'This could happen to anybody': 'Love Fraud' filmmakers, victim talk shocking romance scam docuseries drawing early comparisons to 'Tiger King'
Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing went looking for a story about a romance scammer. They’d soon be part of an actual hunt for one.
Love Fraud, their spellbinding new four-part Showtime docuseries that debuted to high praise Sunday night, follows the search for Richard Scott Smith, a con man who’s scammed countless women out of their savings over the past 20 years. The intensely watchable true crime story is drawing early comparisons to a similarly scandalous tale that riveted the masses earlier this year.
“Move Over Tiger King, You’ve Been Bested!,” reads the show’s review headline on IndieWire. “The Addictive Love Fraud May Steal Tiger King’s Crown,” touts Vanity Fair. “Love Fraud Feels Like the Justice-Fueled Lovechild of Dirty John and Tiger King,” states Uproxx.
In the first episode, which like the entire series, plays out like a dramatic thriller, Grady and Ewing introduce us to several of Smith’s victims, most of whom are in the Kansas City, Mo. area. The women then band together with the help of both the filmmakers and a trash-talking, gun-toting, hard-edged female bounty hunter named Carla (look out for this dynamite character to get her own reality spinoff) to attempt to track down the elusive Smith.
“We thought, ‘Wow, this is incredible… this sisterhood is formed,’” says Ewing, who was joined by her longtime directing partner Grady (Jesus Camp, Detropia) as well as one of Smith’s victims, Sabrina, for a recent video chat with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above).
Watch the full first episode of Love Fraud:
The divorcee Sabrina met the charming and slick Smith while she was cutting hair. “He’s a chameleon, he’ll make himself what you want out of life,” says Sabrina, who says she lost about $100,000 from her romance with Scott. As episode 1 portrays, she was forced to file bankruptcy and move back in with her parents. “I lost everything,” she says.
The series premiere reveals Smith’s playbook: How he woos women, tells them he’s never found true love (he was married at least five times before he met Sabrina), showers them with gifts and compliments and proposes within weeks. Once they’re engaged, he pushes up the wedding date, then “becomes a different person,” begins controlling their finances, and eventually disappears, leaving them — and broke broke.
Many of the women were legally married to Smith at the time they were drained of their finances. “Once you’re married, it’s very, very hard to prove that this person stole from you,” explains Grady. In Sabrina’s case, she says, he was signing checks in her name. Local law enforcement, then, does next to nothing to aid them. (As Ewing points out, the FBI is becoming more involved in romance scamming on a national level.)
Cases like this are happening all over the country.
“It’s very easy, they get away with it, they walk away and the law doesn’t do anything,” says Sabrina, who says she was particularly disturbed to find Smith had “pulled a quarter-million dollar insurance policy on me and was gonna off me on the side of a cruise ship.
“They don’t care that he’s a psychopath or he’s gonna kill you or he has five other wives, your name’s on it, you’re screwed.”
For Ewing and Grady, corralling the women who’d been so badly screwed by Smith to take part in the docuseries took a delicate touch.
“We were just honest with our subjects,” Ewing says. “We said, ‘We think this could happen to anybody. We’re not out to re-victimize you. Part of what we liked is these women had become friends. And they had a common purpose. We thought, ‘Man, that’s something you don’t see a lot.’”
The question that hovers over the course of Love Fraud is if and when these women will see Smith again.
Love Fraud airs every Sunday through Sept. 20.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Gisselle Bances
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