I love docuseries, particularly those that have just enough similarity to my reality to be interesting, but removed enough that I’m not constantly sobbing at the continued reinforcement of how society hates me. For instance, I’m fascinated with HBO’s “The Vow” and its tale of self-help group turned body-maiming sex cult NXIVM. While I relate to wanting to belong and improve oneself, and to the pull of celebrity as a longtime entertainment journalist, it’s super different than my life. Also there’s maybe one Black person in the entire group, which seems to be mostly made up of thin white women that the skeevy head guru wanted to sleep with, so I don’t imagine I would have been heavily recruited.
But I did spend the better part of this weekend catching up on another show that follows how loneliness and a need for connection can compel seemingly sensible people to make disastrous decisions. That’s Showtime’s “Love Fraud,” about how an ordinary-looking guy named Richard Scott Smith used the Internet, along with charms that are apparently hard to discern across the screen, to worm his way into the hearts and bank accounts of several women across the country. The remarkable thing seems to be that unlike the titular crapweasel of “Dirty John,” , a show that nearly ruined Eric Bana for me forever, none of Smith’s victims are rich. He seemed to take pleasure in finding middle-class ladies and taking their savings and 401ks, leaving them penniless and humiliated because he’s evil.
Some of them he married. Others, he just swindled. But what they seem to have in common is that they’re middle-aged ladies looking for love, mostly after unsatisfying relationships and break-ups. They put their hopes in the Internet to find a new start, and that new start blew up on them and stole all their stuff. As a middle-aged lady who would, too, like to find love, albeit one who’s given up the Internet because of crap like this, I relate. Highly. And I’m insulted on their behalf. How effing dare you.
I don’t believe that at this time in my life, I’d be adding some dude I just met to my bank accounts, or buying him cars and real estate in my name just until he gets paid the settlement of some accident I’ve never seen documentation of. At this point, what I’ve built financially and reputation-wise means too much to be flinging it around at some marginally-attractive guy I met at karaoke like Rick’s victims (again, they all say he has some magnetism that makes you trust him, but DOES NOT TRANSLATE. Dude looks shifty as Hell.)
This is not to blame these women for their own victimization, because ultimately the fault lies with their weasel-face victimizer. Rick’s not my Cup O’Noodles, but who’s to say there isn’t someone I’d be a little more sweet on? What I recognize in his pitch is what he was to them – another chance. Someone who claims to want love and has decided that you are that chance. That the meant-to-be you’ve lived for, that doesn’t always come for people your age, is here.
We are in a weird time, as you know. All of this happened pre-COVID, and with the added loneliness of lockdown there’s nouveau Ricks and Dirty Johns and whatnot popping up all over the place. And I’m sure they’re getting takers. My advice to would-be marks is not to fall in love, but to listen to red flags, like being told “I love you” too fast, and to not to put people you don’t know on your bank account because COME ON Y’ALL.
But my biggest piece of advice is to the scammers, because I’m so tired of people being harder on the hurt than those who hurt them. Stop telling people how not to get hurt, and focus on the evil of the people who hurt them. And yeah, Rick (SPOILER!) has his own sob story about being abused and taken advantage of, but that doesn’t absolve him of a frigging thing. To me, it was the victims’ lack of status and wealth that made him even more heinous, because he found wounded souls like himself, who didn’t have a lot, and made a point of destroying them.
Don’t destroy people. I suppose I could be more eloquent than that. But I don’t have to be.