As a member of a class of French aristocrats that most Americans would mistake for characters in a faintly Francophobic Monty Python sketch, Christine de Védrines should be forgiven for making unusual choices. An anxious heiress to a centuries-old fortune, she, along with much of her immediate and extended family, entrusted their fortunes and fates to a charismatic gentleman with a penchant for conspiracy theories. The result? For Christine, routine, cultish beatings; for the others, brainwashing, isolation and bankruptcy. It's an uncomfortably fascinating story; vivid and salacious to the point of doubt, and so incredibly specific that it can barely be considered cautionary.
Barely. Somewhere in or around Washington, D.C, a teenager, similarly anxious and also (allegedly!) destined for immense wealth, has been appealing for help with his millions on the Internet. He too is drawn to a charismatic leader with deeply sociopathic tendencies.
On Reddit recently, he asked this:
Then, as if to excuse himself, "I'm 19."
The anonymous heir's story goes something like this: He's a precocious teen who dropped out of college in a fit of entrepreneurship. He has never needed to worry about money, though his family's only conspicuous Rich People habit is apparently constant travel. Soon, though, his life will change. He stands to inherit up to a billion dollars from his grandfather, an Indian infrastructure magnate.
His first order of business after grasping his looming reality? To consult with Reddit, the often fascinating, occasionally disappointing and aggressively nerdy nerve center of the internet. True to form, the users' first responses were jokes:
• "Bring back Firefly….. " (responses include "This guy is our only hope" and "Ctrl-F firefly, upvote.")
• "Two chicks at the same time."
• "So I need to send you my contact information so you can move it out of the country?" (Which elicited the worrying response from the heir, "why move it out?")
When they're not joking around, though, Reddit users have been known to lapse into state of extreme earnestness. A few posters offered surprisingly thorough screeds for and against the concept of charity, and one allegedly similarly endowed user even posted some first-hand advice:
Dude, first off, beware beware BEWARE. Be extremely wary. To put it bluntly, you come across as idealistic and naive. These are not objectively bad qualities to possess, but they absolutely can be if they result in you putting trust in people who do not deserve it. If you do end up possessing such an enormous amount of money, a certain number of people you meet will be looking to take advantage of you, and these people will almost certainly be much more adept than you in financial and legal matters. Please please please do both me and yourself a favor and watch out.
That so many of Reddit's users took the original poster's request seriously and responded with well-intentioned, if not always practical, suggestions is nearly as surprising as the poster's decision to turn to Reddit in the first place. So we are all money managers now, I think?
I reached out to the original poster, who didn't want to be identified and cut our correspondence short. ("I would like to remain anon," he wrote, followed by silence. So: no confirming his story.) No matter—he left a trail of largely convincing and occasionally bizarre responses in his own thread. They paint a queasy portrait. But it's a familiar portrait! Let's call it "Young Money: A Study in Self Awareness." (It's a watercolor.)
On being a self-made man:
"I am currently, trying to build myself on my own. Doing good so far. I am a Young Entrepreneur, have received funding for a start up on my own through my current network. I originally thought that people would judge me by my age and not take me seriously but I was wrong, and I am glad."
"USA, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, France, Germany, UK, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, South Africa, Taiwan, China, Italy, India, Japan, Egypt, the Netherlands, Sweden, Australia, if I remember any more I'll let you know."
"Actually, I was thinking of putting some money to actually make an ad that if you click, you do in fact get the product it says you will get for free. But you will have to be lucky to get to the ad. I hate all of the internet ads that say, click here to get a free ipod, when I know I never will…."
"I was a Dishwasher for a year!"
"my parents believe in me. None of us care about money. Neither do I."
"I have fun doing business. Hence, I dropped out of college, and on my own got a job as Head of Enterprise Business development and built a network on my own that includes the CIO of NASA, CTO of Lockheed Martin, various venture capitalists and other executives."
"My ultimate goal is to help me people make their good ideas into a reality."
On requests for startup cash:
"will reach back out to you."
And finally, on trust:
"Wow!!! I met this guy at an airport from Nigeria. He asked me to do business with him and wanted money. And I looked his name up on google and scam is what pops up first!"
He seems like a nice guy with pure intentions. He also seems (suspiciously?) like a composite character, created by someone who's had more than a few brushes with young wealth: He's assured, naive, and articulates his insecurities about personal success as matter-of-fact fits of heavily caveated boasting. But again, he seems like a well-meaning guy, and his postings suggest that he is less concerned about doing the COOLEST STUFF EVER than he is about determining what duties will come with his new wealth, and how to fulfill them.
We'll probably never know if he follows Reddit's best or worst advice, or if he just goes through with his own stated plans, or if, you know, he's real. But he's off to a bad start. He hasn't acted on the only piece of indisputably good advice in the entire, thousand comment thread:
"To have already advertised yourself on the internet like this is opening yourself up to trouble. If I were you, the first thing I would do would be to delete this post."