RSS
The Photoshopping social climber who fooled Silicon Valley
Shirley Hornstein is a high-profile personality who even landed atop a Forbes list of top women investors. According to TechCrunch, she's also a fraud
Shirley Hornstein, or @shirls on Twitter, has claimed she worked with Facebook founding member Sean Parker and partied with the likes of Justin Timberlake.
Shirley Hornstein, or @shirls on Twitter, has claimed she worked with Facebook founding member Sean Parker and partied with the likes of Justin Timberlake.
Twitter/Shirls

"Silicon Valley is full of hustlers," says Anthony Ha at TechCrunch. But there's a line between "hustling and flat-out lying," and Shirley Hornstein just crossed it. The highly visible angel investor was just outed as a hoax, infiltrating the Valley's nepotistic social circles with uncanny ease to boost her profile. Hornstein has yet to publicly comment on the accusations, and her Twitter feed has remained mum. Who is she? And what did she do? Here's what you should know about the alleged grifter who, apparently, tricked a large slice of the tech world into thinking she was more than she is:

Who is she?
Hornstein, or @shirls, as she's known on Twitter, describes herself as an "angel investor," "tech nerd," and "entrepreneur." She's extremely visible throughout the Valley, attending launch parties and constantly rubbing elbows with tech's elite. She has had direct involvement in more than a few high-profile startups (such as Angie's List-like service app Zaarly), and even landed on Forbes' list of "Top Women Angels and Venture Capitalists." She's also very skilled with Photoshop. 

What did Hornstein do wrong?
Her Facebook page features meticulously selected photos — as do her other social media presences — that show her hanging out with a number of high-profile investors, including Justin Timberlake and Andy Samberg. Fresh evidence suggests at least more than one of those are well-designed fakes. TechCrunch unearthed a few original undoctored photos and placed them next to Hornstein's sepia-washed imposters. In a picture with Samberg, for instance, she calls the actor "one of my favs people ever" with her face over a body that isn't hers. But that's not even how she first landed in hot water.

What else did she do?
Where she really got in trouble was when she claimed to work for Sean Parker, the former Facebook founding president who is also a managing partner at the Founders Fund. Parker and the company recently filed a complaint against Hornstein, saying that in July 2011 Hornstein began "making false and misleading written oral representations" about her affiliation with the Founders Fund. "In fact," says the statement, "Ms. Hornstein is not now, nor has she ever been, an employee or business partner of Founders Fund or any Founders Fund Partner or executive."

Who has she allegedly duped?
Many of her fooled associates are choosing to remain anonymous, "probably out of fear of embarrassment more than anything else," says Andrew Dalton at SFist. Others, however, are coming out with "accounts of how she regaled them with tales of her early investment in the hot startup Dropbox." As one entrepreneur tweeted: "[TechCrunch's] Shirls article basically felt like a tech Gossip Girl blast tonight while out with my girlfriends."

Now what is she up to?
Apparently, she's "trying her luck with the political world," says Adrian Chen at Gawker. She evidently attended the Republican National Convention in Tampa, partying with GOP bigwigs like Marco Rubio and John Bolton. Silicon Valley already has a "greasy social ladder," says Dalton. "Like all grifters, however," Hornstein was caught because she "got greedy. Too greedy."

Sources: Forbes, Gawker, Gizmodo, SFist, TechCrunch

EDITORS' PICKS

THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER

Subscribe to the Week