Why does someone stay in a romantic relationship with a con artist? We are talking about a responsible person who should be aware that their significant other is dishonest and capable of causing them and their employer significant harm.
Is there a way for their employer, family and friends to help them see the light and get out of the toxic relationship? And if the employee refuses all offers of help, could that be a basis for termination?
Today’s story began with a phone call from the CEO of an accounting firm.
“One of our CPAs is involved in a relationship with a woman who is an emotional con artist. I am hoping that you can help him see the quagmire that he is in and the danger it creates for our firm.”
The following day, “Chuck” dropped by the office. It was instantly clear that his extreme fear of being alone and obsessive need for companionship had exposed him to a peril he refused to see, or even accept that it was a possibility.
‘Wonderful gal’ turns out to be a liar and con artist
“I am dating a wonderful gal who is the emotional answer to my needs,” said Chuck, who is divorced and has a son. “My employer hates her because she goes by different names, exaggerates and has claimed to be an M.D., which I found not to be true. I’m not worried despite what everyone is telling me. I can’t survive without … being loved, having someone to love. It makes me so happy to see how appreciative she is when I give her presents; my ex never even said thank you! I would do anything she asks.” Chuck added, rationalizing, “I am keeping just close enough to the campfire to be kept warm, but not get burned.”
Or so he thinks.
‘A con artist knows what their victim’s insatiable need is and meets it’
I spoke with Southern California clinical psychologist Dr. Kathe Lundgren and Luis Vega, psychology professor at California State University at Bakersfield, and had two questions for them:
- What is the psychological mechanism for how an obviously bright guy like Chuck can get into this situation?
- Can Chuck’s friends, family or employer help him? What can be done?
The relationship is ‘literally just like drug addiction’
“She meets and is fixing his extreme need,” Lundgren says. “She is his cocaine. He would go through withdrawal without her presence. A con artist knows what their victim’s insatiable need is and meets it. You disregard what everyone around you is saying because they are filling that hole in you. Everyone is trying to talk sense to you, but they do not see the hole. The victim becomes addicted to the behavior created by the con artist — literally just like drug addiction. He is living a fantasy romance without seeing day-to-day problems or solutions.”
Vega offers this take: “Once we commit to allowing a con into our life, we short-circuit our mind and heart in order to justify the relationship even when wrong signals appear. It is easier to say, ‘I really love this person,’ compared to thinking and feeling fooled — conned — which others are telling us has happened. The commitment — this vicious commitment — not only blinds us, but also binds us to what we might otherwise see, in a perfect state of mind, as a deceitful, conniving manipulator when the ‘alert, alert’ signs start to flash.”
What can family, friends or an employer do?
“Chuck needs to invite her to family activities,” Lundgren recommends. “She will tell different stories and will not be able to keep up with all of her lies — and this will get back to him. You want to create the environment where this can happen.”
“Be careful,” Vega warns, “that your feedback does not create a boomerang of adding wood to the fire. This would predictably cause her to isolate him from family and friends in order to preserve their relationship. That is a real danger he faces.”
Both are a clear and present danger to the CPA firm
I checked in with David D. Schein, attorney and business law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Houston, on what risks lurk for Chuck’s employer, a CPA firm. “Just picture Chuck working from home, his computer having accessed client files, and he takes a nap,” Schein says. “This becomes an invitation for the girlfriend to search client files for her next mark.”
Schein recommends, “Either she agrees to a detailed background check, including fingerprints, photo scan and DNA analysis, or Chuck could be out of a job. It is that serious when you have a known con artist in such a close relationship to your employee, especially for a CPA firm. Even then, Chuck may be too great of a risk to the firm.”
So while Chuck might not listen to reason from friends and family, the threat of losing his job as his employer seeks to protect its clients from the machinations of Chuck’s con artist girlfriend could help him shed his romantic blinders.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield, Calif., and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993, or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.
After attending Loyola University School of Law, H. Dennis Beaver joined California's Kern County District Attorney's Office, where he established a Consumer Fraud section. He is in the general practice of law and writes a syndicated newspaper column, "You and the Law." Through his column he offers readers in need of down-to-earth advice his help free of charge. "I know it sounds corny, but I just love to be able to use my education and experience to help, simply to help. When a reader contacts me, it is a gift."
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