Patricia Russell was a certified financial planner and graduate of several prestigious colleges whose advice was quoted in giant publications like MarketWatch, Consumer Reports and Business Insider.
The only problem, as the Huffington Post pointed out, is that she’s not a real person.
A reporter at HufPo was tipped off by another reporter that Russell was somebody had who had responded to many inquiries on HARO, a service called "Help A Reporter Out", that connects reporters to experts in various fields.
When one reporter, Elizabeth Aldrich, finally decided to write about Russell, she couldn’t find any online presence for her aside from her website, FinanceMarvel, where she claimed to be a certified financial planner. Additionally, the photo on her site turned out to be a stock image.
Aldrich said: “I emailed her asking for a LinkedIn page, and she said she had zero social media profiles. But while I was waiting for her to respond, I reverse-Google-image-searched her photo to see if I could find her profile on my own, and it’s a stock photo.”
Shortly thereafter, a LinkedIn profile mysteriously popped up.
“Now she has a LinkedIn [profile], which she created right after I told her I couldn’t use her responses,” Aldrich said.
Russell had even connected with the reporter of the Huffington Post story on LinkedIn, too. In addition to being a Certified Financial Planner, she also lists degrees in accounting and finance from MIT and a business administration degree from the University of Oxford. Russell had emailed reporters at the Huffington Post several times, asking to contribute her expertise on stories that were being written. She wanted to talk about everything from the best time to buy a car, to how the dark web works.
But by then, more problems started to pop up. A search on the Certified Financial Planner board of standards database didn’t turn up anybody named Patricia Russell. The director of communications for the CFP Board confirmed that there is no CFP named Patricia Russell.
The reporter emailed Russell and asked if she was certified under a different name. She told the reporter that she had recently gotten married and her credentials with the CFP hadn’t been amended yet. When asked for her maiden name, the reporter claims that she picked another Patricia off the CFP Board‘s list and try to pass herself off as someone else.
The Huffington Post also contacted the registrar at MIT to verify if Russell had attended. MIT confirmed that there was no record of an individual with either name that was provided to the reporter. The University of Oxford didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Russell's company, FinanceMarvel, said on its website that Russell was a graduate of the Yale School of Management on its "About" page. On that page, Russell claims to be a single woman in her 30s working to be mortgage-free by age 40.
The site said:
“I will share my knowledge and teach you how to repair and improve your credit score, how to become debt-free, how to save more money and how to generate a passive income.”
She also claimed that her FICO score “has been well above 800 every year for the last 20 years,” despite the fact that she technically could have only been an adult for 17 years.
She also claimed: “I spent 25 years researching, testing, and proving these methods ― they work.”
When faced with the details that the reporter found out, Russell continued to refuse to identify herself and said that she is using a pseudonym to protect her privacy and avoid identity theft. She even updated her "About" page to state that her name isn’t real.
She now writes: “Whilst I do have relevant credentials to my real name I have decided it was in my best interest to remove them in order to avoid any misunderstandings.”
She also deleted the entire story describing her journey to becoming a financial expert and replaced it with a disclaimer.
Her blog promotes various credit repair companies. These could be affiliate links where "Russell" is paid everytime somebody signs up for services.
When looking into the information on the website, the report found that the site's owner information is protected. However, the reporter was able to drum up all of the websites that are hosted on the same server as FinanceMarvel.com and many of them relate to debt relief and credit repair, including:
What all of the sites have in common is that they reference the company National Debt Relief. Adam Tijerina, marketing manager for National Debt Relief, is listed as the owner of several of the websites on the server, and according to him, there is no link between his website and FinanceMarvel.
“As far as I know, we are not working with Patricia and FinanceMarvel.com,” he said.
The Post noted that they still have no idea who is behind the Patricia Russell persona, but the fact that their personal details have disappeared indicates that they "have more to hide then their name".
She’s now listed as the editor of Finance Marvel on her website and her education and credentials have been scrubbed from her LinkedIn profile.
And this isn't the first time this has happened. In 2018, an investigation revealed that Drew Cloud, a persona well known and frequently quoted on student loans, was actually a fictional person that was fabricated by the financial services marketplace LendEDU.
“Drew Cloud is a pseudonym that a diverse group of authors at Student Loan Report, LLC use to share experiences and information related to the challenges college students face with funding their education,” Nate Matherson, CEO of LendEDU said at the time.
We’re guessing that since the Patricia Russell story has now gone mainstream, it's not gonna be long until her real identity is exposed.