Seventeen-year-old Mohammed Islam wants you to think he's a big shot. On his website, Ettaz Financial, he wears a pair of fogged-over glasses, expression serious, sporting a red tie on a snowy day.
The New York high school senior says he got interested in the financial industry "at the tender age of 8," quickly fell into the third-rate world of penny stocks before graduating to the futures market after finding "a love for risk and volatility." How much has he made? Millions, he said. His net worth has soared into the "high eight figures."
The world is filled with teenagers like Mo Islam, who now says he never made a dime on the stock market. They play fast and loose with facts. But they don't usually get the treatment he got in Sunday's issue of New York magazine.
Now the magazine has issued an apology for that story about the high school senior. "We were duped," reads a statement released Tuesday and also posted as an editor's note on the story itself. "Our fact-checking process was obviously inadequate; we take full responsibility and we should have known better. New York apologizes to our readers."
The article, reported and written by staff writer Jessica Pressler, begins with a rumor. Someone - it's unspecified who - said Mo had pocketed $72 million by trading penny stocks. "An unbelievable amount of money for anyone, not least a high school student, but as far as rumors go, this one seemed legit," Pressler wrote. The original headline: "A Stuyvesant Senior Made $72 Million Trading Stocks on His Lunch Break."
"As part of the research process, the magazine sent a fact-checker to Stuyvesant [High School], where Islam produced a document that appeared to be a Chase bank statement attesting to an eight-figure bank account," the magazine said Tuesday. "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."
Coming on the heels of Rolling Stone's disastrous story of a University of Virginia gang rape, the story unraveled almost as quickly as it went viral. While the New York Post, the Daily Mail and the Guardian did their versions, New York Magazine's was getting pounded in its comments section: "How dumb do you have to [be] to believe that this kid made $72M trading stocks during lunch?"
Then on Monday afternoon, Mo backed out of a spot on CNBC, confessing the $72 million figure was inaccurate. "The attention is not what we expected - we never wanted this hype," he said. New York, however, stood by the story: "Our story portrays the $72 million figure as a rumor . . . 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."
But now Mo says that was a lie, too. "You seem to be quoted saying, 'eight figures,' " New York Observer editor Ken Kurson asked Islam in an interview on Monday. "That's not true, is it?"
"No, it is not true," Islam said.
"Is there ANY figure? Have you invested and made returns at all?"
"So, it's total fiction?"
The next morning, New York Magazine noted that interview with New York Observer: "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."