Blogger learns how to monetise hate
Casey Serin in downtown Sydney.
The man known on the internet as "the world's most hated blogger" is cooling his heels at an undisclosed location near Sydney, working on a way to climb back out of the very deep hole he now finds himself in.
In his first interview since arriving in Australia last week, Casey Serin says he's pressing ahead with plans to pay off his mounting debts and resurrect his reputation which hit the skids after a series of property plays went disastrously wrong.
His predicament is but a blip on the radar of reckless behaviour that would have gone unnoticed but for the fact he began blogging about it.
The blog - iamfacingforeclosure.com (or IAFF, for short) - started as a cautionary tale to warn other would-be investors of the pitfalls of property speculation. But it unexpectedly turned its author into the punching bag of the World Wide Web.
He has been mocked, pilloried, hounded and harangued in a way that would have driven most others to abandon their blogs, disconnect their computers and head for the hills.
The critics, who call themselves "haterz", have turned their pursuit of the 24-year-old American into a blood sport in which they vie with one another to pour industrial-strength vitriol onto their quarry and derail his efforts to redeem himself.
Currently there are about eight known blogs plus a Wikipedia-like collaborative site called Caseypedia targeting the aspiring entrepreneur.
And each day the haterz pepper his blog posts with snide comments, gratuitous advice and fill his inbox with invective, accusing him of cheating, lying, slacking off and deserting his wife.
"And the wily parasite finds a new host ...," commented one of the haterz after Serin revealed he had flown to Australia on a one-way ticket paid for by a supporter and was camped out as the guest of another.
Perversely, this flood of negativity is not all bad news for the Uzbek-born former web developer.
"I don't dislike notoriety because I feel that any exposure is good exposure as long as you leverage it properly," he said over a soy latte in Sydney.
"Leveraging" is one of Serin's two favourite words. The other is "monetise". He uses them a lot. And although he didn't say it in as many words, what Serin is doing is leveraging his notoriety so that he can monetise his blog and other projects.
The ads in Serin blog currently earn him between $US2000 ($2373) and $US3000 a month, a figure he hopes to be able to boost up to $US4000 by July. And that all depends on keeping his audience, which requires him to stick his head up from time to time so he can get whacked.
"That [income from the blog] is a really good thing for me because I'm able to have some income and pay for expenses as I'm working on higher leveraged things, like working on a book," he says.
He admits that it does get a little freaky at times when the haterz try to derail his business dealings, dig up personal details, or threaten to hit him with class action suits.
And he's become particularly protective of his wife, Galina, who has asked not to be dragged in to her husband's increasingly bizarre world.
"All I'll say [about Galina] is that we are talking. It's not like I ran away as some people are painting it as. I didn't leave her penniless," he said responding to reports that he left his wife with just $US300 in the bank.
Serin's story is a tragic tale of how one young man plunged into the real estate market thinking he could make a quick killing by "flipping" properties - buying low, selling high and pocketing the profit.
But Serin's execution was so inept that he soon found himself with $US2.2 million in borrowings and saddled with eight properties, most of which he had purchased with 100 per cent loans.
Some he paid too much for, some needed more extensive repairs than first thought and this was all happening as the property market began to soften.
USA Today is one of many media outlets that have used Serin to illustrate reports about the bursting of the US property bubble. The newspaper called him the "poster child for everything that went wrong in the real estate boom".
Adding to Serin's potential problems is that he admits to having falsified details to obtain some of the loans - loans that are known as "liar loans" because many borrowers were also fudging figures.
"The stuff I did is technically mortgage fraud, but it's not officially called that until someone prosecutes me and proves that that is indeed mortgage fraud," Serin explains. "It wasn't like I was trying to rip the banks off and steal money. I was trying to build a business. I made a lot of mistakes and now I'm trying to unravel this whole mess."
The banks have now foreclosed on six of the eight properties and Serin is waiting to see the final tally that he is going to be asked to repay.
In person, Serin presents as a likeable fast talker with an indefatigable desire to become a successful entrepreneur.
Although he has the looks of a Californian surfie, he actually spent the first half of his life about 2000km from the nearest beach. He emigrated from Uzbekistan - once part of the Soviet Union - to the US in 1994 with his parents and four siblings.
Serin is careful not to sound like he's boasting about his recklessness and when I ask him to smile for the camera, he says he doesn't want to appear to be too smug or happy. But he obliges with a slight grin.
Ultimately Casey Serin realises that his reputation is such that no one in their right mind is going to employ him in a "normal" job. So his only hope is, as he puts it, to use the publicity he's getting to earn an income - in other words to monetise that publicity.
I ask him how he wants this to end.
"I'd like to be known for a really creative comeback story," he says. "Because I have so many odds against me I want to to be able to show people that no matter how down you are or how big a hole you're in there's always a way out. You just have to stay positive."