Many students yearn to travel the globe. For some, scrimping and saving can allow them the opportunity to go on an epic adventure. Of course, traveling in style when you’re so young doesn’t always happen, and that’s why most students opt to go backpacking instead.
When one woman from Amsterdam decided to backpack through Southeast Asia, she couldn’t have been more excited. She told everyone her plans and stayed in constant contact with them. However, they would soon discover that she’d been lying to them the entire time…
Zilla van den Born, a 25-year-old Dutch student, made an important decision. She decided that she needed to recalibrate, and in order to do so, she was going to take time off from school and backpack around Southeast Asia for five weeks.
The plucky adventurer was set to depart on April 23, 2014. In the days leading up to her trip, she shared pictures of her packing on social media. Though Zilla would be away for over a month, the plan was just to bring the bare minimum in her bags.
On the morning of her flight out of the country, her parents accompanied her to the train that would officially mark the start of her adventure. Before Zilla boarded, she made sure to hand her parents her itinerary so they would always know where she was.
Zilla’s parents were sad to see their daughter leave them—and the safety of their country—for such a long period of time, but they were also excited for her. This was such an amazing opportunity and they knew she would have the adventure of a lifetime.
During her 42-day adventure, Zilla would explore Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos. Once she was at the airport, she continued to share photographs, including one of her passport and some taken in the airport terminal.
Zilla then texted her parents to let them know that she was boarding the plane and that she would let them know the minute she landed. Fourteen hours later, true to her word, she reached out to let her parents know she’d arrived. All seemed normal, right?
As soon as Zilla settled into her first location—a hotel in Thailand—she reached out to her parents and arranged a Skype call. She showed them the room and talked to them about the temples she visited and the food she ate.
This pattern continued when Zilla left Thailand and moved on to Cambodia and Laos. She would Skype her family, show them her hotel room, and talk to them about all the other backpackers she met during her travels.
In addition to sharing time on Skype with her family, Zilla seemed eager to get out of her hotel and explore these countries. She would often post photos of her various adventures on social media for her friends and family to enjoy.
From swimming in beautiful blue waters to visiting ancient temples, Zilla happily shared her entire trip with the world. For her family and friends, it was almost as if they were taking the adventure with her. This feeling, however, wouldn’t last…
Zilla’s incredible photographs painted such an unbelievable picture of her various travels that it was only natural that her friends who were still in school became suspicious. They became envious about her adventures.
While it seemed like Zilla was living the dream and traveling the globe, she was actually deceiving them all. In reality, everything she posted on social media and told her family was a giant lie!
The truth was that Zilla had never even left the country in the first place! Instead of traveling to Cambodia, Thailand, and Laos, the young woman was still in Amsterdam where she’d always been…
For 42 days, Zilla had simply stayed in her apartment, conning everyone she knew. When she had to leave to buy essentials, like groceries, she would don an elaborate disguise just to make sure that no one who knew her would recognize her.
In order to pull off her epic scam, Zilla spent much of her time editing images and manipulating them so that it appeared she was visiting places that she’d never seen before. They were pretty convincing, too. But Zilla had a good reason for her trick…
The reason for this ruse? Zilla was an artist who had an idea for a totally original project. “The inspiration for this project came from combining my two passions together: photo manipulation and traveling,” Zilla said. “I wanted to prove how easily reality gets distorted.”
Zilla spared no expense and put herself through the wringer to achieve the result she wanted. She would wake up in the middle of the night to chat with her family, and she would spend a lot of money transforming her apartment to look like different South Asian hotel rooms.
For all 42 days, the only person who really knew where Zilla was and what she was up to was her boyfriend. While she told everyone the truth at the end of the project, to say that say her friends and family were confused—and hurt—by her actions would be an understatement.
“I did this to show people that we filter and manipulate what we show on social media,” Zilla said of her experiment. “Thereby we create an online ideal world which reality can no longer meet. My goal was to prove how common and easy it is to distort reality.”
Zilla was happy with the project, but she realized only after the fact that it would really hurt the people she loved. “If I had the chance to do it again, I don’t think I would,” Zilla said. “I really underestimated the impact of the project on myself and the people around me!”
Though Zilla may not have used her cunning ways to intentionally hurt people, there are con artists who do. Just meet Anna Kushchenko, a woman with an IQ of 162 and flaming red hair.
Born in 1982 in Stalingrad, Russia, Anna grew up accustomed to a fairly luxurious lifestyle. Her mother was a teacher, but her father was a Russian diplomat who mostly worked in Kenya. Anna was a star pupil and went on to study economics in Moscow.
Like most wealthy college students, Anna used her long summers off to travel and explore the world. In the summer of 2001, she visited London, and immersed herself in the local nightlife. One evening, she met a man who immediately captured her attention.
His name was Alex Chapman. “I knew right away I had to talk to her,” he said. The two hit it off and continued to see each other, with Anna flying back and forth between Moscow and London for the rest of her studies.
After dating for just 5 months, the couple got married. They knew their families would be skeptical, so they decided not to tell them right away. This would be the first in a long string of secrets the two would keep from their families — and from each other.
Keeping their marriage a secret was not only technically difficult but emotionally as well. A few months after their wedding, Alex and Anna Chapman went to visit Anna’s parents in Africa. That was when Alex first met Anna’s dad, the curious Vasily Kushchyenko.
Alex mentioned that Vasily was “scary” and that he had a “huge influence” on his daughter. Vasily didn’t trust Alex for one second, and Alex was not fond of his new father-in-law, either. The newlyweds soon returned to London, and Alex tried to shake off the haunting memory of Vasily as best as he could.
As the couple settled into married life and Anna received an English passport, everything seemed to go perfectly. Anna graduated with first-class honors and took up jobs at big investment corporation, landing gigs at NetJets and Barclays. Slowly but certainly, her behavior began to change.
Around 2005, according to Alex, Anna started increasingly meeting with people she referred to as “Russian friends.” If this was the only issue, Alex may have let it slide, but Anna seemed to become a completely different person.
Suddenly she was more materialistic than before, spending all her money on designer clothes, bags, and jewelry, which she probably needed to fit in with her new V.I.P. friends. She attended party after party, bragging about whom she met, “like a midlife crisis,” Alex said.
By 2006, Alex and Anna had grown apart and filed for divorce. Despite the many connections she had made in London, Anna decided to move back to Moscow — but not before telling Alex a crucial family secret.
Her father, she said, used to be a top agent in the notorious Soviet spy agency, the KGB! Leaving Alex to mull this over, she returned to Moscow. Nobody heard from her for several years; only her closest friends and relatives knew that she was even still alive.
Years later, Anna finally popped up again in New York City. Nobody understood her sudden decision to relocate to America — she always claimed she didn’t like the place and mocked American accents when she watched TV. And yet, here she was, posing in front of the statue of liberty.
Anna got to work immediately and quickly became the head of an international real estate business. When she wasn’t working (in an office), she was out mingling with members of the high society, and it was soon rumored that she was dating New Jersey tycoon Michel Bittan.
On one hot summer day in 2012, Anna received a strange call from a man who called himself Roman; he claimed to be a Russian consular official. He asked her to meet him at a coffee shop using a code phrase.
“Didn’t we meet in L.A. last summer?” he asked when they met, and Anna, well-trained, knew exactly how to respond: “No, I think it was the Hamptons,” she said, using the code phrase.
Roman asked her to deliver a fake passport to an alleged spy in an agreed-upon location the following day. Anna hesitated — she had never met this man before, nor had she ever received similar instructions, but she took the passport anyway.
Once the meeting was over, she immediately bought an untraceable burner phone and anxiously placed a call to her father, Vasily. He told her to hand the passport over to the police right away. That way, it would seem like she did the right thing in case it was a trap.
Unfortunately for Anna, it was already too late. The FBI had been tracking and watching her for months, and they finally had enough evidence to put her in cuffs. She instantly became a sensation as her picture was splashed across newspaper covers and details of her deep-cover mission on behalf of Russia were exposed.
The FBI reported that it once tracked her sending secret signals to a Russian diplomat from inside a bookstore in New York, so they bugged her, recorded her, and followed her every move. Her encounter with “Roman” was only the final straw. The jig was up for Anna.
As it turned out, Anna was only one of a ring of 10 Russian “sleeper” agents busted that summer — a spy. She ended up confessing her sins to avoid a lengthy trial and was instead sent back on a one-way plane to Moscow in return for four double agents who were destined for the U.S. and England.
Surprisingly enough, the captured spies were greeted at home by none other than Russian President Vladimir Putin. A former KGB agent himself, Putin celebrated the returning comrades.
Far from being treated as criminals, the uncovered agents were hailed as heroes in a grand ceremony full of fanfare and patriotic music. It wasn’t an outcome even Anna expected.
Now, everybody knew the name, Anna Chapman. People wondered how on earth she could have pulled all of this off by herself. During one of her many media appearances in Russia, Chapman hinted that her secret weapon had been the art of seduction.
In fact, she was suspected of trying to seduce famous American whistleblower Edward Snowden. She once Tweeted at him “Will you marry me?” but Snowden couldn’t tell if she was serious or not. When she was asked about it on a TV interview, she simply stormed out.
The man she was once actually married to, Alex, had given several interviews about their relationship since the arrest, mostly to Anna’s dismay. However, in May 2018, he was suddenly found dead at the age of 36. It was written off as natural causes, but many people suspected otherwise.
Anna was fairing much better, becoming a multi-millionaire with her fashion boutique, financial consultancy, and glamorous photoshoots. She even landed a gig on a local TV show and dove into politics, but nothing surprised her fans more than her sudden hiatus.
While Anna had been avidly posting on social media for years, she suddenly disappeared from the spotlight for a while in 2015. As it turned out, she had been hiding a pregnancy and gave birth to a son. She did not share the identity of the father.
Since then, Anna has been focusing less on modeling and more on a political youth movement. With her seat on the Young Guard of United Russia (the youth wing of Vladimir Putin’s party), she has been “engaged in educating young people.”
No matter how, it seems that Anna is adamant about remaining in the spotlight, making both the press and her fans very happy. After all, she seems to have been born for this.
There is no telling what this “former” spy will do next, but there have been whispers about her running for office. With a wildcard like Anya Kushchenko, only time can tell.