Heard about the so-called "Wolf of Queens?" It's the story of teenager Mohammed Islam making millions playing the stock market during his high school lunch breaks — proving once and for all that all my harried, 30-minute trips to Jamba Juice were a complete waste of time? That was what was reported by a host of outlets Sunday, including CNN Money, the New York Post, and the New York Daily News, all of which described Islam as a dynamic 17-year-old, still months away from graduation, despite being a self-made multimillionaire. Unfortunately, then, the story began to fall apart, resulting in an awkward explanation Monday afternoon.
Islam is a senior at Stuyvesant High School. He achieved a level of prominence and national notoriety after a profile of him, by Jessica Pressler, appeared in New York Magazine, detailing how rumors spread through his high school of his genius investments and $72 million fortune.
And here is where the story starts to go a little sideways — that figure began getting cited as fact in a number of headlines, and was subsequently refuted by sources speaking to Business Insider, as "just a rumor — a rumor that Islam hasn't denied." Business Insider also got a statement from the investment club for young traders, which Islam belongs to, stating that the eye-popping figure was fallacious.
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.
So, how much money has Islam actually made, you wonder? That's not yet entirely clear. Pressler herself tweeted that she saw a bank statement from him verifying "eight figures," and is comfortable with the contents of her profile — she never actually said that he has $72 million, just that those were the rumors that had begun to form around him.
Then, the shoe on the rumor finally dropped. Islam confirmed to CNBC Monday that the widely circulated $72 million figure is untrue. He declined to say specifically how much money he has made, and claimed that Pressler's New York Magazine piece had misrepresented him. Islam denies knowing where the rumored figure came from — Pressler's article quotes it as a rumor going around his school — and insisted that the attention the story's generated wasn't his intention.
The attention is not what we expected, we never wanted the hype. This was about friends trying to make something exciting for each other.
Sadly, there's no way for to know for certain just how big an exaggeration that estimate of Islam's personal wealth is. Taking Pressler's claim at face value, however, he must at very least had a fair bit of change in the bank, as it seems dubious in the extreme that she'd run with the story, complete with reference to that $72 million rumor, if his earnings didn't even remotely support the notion.
That'll be something to keep an eye on going forward, but for the time being, at least this much is clear: it's painfully easy for something openly identified as a rumor to kick around through enough news outlets that it starts getting reported as fact. It can happen to anyone, and it's usually just innocent mistakes. But it's worth bearing in mind, the next time you read a story about, say, a nine-year-old with $2 billion in the bank —sometimes, too good to be true can be just that.