My ex was gorgeous, personable, and incredibly charming—as all good con men are.
He made friends everywhere he went and bonded quickly with my family and friends. Over the course of our relationship, he took me on ridiculous, impulsive trips. I loved how outgoing and adventurous he was. I was head over heels.
From the beginning, he'd always made it clear that his life was complicated. He was the product of a whirlwind romance between a 21-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man. His mom had committed suicide when he was 6, and his dad, now 88, had serious health issues. He claimed that his half-brother had stolen his identity, and that he was battling courts and credit card agencies. As a result, he had no credit cards, just a measly singular debit card with a bank that he was constantly battling for some reason or another.
He posed as a lighting designer, claiming he had tons of clients spread across the country. While traveling for jobs, he often purchased equipment on his own dime, waiting for checks to come in and payments to clear.
He started taking money from me slowly, always under the pretense of "I'll pay you back." He convinced me to put purchases on my credit card so that I'd get the points, always telling me he'd write me a check as soon as his next check cleared.
At first, the expenses were for us to travel together, to attend music festivals and go on weekend getaways. But then, once I was in deep, the major manipulations started. He convinced me to pay for flights and hotels out to Michigan for "work," to hand him cash for dinner meetings he got cornered into. I kept demanding he pay me back, and he evaded me by contriving a massive goose chase for an illusive reimbursement check that I kept getting impossibly close to, but never actually got my hands on.
I loved him, so I let him justify everything to me.
He picked me purposefully. I opened up early on in our relationship, exposing that I'd previously dated an abusive man. He immediately saw that not only was I once a victim, but I was also incredibly trusting and giving.
His life story was perfectly plotted and well rehearsed, sprinkled with provable half- and quarter-truths and an incomprehensible number of unprovable lies. He did do work for an avant-garde circus—I attended festivals with him where he was a stagehand and helped with lighting. I only found out in the aftermath of our breakup that he had practically no other clients. His dad was 88 and sick—I met him many times, and even visited him post-surgery at a nursing home for weeks while my ex was allegedly "out of town for work."
He pretended to have had a previous career as a police officer, injured while on duty and currently collecting a pension. He wove story after story about his time in the department, about the lighting designs he'd helped to work on, about his childhood growing up in cities around England and the U.S. Though I sometimes assumed he was exaggerating, his "memories" were always consistent and incredibly fleshed out—filled with details. I'd never thought to question his entire life story.
Things escalated when he managed to charge nearly $6,000 in rental cars to my credit card. He didn't have a car, and on several occasions, he'd convinced me to help him rent cars for his work. Because he didn't have a credit card, and because his singular bank account connected to his singular debit card was always in flux, he asked me to use my credit card just to open the rental. The first time we did this, I was incredibly nervous—I even made him write me a "security" check to assure me—but when the car was returned, he paid the bill in cash and my card was never charged.
We did this on a few occasions, and he earned my trust.
In November, our relationship was on the rocks. I'd nearly broken up with him a month prior, and I was constantly hounding him to pay me back for all the money he owed me. I felt trapped, and my gut instinct was telling me to leave him, I just didn't quite know how.
He convinced me one last time to open a rental car in our names, this time to take a road trip for the circus to look at venues, and then eventually drive up to Northern California with me and his father to visit his sister. He claimed it might be his dad's last Thanksgiving, and guilted me into the entire trip, rental car and all.
Meanwhile, the goose chase for my reimbursement check continued. Just a few days after we'd returned from the Bay Area, a massive charge from the rental car agency appeared on my card, conveniently around the same time that he'd left on yet another road trip to Michigan. By that point, he'd claimed to have mailed my check somewhere in Colorado, and had gone completely MIA, not answering my calls or texts, coming up with one dramatic excuse after the next.
Ten days later, the check hadn't come, he was still barely speaking to me, and he was making up all sorts of illogical excuses about the charge from the rental car company. I finally knew with clarity: He was lying to me.
Things unraveled immediately. It was like a switch had been flipped, and I suddenly realized the man I loved was not just a loser who had borrowed money from me—he was a thief.
Within 24 hours, I'd broken up with him, put my demand that he pay me back in writing, and cut him off completely. I managed to call his sister and the car rental agency, untangling his entire web of lies almost instantaneously. He'd authorized the rental agency to charge my card, and nearly every story he'd told, about being a cop, about his travel for work—they were all specific manipulations to wrangle guilt and money out of me.
He managed to steal more than $11,000 in total, and rip my heart apart in the process.
Despite the lies, the credit card charges, and the time investment, I'm unbelievably lucky: I dated this man for less than a year. I could have moved in with him, married him, or had children with him. It took me eight months to realize he was a loser, and another two to finally have the strength to walk.
There are, of course, lasting damages. My credit card is maxed out because of his charges, and I've lost thousands of dollars on top of that. As a 20-something on a writer's salary, it's practically debilitating.
Starting to pick up the pieces was like fumbling in the dark. I made dozens of phone calls to banks, credit card companies, and credit agencies; I called the District Attorney's office and the police. I felt like I was living a nightmare, half-joking to everyone that my life seemed like the plot of a Lifetime movie. "At least it's just one movie, and not a three-part series!" an incredibly well-intentioned bank representative said to me at one point. I laughed and agreed. As soon as I hung up, I sobbed uncontrollably.
Despite my best attempts to flag the rental car charges as fraudulent with my credit card company, they refused on the basis that I knew this man. The more calls I made and the more research I did, the more defeated I felt.
When you type "I dated a con artist," "resources for con artist victims," or even "con artist help" into Google, a myriad of listicles pop up, outlining signs you're dating a con artist, ways to avoid con artists, and how con artists choose their victims. As I poured over stories, it was certainly helpful to know I wasn't alone. This was a phenomenon. This happened to other women.
But real resources—government websites, support groups, help lines, lawyers—are slim. Most government resources are focused on anonymous scams and fraud that happen via email and the internet–very few are helpful for women who were entangled in relationships with their perpetrators.
When I called my local police station, they said I couldn't file a report and that I didn't qualify for a restraining order because lying wasn't a crime, and he'd never actually threatened me. All the arrows seemed to point to suing him, either in small claims court or in a civil case. If I pursued legal action in small claims court, it would be my word against his in front of a judge.
Hiring a lawyer and pursing a civil case would cost me thousands of dollars–thousands of dollars I don't have because of the man I need to sue.
I've since learned I can file a police report for theft, and that a verbal agreement is still an agreement if I can prove it with witnesses and corroborating evidence. Luckily, I have both. Through a lawyer, I've sent my ex a demand letter with a threat to sue, and I'm working to obtain and organize all the paperwork and proof I need to file a police report.
I've only just begun what is going to be a long, exhausting process. I can't quite move on from this traumatizing relationship because the disheartening reality is that I may spend the majority of 2016 fighting to get my money back–and my lawyer has been clear: I may very well get nowhere.
But what happened to me could have happened to anyone. The manipulation he used was powerful and calculated, and he went looking for women exactly like me.
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