"Love Fraud" Tells the True Story of a Con Man and the Ex-Wives Who Brought Him Down

Elena Nicolaou
·6 mins read
Photo credit: Showtime
Photo credit: Showtime

From Oprah Magazine

  • Love Fraud is a Showtime documentary series about the hunt for Scott Richard Smith—led by the many women he conned.

  • The four-part documentary series was created by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the duo behind Jesus Camp and One of Us.

  • Here's what you need to know about the true story depicted in Love Fraud, out August 30.

This post contains spoilers for the Showtime documentary series Love Fraud.

Move over, Tiger King. The summer's most captivating documentary series has arrived—and it has nothing to do with tigers. Although, like Joe Exotic's three-way marriage seen in Tiger King, it does have to do with people in jaw-dropping romantic entanglements.

Love Fraud, which premieres on Showtime on August 30, is the story of Richard Scott Smith, a con man who seduced and married his way across the country—and the ex-wives and fiancées who banded together to take him down. The four-part series has the life lessons of a Lifetime movie, the vengeful yet empowering spirit of John Tucker Must Die, and the nail-biting plot escalations seen in Dirty John.

Documentarians Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, the team behind Jesus Camp and Netflix's One of Us, first encountered Smith while researching the subject of their next documentary. The duo was searching for a story about a bigamist, or a person who deceitfully juggles multiple wives and families. In Smith, they found a man who had at least 10 wives, and just as many financial schemes.

Photo credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME
Photo credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

"Through that research, we found the blog. And when we found the blog, it turned into Love Fraud and meeting these women and basically a year of our lives in this crazy chase and adventure," Grady tells OprahMag.com.

By "the blog," Grady means the "Scott the Crook Smith" website—which is still up today—that Lisa Lenton began to document her experience with Smith, her then-husband. The site became a meeting ground for Smith's victims, who swapped stories and tracked the elusive con man's whereabouts, watching as he preyed on yet another unsuspecting woman.

The women's similar experiences were proof of Smith's pattern of behavior: He met women online, enticed them into a whirlwind romance, and abruptly left—but not before conning them out of money. Sabrina Dunlap, a 49-year-old featured in Love Fraud, estimates her debt from Smith totaled to $100,000; Jean Hansen had to file for bankruptcy after marrying Smith in Vegas, and going into business with him. Love Fraud also delves into Smith's history of domestic violence.

Despite their extensive grievances, the women struggled to get their cases taken seriously by law enforcement—hence the need for a website. "The blog represented a growing group of women who weren't satisfied with how the criminal justice system had treated them," Ewing says. "It was an active place where women could safely talk to one another and seek answers."

Unlike most true crime documentaries, which look back on cold cases or notorious moments in history, Love Fraud unfolds in real time. Ewing and Grady never could have predicted the story would go down the way it did, and that was the appeal. "There wasn't an ending in sight. That for us was extremely exciting as storytellers," Grady says.

Photo credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME
Photo credit: Courtesy of SHOWTIME

And so, the documentarians traveled to the Kansas City region to meet Smith's victims in person, and coordinate a search. "The women themselves were game. They had spent some time getting to know each other, and had built some courage in not feeling like they were 'suckers' that deserved it," Grady says. "The thought of getting more publicity for their cause was appealing to them."

With the help of a no-nonsense bounty hunter named Carla (who surely deserves to be the subject of a spin-off documentary), the hunt for Smith began, across state lines and into the parking lots of motels.

Photo credit: Alex Takats
Photo credit: Alex Takats

It's here that Love Fraud deviates from the true crime mold yet again. Love Fraud certainly devotes time to parsing the details of Smith's crime, and even gives insight into the difficult home environment that may have led to his behavior. However, the vast majority of the documentary is devoted to Smith's comeuppance. Essentially, it's a documentary about revenge.

"It was important to us that the audience knew what [Smith] had done to the women. But most of the series is absorbed with, 'What are we going to do about it?' What will law enforcement do to help us? Nothing? OK, so what can we legally do as citizens that's within the law to bring him in?" Ewing asks.

Dunlap echoes the sentiment during an interview in Love Fraud: "I tell girls the best way to get over a guy is revenge. I'm sorry, it is. It's not going to a therapist. It's not crying about it or talking to your friends over and over."

Eventually—spoiler!—the documentarians catch up to Smith, with the help of Carla and a private eye. In 2018, Smith was arrested in a Knoxville, TN parking lot, and later sentenced to 10 months in a Kansas prison on charges of forgery and identity theft.

Only at the end of Love Fraud do audiences hear from Smith himself. Ewing and Grady spent three hours speaking to Smith from in jail, and edited the interview down into 20-minute-long artifact of Smith's deceit. All Smith wanted, he claims, was to be loved and needed. He speaks in a maddening torrent of circuitous lies and evasions, stopping only when presented with a cold, hard fact.

"It was exhausting. What we tried to do was reproduce, for the audience, what it was like to interview him. The circular arguments. Changing the subject into long exhausting tear, filled monologues about something you didn't ask. Running down the clock," Ewing says. "Hopefully people will understand all the tactics he tried in order to not answer a question. I think he was unprepared: I think he was used to being believed."

Love Fraud ends on a bittersweet note, as the subjects' "revenge" mission could only go so far. As expected, Smith was released from prison. The final scenes of Love Fraud catch him in a bar, flirting with another women—and potential victim.

But there's reason to hope that Smith's pattern will be halted, thanks to the documentary. Love Fraud acts as a high-profile version of Lenton's website. "I think after having a four-part documentary series made about you, dating might get harder. It should get harder," Ewing says, adding that Smith was last seen in Kansas.

Like every good con artist work, Love Fraud comes embedded with a warning: Be careful.

"There are a lot of Richard Scott Smiths out there. Hopefully mothers will watch this with their daughters, and say: Watch out for red flags. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. It doesn't mean love doesn't exist. It means there's a bunch of flim-flam men out there, and you got to avoid those, and find the nice ones," Ewing says.

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