WEST SACRAMENTO, Calif.--Casey Serin is on his way to becoming the most hated blogger on the Internet.
With scant income, assets, or business savvy, the would-be real-estate mogul managed to purchase eight homes in hopes of reselling them at a profit. Along the way, he's lost all of them, run up some $170,000 in credit card and credit line debt, and launched iamfacingforeclosure.com to share his woes with the world. (Editor's note: Serin's site was intermittently reachable Monday.)
Financial exhibitionism, coupled with a lack of penitence for stiffing his creditors, has transformed the 24-year-old resident of this sleepy Sacramento suburb into a celebrity among fellow bloggers. But unlike other online celebrities, Serin's stardom comes from a unique source: "haters" who patronize his blog solely to learn what financial missteps he's made today.
"A community formed overnight," Serin said in an interview. "It wasn't a very positive community."
Since launching his Web site last September, Serin has discovered that it can be profitable to outrage and annoy the thousands of people who visit his blog every day. He estimates he was making up to $1,000 a month through Google ads and believes he's on track to make even more through Yahoo's ad network. His notoriety has led to appearances on Suze Orman's and Robert Kiyosaki's advice shows, and he says he's working on a book and advice packet that he'll sell online.
Through planning or dumb luck, Serin has managed to capture an audience by severely irritating many disparate groups: those who blame him and fellow speculators for the housing bubble; devout Christians, who urge him to follow the Bible more closely; and others who are hoping for news that his creditors are suing him and that his petite, attractive wife Galina is divorcing him.
Serin makes it all public, including financial spreadsheets and bank statements, frank admissions that he lied on mortgage applications, and, more recently, his marital strife with Galina. Because her husband has refused to get a job since January 2006, the couple has been forced to move in with relatives and Galina cleans houses to pay for their food and rent.
As a result, the tell-all blog entries have drawn the same kind of highly attentive crowd that might assemble to watch a train wreck in progress. "I guess I'm an open, kind of exhibitionist personality," Serin said.
His legions of critics use less flattering terms. The HousingPanic blog calls Serin "the physical representation of fraud, greed, debt, fear, bubbles and human folly." Another says Serin is "slothful, arrogant, unable to plan, unable to make decisions, easily overwhelmed."
Hating Serin has become something of a sport among bloggers, who compete with each other to post the most biting critiques of his financial missteps. No fewer than four Serin-hating sites have cropped up, and many others poke fun at how he paid tens of thousands of dollars for real-estate investing courses, ran up $2.2 million in debt by buying houses on credit, and then lost most of them to foreclosure (others were sold at a loss, and Serin estimates he owes an additional $100,000 to $250,000 to the banks to cover those losses).
There's even the sine qua non of a Net-celeb: a Casey Serin Dance Remix mocking his favorite sayings. Doctored photo galleries include images depicting Serin as, alternatively, Gilligan from Gilligan's Island, and McDonald's Hamburglar character. He's already been called a "national obsession."
"Everyone has an opinion and anyone can speculate," said Rob Dawg, who runs a popular anti-Serin Web site called Exurbannation. "Is he mentally ill? Mentally feeble? Do his bizarre personal habits affect his judgement or vice versa?" Dawg wrote in e-mail on Friday. "On and on. For many of us, however, Casey has become the eye of the storm, not the storm itself."
Serin has not filed for bankruptcy, though he has publicly mulled the option. For now, he believes himself to be effectively judgment-proof, with his only significant asset being a run-down Volkswagen Jetta that recently was broken into.
Readers who love to hate
The tension between Serin and his so-called haters has led to an unlikely situation: the very people who loathe him the most also rely on him for a daily source of entertainment.
The concept is sometimes called "irritainment," defined as: "Entertainment and media spectacles that are both annoying and compulsively watchable." (The O.J. Simpson trial in 1995 is the most famous example. Perez Hilton's blog may be another.)
Against their better judgment, some haters have become financial supporters. In March, when Serin was facing a collection agency called CashCall, known for hardball tactics, Serin held a "beg-a-thon" trying to raise $220.48 by the next day.
It worked. Readers paid money to get him to answer personal questions, such as explaining why his wife dropped out of college. Someone even paid Serin $250 for the opportunity to rant to him for an hour about financial responsibility.
"I was amazed that the so-called haters were willing to spend money on me," Serin said. "It shows that they're not really haters. They're in it for the entertainment."
Some are. But others are honestly upset and view Serin as an exemplar of the worst of the housing bubble. Speculators who lied on loans, critics say, raised the cost of housing for honest buyers who needed a place to live, and foreclosures tend to reduce property values of nearby homes.
One common charge is that by lying on mortgage applications, Serin violated state and federal fraud laws. Serin uses the term "my mortgage fraud." He also admits: "I overstated my income, misrepresented owner occupancy intent and concealed the cash-back from the lenders."
That frank admission has led to calls to "Send Casey Serin To Prison"--a petition to the FBI has appeared--as well as a similar call targeting his wife.
"Casey and Galina Serin's story isn't one of 'Young couple tries to make it in the cold, cruel world,'" one critic wrote. "These two are f****g Bonnie and Clyde. What they're doing is bank robbery, without the gun."
Stephen Kodak, an FBI spokesman in Washington, said he could not comment on any individual case. "Yes, it is a crime," he said. "It's a crime to misrepresent your salary. It's a crime to misrepresent whether or not you're going to live in the house."
In March, the FBI announced a crackdown on mortgage scammers and said it has more than 1,000 current investigations. But Kodak said the FBI tends to focus on financial insiders and not people who lie on loans: "We go after, normally, the fraud for profit, because even though it doesn't make up the majority of the numbers out there, it certainly makes up the largest financial losses."
Marital drama, debt addiction
One wildcard in the Casey Serin saga is his wife, Galina, who met him through church social groups and married him when she was 20 years old. Both are Baptists and Slavic immigrants (Galina immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, and her husband in 1994) and are part of Sacramento's growing Russian-speaking population.
In a conversation at her sister's townhouse Thursday, where the young couple rents two rooms for about $600 a month, Galina said she was becoming frustrated with her husband's spending and had met with her pastor that afternoon for counseling. But according to her own religious views, Galina said, "there are only two reasons for a divorce: adultery and physical abuse."
Running up $170,000 in unsecured debt, in other words, does not qualify--nor does lying about his plans regarding a recent vacation in Lake Tahoe, Calif., nor buying a $600 video camera on credit to document life experiences for his blog.
For his part, Serin confirms that his wife hates his blog. "Many times she's like: I want you to shut it down and go quietly into the night," he said.
The so-called haters have similar sore points, including that Serin refuses to get a job and instead pays for living expenses by simply borrowing more money. He defends himself by insisting that he's making far more valuable connections through his blog.
One example he gave is that he learned, through his blog, of a $1.5 billion Las Vegas casino for sale. If he can find a buyer, Serin says, he'd get a 1 percent commission ($15 million) for his trouble. "Doesn't that make more sense than a W-2 job?" he said.
Serin also recently paid $16,000 to Arizona's Nouveau Riche University, a kind of real-estate seminar company that includes classes with names like Fix & Flip and Creative Financing. Its marketing literature says that Nouveau Riche "hand delivers properties on a silver platter."
Nouveau Riche, which is not accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (the regional group recognized by the U.S. Department of Education), claims not to be a multilevel marketing scheme. It has some elements of one, however. Serin said he has found two people to pay $18,000 to Nouveau Riche, and if he finds any more, he'll get a $9,000 commission for each one, as well as additional commissions if the people he recruited then sign up additional customers.
In an e-mail message over the weekend, Serin added: "The 16K gives me two years of quality (real estate investment) education--gives you college credits--access to cash-flow properties around the nation, local community of investors, etc."
Not all these details have appeared on his blog yet, but Serin seems to enjoy spacing them out in a way that will vex his readers the most. "What happens is I feed off of it," he said. "I know the buttons to press to get those guys going. After awhile, you learn what topics you can mention if you want to get extra comments on your post."
Serin already does that by stressing his penchant for afternoon naps that take place precisely when his readers are reading his blog in their cubicles and silently fuming. He claims to have bought more than $4,000 in penny stocks last month, which have since slid in value. And he delights in posting about his excursions to a nearby Jamba Juice, which became notorious when he bought a $4.90 drink there with an ATM card but was charged an extra $33 overdraft fee because his bank account was empty.
During a visit to the same Jamba Juice on Thursday, Serin asked the cashier whether any jobs were available. But, thinking of how much time he spends every day working on his blog, he added: "Can I keep my laptop back there while I'm at work?"
He left without taking an application.
CNET News.com's Anne Broache contributed to this report