was this whiz-kid son of immigrants from Queens who obsessively studied great investors, and went on to make $72 million by trading oil and gold futures at lunch. Furthermore, he was now supposed to be partnering with two other rich kids who dine on "apple juice and caviar," and was just waiting to turn 18 so that investors could shower him with hundreds of millions of dollars to start his own hedge fund. Basically, it was perfectly designed to blow your mind.
The story slowly unravelled throughout the evening yesterday, as at first people called BS on the idea that he made $72 million from trades. The average gain in a good year of the stock market for successful investors is about 8%, and for him to have made that from a small amount of starting money would be mind-boggling. At first, it appeared as if the story was just poorly reported, because New York insisted that Islam had still shown them bank statements proving he had a net worth in the "high eight figures," and Mohammed said he had only made a fraction of that from trading. This was a far more believable story, since making a few million dollars when you have tens of millions to invest is much more feasible. For a second, it seemed like the mystery had been solved.
Unfortunately, even that was totally fake. The New York Observer caught up with Mohammed and his friend and co-conspirator Damir Tulemaganbetov at the offices of a PR firm they had hired as soon as they realized that feeding a total BS story to the national media probably wasn't a good idea. Here's a short snippet of their conversation:
Observer: What was your first contact with the New York magazine reporter?
Mohammed Islam: My friend's father worked at New York magazine and he had the reporter contact me. Then she [Jessica Pressler] called me.
You seem to be quoted saying "eight figures." That's not true, is it?
No, it is not true.
Is there ANY figure? Have you invested and made returns at all?
So it's total fiction?
I will say this for Mohammed—compared to most people who have been publicly caught in lies, he does do a good job of clearly saying that, yes, it was a lie. Similarly, New York magazine has since admitted "we were duped." Even the bank statement showing he was worth eight figures was falsified, a source close to the Islam family told the Washington Post.
So, is anything true at all? Well, Mo was indeed the president of the Investment Club, where he made an investment portfolio with imaginary money. He says he did do well at this practice game, so well that rumors started at school that he had made real money. Mo encouraged these rumors and it seems to have made him a lot of friends. Eventually, however, the rumors got too big. Usually, this ends in the girl you like looking disappointed when everyone at school finds out you're a phony. Mo dreamed big, though, and now the whole country is looking at him like a popular kid who deeply resents being tricked into making friends with a dweeb.
Although, as my coworker Shira points out, the ability to go viral and manipulate the media is probably as valuable as stock-picking skills in 2014. Maybe in a few years, that eight-figure value will be real. Too bad no one will ever believe it.