The PJ Tatler

Of Course: NY Magazine Story of 17-Year-Old Market Whiz Debunked

Folks, we should know this by now: if a story appears with a sensational headline yet with few, if any facts or background, presume it’s false. When journalists actually do stumble across stories that obviously require verification, we know to do the verification, and to include the verification in the article. We don’t write 300 words and move on.

On December 14, New York Magazine’s Jessica Pressler included 17-year-old Stuyvesant High School student Mohammed Islam as “Number 12” in the magazine’s annual “Reasons To Love New York” series. The article went global quickly, including coverage in the NY Post and NY Daily News. It was Facebook’s most popular topic earlier today.

From Pressler’s article:

Late last year, a rumor began circulating at Stuyvesant that a junior named Mohammed Islam had made a fortune in the stock market. Not a small fortune, either. Seventy-two million.

An unbelievable amount of money for anyone, not least a high-school student, but as far as rumors go, this one seemed legit. Everyone at Stuy knew that Mohammed, the soft-spoken son of Bengali immigrants from Queens and the president of the school’s Investment Club, was basically a genius.

Mo, a cherubic senior with a goatee and slight faux-hawk, smiled shyly. “He’s quiet today,” said Patrick Trablusi, who was seated with Mo and Damir at a table littered with empty glasses. “Humble.” And tired: “This is our third meeting of the day,” Damir said, signaling to the waitress for another round. “We saw a real-estate agent, a lawyer, you …”

“Next we’re going to see a hedge-fund guy,” Patrick said. The friends locked eyes and started to giggle.

“He basically wants to give us $150 million,” Mo explained, a blush like a sunset creeping over his cheeks.

Giggling high schoolers locking eyes and blushing. Sounds legit.

So does this Facebook page Islam posted just a few hours ago referring to himself as a “public figure,” and on which his latest post states:

It has came to my attention that some people disprove of my spending habits. As a young man I am just beginning to make friends and understand the world, develop philosophy- but later in life I promise that I will lead a humble existence and dare not to spend lavishly and needlessly.

This morning, I tweeted several times that the story, as written, is a textbook example of how a fraudulent story gets written. Few facts, improbable backstory, no verification. A short while later, Business Insider — who had initially covered the teen over a year ago — did the requisite follow-up:

A source familiar with the story told Business Insider that Islam is not worth $72 million. The source believes it’s a rumor started by Islam’s friends or partners that was perpetuated by the New York Magazine article.

Pressler has also defended the story. She Tweeted that she saw a bank statement with the eight figures and is comfortable with what’s in the piece. She also Tweeted that New York Magazine “is not a financial publication.”

Business Insider actually featured Islam on our list of the top 20 “Teen Traders Trying To Take Over The Finance World” just over a year ago. He was nominated by his peers and they made no claims about his net worth.

In a phone interview on Monday, Islam’s partner Damir Tulemagabetov, who was also in the New York Magazine article, said the $72 million figure isn’t necessarily completely accurate.

“Let me put it this way…it’s stated as a rumor,” Tulemaganbetov told us when we asked him if he would deny the $72 million figure. He was with Islam in a car headed to CNBC’s studios in New Jersey.

“All the hype, [Islam] deserves it,” Tulemaganbetov said. Adding that he is “pretty sure” Islam is a “a great trader” and that he’s a “genius.”

Business Insider asked for audited numbers or P&L statements to prove that Islam’s networth is close to $72 million. Tulemaganbetov refused.

The investment club for young traders, of which Islam is a member, sent Business Insider this statement regarding the $72 million figure:

It has been brought to the attention of the Leaders Investment Club that Mohammed Islam has been rumored to have made $72,000,000 through making trades in the stock market. After performing due diligence and talking with Mohammed Islam himself, we have determined that these claims are false and simply been blown up by the media in the interests of sensationalism.