On Sunday, the draw-dropping docuseries “Love Fraud” drops on Showtime, following the exploits of one dirty, dirty john, a notorious con artist and prolific bigamist named Richard Scott Smith, or Scott, or Mickey. Smith combined dating websites and a charm offensive to swindle women all around the Kansas City area, defrauding them of their time, energy, love and money, too. Smith rushed into engagements, marriages and all the financial rights that afforded him: car and home purchases and other big-ticket items. But Smith got to be a bit too prolific of a con artist, and the women of Kansas City fought back. The series follows them as a group of Smith’s exes, who connect via a website warning women about him, get together and contract the services of an unforgettable female bounty hunter.
The series is directed by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, who directed the Oscar-nominated “Jesus Camp” (available on Hulu), as an electrifying noir with an energizing dose of sass. It’s the kind of series that will make you want to blast The Chicks’ new album, “Gaslighter,” or Carrie Underwood’s scorcher of an anthem “Before He Cheats.” It’s a gripping tale in which amateur internet sleuths, bounty hunters and private investigators team up to take down a bad man. This wild series is one you don’t want to miss.
What makes con artists fascinating is they’re everywhere: in business, on dating apps, at the local bar. They slip among us undetected, seeming normal and nice enough to trust before they disappear with your cash, or your love, or your trust. Which is why it can be somewhat empowering to watch films, series or documentaries about them, to understand how they lie so easily, or create a separate, fragmented reality they buy into to justify their actions.
The best pairing for “Love Fraud” is obviously “Dirty John,” the true story of an Orange County love scammer who posed as a doctor and wooed a wealthy single mom and businesswoman in order to enjoy her lavish lifestyle, with the whole sordid tale ending in blood. The LA Times investigation and accompanying podcast are well-worth checking out, as well as the adaptation starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana made for Bravo, which is now streaming on Netflix.
There’s also the classic love-con documentary that spawned an MTV series and a new slang term for those who use the internet to cover their trails and their identities: “Catfish.” Directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman have moved on to slick urban thrillers like “Nerve” and “Project Power,” but they made their name with their 2010 documentary film, which captured the early zeitgeist of internet-enabled deception, when Schulman’s younger brother Nev (now the host of the series) became entangled in an internet romance. Catch the phenomenon on Netflix.
On Netflix you can also catch the other amateur internet detective series that thrilled viewers last winter. “Don’t F--- With Cats” is the rollicking true story of how a Facebook group tracked down a Canadian murderer and con artist.
Then there are the fraudsters who don’t weaponize love but rather clout, as their means of entry. The two Fyre Fest docs, “Fyre Fraud” on Hulu and “Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened” on Netflix, are eye-popping accounts of how Billy McFarland weaponized social media to bilk aspiring influencers of their bucks for a disastrous Bahamian music festival. Be sure to check out “Fyre Fraud” on Hulu for an interview with Billy, who stutters and blinks when confronted with his own misdeeds.
Another recent grifter doc is Alex Gibney’s “The Inventor: Out For Blood in Silicon Valley,” on HBO, in which Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes, who fashioned herself as a Steve Jobs-style girlboss, pulled the wool over the eyes of investors, board members, pharmacy chains and journalists with her falsely-advertised blood-testing technology. This features another juicy interview with the tech scammer herself.
“The Imposter,” on Amazon Prime and Tubi, depicts the wild story Frederic Bourdin, a Frenchman who impersonated a Texas teen who went missing in 1994. The depths of Bourdin’s deception went so far that even the family believed he was their missing son, and Bart Layton’s 2012 film animates the tale with stunningly realized reenactments, creating a true thriller of a documentary.