Smooth Criminals

She Speaks! Silicon Swindler Shirley Hornstein Comes Clean

"For as long as I can remember, I have been lying."
 She Speaks! Silicon Swindler Shirley Hornstein Comes Clean

(Photo: Facebook)

Last August, TechCrunch broke the story of Shirley Hornstein, a Photoshopping fabricator who ingratiated herself into Silicon Valley circles by name-dropping nonexistent connections. Her behavior eventually prompted Founders Fund to file a complaint to stop her from claiming she worked for them.

Following that report, Betabeat published claims that Ms. Hornstein, a former roommate of TechCrunch community manager Elin Blesener, was also guilty of credit card fraud, duping at least one former employer (Giftiki) as well as personal friends. Billing statements–provided by a friend who urged Ms. Hornstein to seek help–showed that “Shirls” used a stolen credit card to buy a plane ticket twice.

At the time, Ms. Hornstein declined our requests for comment. But almost five months to the day later, we received an email response. “Thank you for reaching out for my side of the story back in August. While I wasn’t able to comment then, I have taken the last few months to process everything and have now commented publicly,” she wrote today, pointing us to a new post on her Tumblr.

“I have spent the last 26 years (or, my entire life) lying to, deceiving and manipulating everyone around me, including myself. It finally, publicly, and devastatingly caught up to me last year and I made the decision to stop,” Ms. Hornstein wrote under the title, “An Honest Apology.” Ms. Hornstein says she has sought professional counseling and wants to “seek forgiveness from those I have wronged, repair any outstanding damage, and learn to speak honestly from my heart.”

I’m here to apologize, and to tell you how it happened.In short, my house of cards collapsed. After TechCrunch outed me as a liar and (ab)user of photoshop, I was subjected to the humiliation and judgement from people I have never met and probably never will. More articles surfaced, and my entire credibility was essentially erased. I lost my job. My friends. My life came crashing done on me. I was devastated, confused and ashamed of myself. Deep down I knew this would happen eventually because you can’t build your life based on lies, but what did I do to stop it? I told more lies, created more elaborate stories, abused trust that been given to me and pretended that everything was going to be okay. Fake it ‘til you make it, right? I was so lost.

How did I let it go so far? Well… that’s a question I ask myself too. I’ll try to explain as best as I can, but please know this is not an excuse — because there is none. What I did was wrong, and I’m ashamed of my behavior. I’m just offering an insight into the “why’s” a lot of people have asked me about, “why’s” about which I was always too much of a coward to give them an answer. I’m incredibly insecure, and I have been struggling with my insecurities for most of my life. Lying became my coping mechanism, because it allowed me to cover up  everything I hated about myself – my body, my (normal) upbringing, my (non-ivy) education, my job (or sometimes lack thereof), my (nonexistent) friends, and my constant fear of being unimportant. I could hide all those things with elaborate stories of grandeur that I thought would make people like me. I didn’t want to be myself because I didn’t like myself – so why would anyone else like the real me? Over the years those lies made me feel confident, and as the lies got bigger my behavior changed to match the lies. I started drowning myself in debt to keep up appearances, attended events I cared about (but couldn’t afford) and made promises I desperately wanted to fulfill, but knew I couldn’t. Everything spun out of control. So far out of control, that I completely lost touch with who I actually am, and as a result, my life fell apart. It’s an insufficient explanation, not an excuse, but the only way this gets fixed is if I start being honest about why I’ve been doing this for so long.

You can read the full text of Ms. Hornstein’s apology here and our earlier report on credit card fraud here.

This is a breaking story and we will update it as we learn more. Tips@Betabeat.com

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com