It started, as these things so often do, with a spark. Single women – divorced, searching, hopeful, lonely – would come across the online dating profile of a man who called himself Richard Scott Smith (or Scott, or Mickey – more on that later) and it was as if they had come upon buried treasure.
Here was a man, in a suit, who claimed to be the full package. He was handsome, gainfully employed (Smith has identified himself to potential partners as everything from a pilot to a wine connoisseur and professional water skier), religious and tall.
“Dating in your 40s sucks,” Tracy, a 47-year-old single mum from Kansas says in the first episode of Love Fraud, a gripping new true crime documentary series streaming now on Stan. “You get there and they don’t have teeth, and you’re like, what the hell?”
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After premiering at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year, the four-episode series is now available on the Australian streaming platform and has already been called better – and more bonkers – than Tiger King.
A SOCIOPATHIC CONMAN
The subject matter is familiar, especially to anyone who has listened to or watched Catfish or Dirty John: Aggressively charming, sociopathic conman swindles a woman out of her money, her emotions and her dignity.
Love Fraud serves as a chilling reminder that being conned by an intimate partner could happen to anyone.
Smith wasn’t only swindling Tracy – or Ellen, or Jean, or Sabrina, whose name he had inked on his back after only a few dates, or any of the dozen or so other women he smooth-talked. Smith was a serial con-artist, a man married so many times he struggled to keep track of the names of all of his ex-partners.
But in Love Fraud, there’s a twist.
When his many victims found solidarity after starting a blog to warn other potential victims of his scam, Love Fraud veered off script. These women, scattered across Kansas City, Wichita and beyond, decided to get revenge.
In the series, the women hire a foul-mouthed bounty hunter called Carla to track him down and bring him to justice. There are so many twists and turns over the course of the four-episode documentary, you’ll be pausing your screen and rewinding in disbelief. He can’t have done that, you’ll think. There’s no way that really happened. But it’s all true.
BANDING TOGETHER TO GET JUSTICE
Many of the women pictured in Love Fraud first found each other through the original blog, started by one of Smith’s victims named Lisa.
“Has this man victimised you?” the website asks. “Please DO NOT get involved with this guy personally or professionally,” a post on the site declares.
In the first episode of the series, this blog is what connects Smith’s disparate victims together. Many of them soon discover that they live near each other in Kansas City. They learn that their own relationships with Smith had similar hallmarks.
THE LOVE SCAM
Courtship was often brief and escalated quickly. The happy couple would talk for hours on the first date and Smith would leave messages and texts declaring his love immediately. The women would be showered with gifts.
And then – the proposal. Let’s buy a car. Let’s buy a house. Let’s start a business. Smith reportedly told women that he was about to come into some money, courtesy of a malpractice suit, but that he would need cash until then.
Some of them were asked to hand over hundreds of thousands of dollars. One woman was conned out of $US700,000 ($A952,000), according to the documentary. Then he would say: Let’s get married. Let’s go to Belize. Did you know that Belize doesn’t have an extradition treaty with America? (“That’s weird,” Ellen, one of Smith’s victims, recalls thinking, when Smith first floated the idea by her.)
In reality, Smith had pulled this trick on multiple occasions with multiple women. Towards some, he was romantic and kind – the perfect gentleman. To others, he could allegedly be abusive. Mostly, he was caught out when he started juggling too many women at once, quitting his job and acting strange under the exertion of all these fabrications, before leaving his partners unexpectedly and moving on to the next conquest.
For Tracy, one of the victims featured in episode one, the lies only came crashing down when her young daughter got into his car and discovered pill bottles with the labels removed and papers with multiple different names on them.
At first, she thought Smith was a drug addict. But the reality was that his addiction was something very different.
SMITH’S MANY WIVES
He was married to at least five women. He used 10 names, had 10 social security numbers, called victims from 43 different phone numbers. As ex-wife Jean put it in a 2017 Kansas City Star article: “Every word out of his mouth is a lie.”
For the women profiled in Love Fraud, the legal system offered no respite. When Smith eventually skipped out of town, some of his victims would try to take their case to the police. But given that he couldn’t be found, or that he was out of the county jurisdiction, the law was often unable to help.
Plus, there was an element of shame and humiliation. How seriously were people taking their story, the victims wondered, given that we dated this man and opened ourselves up to him. Which is how Carla, a bounty hunter from Kansas City, ended up on the case. A former victim of abuse and a champion of women, Carla was so moved by the plight of these women that she offered to work for free.
HUNTING THE CON-ARTIST
The rest of the documentary focuses on Carla’s tireless efforts to track Smith down. At first, he’s spotted on the Facebook page of a Wichita karaoke bar. Then it’s at a crab restaurant. At an apartment complex that he is clearing out. In a bar, with another woman. (Always, other women.)
Failed by traditional law enforcement officers, Smith’s victims seek their own revenge and mount their own investigation, taking Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the Oscar-nominated directors of the documentary, along for the ride.
Filming took place in 2018, when warrants for Smith’s arrest were floating around but had never been actioned. While doing so, they dug deep into Smith’s life, speaking to everybody from childhood friends to his estranged sister, who they found hiding from him in Texas.
“I don’t want to be found,” she tells the documentary makers. “I don’t want to live with a monster in my life.”
When Ewing and Grady started working on the documentary, Smith was at large and terrorising women. Over the course of production, bombshells dropped left, right and centre, and each new development in the case led the network of victims further down the rabbit hole.
The documentary makers had no idea what would happen while filming the series. Would they catch Smith? Would he move onto another victim? Would he be remorseful? Would he slip through their fingers? Even in the last moments of the final episode, Smith’s behaviour manages to shock and chill you to the bone.
What Ewing and Grady wanted to do with their project was make sure that their documentary gave airtime to the reality of being a victim to a sociopathic con-artist. They wanted to treat these women with the respect that they had so far been denied. They wanted the series to be an honest portrayal of how easy it was for women to fall prey to men in the dating pool when the bar is so low it’s in hell.
“It wasn’t fair,” Ewing told The Salt Lake Tribune. “Here’s this guy … He takes their dignity. He humiliates people. He walks off with maybe thousands of dollars at a time, but also people’s assets and their good credit. And nobody was looking for him. And they felt that nobody cared about their story … And we thought, ‘Well, maybe we can all go find him.’”
Or, as Sabrina – one of Smith’s victims, who ends up losing her livelihood and is forced to move back in with her parents after he leaves her high and dry – puts it: “The best way to get over a guy is revenge. I’m sorry, it is. I’m getting tired of this bulls**t. Rick, you lying sack of sh*t, you f***ed me. I am f***ed, Rick.”
Love Fraud streams on Stan from August 30, with new episodes weekly.