New York Mag Totally Falls For Teen’s Phony Tale Of Making Millions On Stocks

As part of New York Magazine’s “Reasons To Love New York” issue, reporter Jessica Pressler profiled a high school student who became something of a local celebrity amid rumors that he made $72 million on the stock market.

But the 17-year-old “millionaire” from Queens, Mohammed Islam, told the New York Observer on Monday that he’s never actually made any money on the stock market.

In her piece, Pressler wrote that Islam’s rumored $72-million fortune was “an unbelievable amount of money for anyone, not least a high-school student, but as far as rumors go, this one seemed legit.”

Later on, she wrote that although Islam was “shy about the $72 million number, he confirmed his net worth is in the ‘high eight figures.'” She also responded to criticism on Twitter by saying that the magazine had viewed a bank statement confirming Islam was worth at least eight figures.

Pressler’s reporting began to unravel, however, when other news outlets looked into the teen’s tale.

An anonymous source close to Islam’s family told the Washington Post that the teen had falsified the bank statement shown to the magazine.

Islam “created some bulls—t thing on the computer with blacked out numbers. He said she could look at it for 10 seconds, and pulled it away,” the source said, according to the newspaper.

Observer editor Ken Kurson interviewed Islam and asked him whether the “eight figures” quote was true. He responded “no, it is not true.”

In fact, Islam told Kurson, he never traded stocks at all. He explained that he ran an investment club at Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, where he made “very successful” simulated trades.

“So it’s total fiction?” Kurson asked.

“Yes,” Islam responded.

The teen went on to describe the consequences of his big lie, telling Kurson that he had to sleep at a friend’s house after the story was published.

“Honestly, my dad wanted to disown me,” Islam said. “My mom basically said she’d never talk to me. Their morals are that if I lie about it and don’t own up to it then they can no longer trust me. … They knew it was false and they basically wanted to kill me and I haven’t spoken to them since.”

Pressler somehow attempted to stand by her profile of Islam, noting that she’d attributed the $72-million figure to rumor from the outset.

“If he lied, then he lied,” she told CNNMoney. “But I just want to be clear that we didn’t 100% follow this lie. That’s just not what happened.”

After questions were raised about the plausibility of the article, the following editor’s note was added to the piece:

Mohammed Islam has denied that he made $72 million on the stock market. Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor; the initial headline has been changed to more clearly reflect the fact that we did not know the exact figure he has made in trades. However, Mohammed provided bank statements that showed he is worth eight figures, and he confirmed on the record that he’s worth eight figures.

Then on Tuesday morning, the magazine admitted that it had been duped in an apology to readers:

In the most recent edition of New York, its annual Reasons to Love New York issue, the magazine published a story about a Stuyvesant High School senior named Mohammed Islam, who was rumored to have made $72 million trading stocks. Islam said his net worth was in the “high eight figures.” As part of the research process, the magazine sent a fact-checker to Stuyvesant, where Islam produced a document that appeared to be a Chase bank statement attesting to an eight-figure bank account.

After the story’s publication, people questioned the $72 million figure in the headline, which was written by editors based on the rumored figure. The headline was amended. But in an interview with the New York Observer last night, Islam now says his entire story was made up. A source close to the Islam family told the Washington Post that the statements were falsified. We were duped. Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Catherine Thompson is a senior editor for Talking Points Memo in New York City. She came to the site in 2013 and reported on national affairs. Previously, she worked as a research assistant to investigative reporter Wayne Barrett. She can be reached at catherine@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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