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The truth about the 27-year-old "self-made millionaire"

Mandi Woodruff

Since the publication of the article “A 27-year-old millionaire reveals how he built his wealth,” on Nov. 4, new details have come to light which have made Anton Ivanov's claims of becoming a self-made millionaire highly suspect.  We’ve since issued a correction in the original story and are now sharing more details about how the truth came to light.

Ivanov launched a financial education blog in September called Financessful.com. On his site and in articles written for other personal finance blogs, Ivanov claimed he was a “self-made millionaire” who began investing at age 18 after watching his parents mismanage their finances.

We came across Ivanov’s story first in an article he wrote for a well-regarded personal finance blog. He had written a couple of other guest posts on other blogs, but no major publication had covered him before. We decided to reach out to him for an interview. Our reasons were simple: his was the kind of story that we love to hear and yet so rarely get the chance to tell. He appeared to be a young person who got his finances together at an early age and built his wealth based on a set of basic principles that any financial expert would support — discipline, hard work, budgeting, goal-setting, and low-cost mutual fund investing. On top of that, through his blog, was to help others follow in his footsteps. We wanted to highlight the story behind his accomplishments, especially at a time when millennials are so often criticized for their financial shortcomings.

A screenshot from Ivanov's blog, which he has now shut down.
A screenshot from Ivanov's blog, which he has now shut down.

In several phone conversations with Ivanov, including a string of follow-up emails, he revealed in great detail how he managed to achieve $1 million in net worth in a little over a decade — from details of his investment allocations right down to his favorite personal finance books. He claimed that he began saving at age 16 and opened an IRA at age 18 with $10,000. When he later joined the U.S. Navy, he said he socked away 60% of his income, which he split between his retirement fund and discount brokerage account. He supplemented his income by earning $20,000 per year from freelance web design gigs he took on the side, he said. He had no debt because he did not go to college, he said. His knew his parents couldn’t afford it, so he decided to take advantage of free education offered by the Navy.

Although Ivanov claimed he was a millionaire, he was honest about the fact that the majority of his assets (about $623,000 worth) were in real estate. Despite this, we still thought his saving and investment strategies were great examples for our audience to learn from. The reader reaction to his post was instantaneous — hundreds of people commented on the story and we decided to invite Ivanov to participate in a live chat on our Facebook page, where he could answer people's questions in person. We were glad, at the time, to give someone who had managed to build their wealth with so few bells and whistles a platform to share his story and encourage others to save and invest wisely.

The truth comes out

Two weeks after the story was published, a former Navy colleague of Ivanov’s, who asked to remain anonymous, sent us a copy of a confession Ivanov posted on Facebook on Nov. 12. In his confession, Ivanov said he lied to Yahoo Finance about the source of his wealth. In the post, he said he “got tired of telling people lies” and he thought it was the “right thing to do.”

On Monday, Ivanov admitted to Yahoo Finance that 75%-80% of his wealth consists of an inheritance that was left to him by his parents, who died several years ago. He would not specify the exact dollar amount nor the year his parents died. But he also said that one of the two properties he owns, which he said is valued at more than $600,000, is also part of that inheritance.

We are still unable to verify Anton’s claims about his inheritance, but the premise of his blog and our profile of him were based largely on a fabrication.

Where we went wrong

In personal finance reporting, much of what we write about is based on first-person accounts shared with us by everyday consumers. A difficult part of the work is often convincing these people to reveal personal details about their finances, a sensitive subject for many. Many of the stories we write don’t exactly feature people in the best light, either; for example, we’ve written about people who earn six figures and still feel broke, people who can’t afford health insurance, and people who are mired in student debt. Often, we trust folks to tell us the truth because they have so little to gain by sharing their story with us. In fact, having their names and faces published on one of the biggest websites in the world can sometimes work against them.

In the case of Ivanov, we were not dilligent enough when it came to looking for ways he might personally gain by sharing his story with our audience. Yes, we knew he would certainly see an uptick in his blog's traffic, but other than that, there didn’t seem to be much opportunity for financial gain. He was not, to our knowledge, selling financial products or working for a financial services firm in any capacity. He is a full-time software engineer and we have verified that he’s been working for a San Diego-based software company since at least last February. And because we sought Ivanov out for the article and not the other way around, we did not suspect he might use this publication for his own financial gain.

It wasn’t until we confronted him about his Facebook confession that he revealed that he received kickbacks from financial service companies for referrals sent from his website. These commissions ranged from $10 to $75 each time someone signed up for their services from a link posted on Ivanov's site, although he would not give other details about them or tell us how much he earned from traffic generated by Yahoo’s story.

Ivanov did not only lie to us. In his Facebook post, he revealed that he lied to friends and family about having earned an economics degree from the University of Michigan. He told Yahoo Finance he skipped college because he did not want to rack up student loans. A University of Michigan spokesperson confirmed to us that he did attend the school, but he did not complete his degree. He dropped out in 2006 after a year and a half.

We've spoken with Ivanov's former Navy colleague, who initially alerted us to his Facebook confession. He told us Ivanov often tried to coach others in investing and encouraged his coworkers to invest in certain stocks. The source was among several of Ivanov's Navy friends to post comments on his Facebook page questioning some of the details he told Yahoo Finance. 

Many readers raised eyebrows at how Ivanov was able to save more than $400,000 over the course of 10 years by investing only in index funds. We should have asked an investment expert for their opinion on whether this was possible. We also could have asked to see financial statements that proved he had built his wealth on his own. We didn't.

According to an estate-planning attorney we contacted, it would have been difficult to verify the source of Ivanov’s wealth without knowing more details about his parents, including their names and dates of death. If his funds were distributed through a trust, it would be even harder to find proof without Ivanov’s help.

Had his parents been alive, we might have also asked to speak with them to give them a chance to defend themselves. But when he told us they had passed away, we let it go. He did not tell us he had a sister, but he mentioned her in his Facebook confession. Had we known, we would surely have reached out to her. We’ve contacted someone we believe to be Anton’s sister but have yet to hear back from her.

If Anton refused to share any of this information with us, as he did during our phone conversation earlier this week, it might have been a big enough red flag to keep us from moving forward with the story. In the end, we put our trust in the wrong person and our lack of due dilligence allowed him to not only hoodwink us but millions of readers.

Ivanov would not tell us why he lied. However, in his Facebook post, he said he “got tired of lying to people” and thought coming clean was “the right thing to do." No doubt he understood that it would make a more compelling story for readers if he had made his million entirely on his own rather than from a family inheritance; and the attention he would garner might burnish his reputation and boost his side business.

Yahoo Finance regrets this grave error in reporting and will take steps to ensure it does not happen again.

Despite the fact that he wasn’t a self-made millionaire, Ivanov was making some pretty smart financial decisions in his life. Unfortunately, the fact that he fabricated the very origin of his good financial standing is what he’ll mostly be known for.