How Do Smart Women Get Taken by Con Men?

Smart women who've been conned talk about how it happened.

Aug. 2, 2008 — -- About the only thing known about Clark Rockefeller is that police believe he kidnapped his 7-year-old daughter, Reigh. His background, his profession, even his real name remain a mystery.

At various times through the years, Rockefeller reportedly has claimed to be a physicist or a mathematician and to have graduated from Harvard or Yale. He also allegedly implied he was a wealthy relative of the storied Rockefeller clan. It appears that not a single one of those claims has been proven to be true.

His identity remains obscure, and authorities say it's becoming increasingly clear that Rockefeller's past might not have been exactly what he claimed.

"These people lie like they breathe. It is effortless to them, and they are convincing, they look you right in the eye," said Donna Andersen of Atlantic City, N.J.

Sadly, Andersen knows what she's talking about. In 1995, Andersen met James Montgomery, a dashing member of the Australian Special Forces and an entrepreneur worth millions. Or so Andersen thought.

"My ex-husband was extremely charming and enthusiastic… he just had an energy about him," said Andersen.

Andersen was an advertising executive looking for a life partner and thinking that, at 40, she didn't have a lot of time left to look. Perhaps that's why she married Montgomery -- whom she met online -- after just a few months of dating. Looking back, she says there were warning signs.

According to Anderson, Montgomery ran up bills more than $225,000 for several business ventures, and she paid for them. She says there were unexplained absences, mysterious phone calls and always the bills.

Finally, so financially desperate she was looking for something to pawn, Andersen opened a strongbox belonging to Montgomery. Inside she says she found evidence of his adultery.

"I was angry at him. I was angry at myself. You cannot imagine the level of betrayal, the Web of lies that he told," said Andersen. She left him, and 10 days later Montgomery married another woman.

As Andersen began to dig further into her husband's past, she says she found no evidence that he had ever served in the military and and that his lifestyle was financed not by business ventures but by women.

The judge presiding over the the couple's divorce proceedings found that Montgomery had committed fraud and adultery, including lying about his net worth and his business dealings, and that he bilked Andersen of tens of thousands thousands of dollars.

In ordering him to pay Andersen $227,000, the court ruled that Montgomery "met and became involved with the plaintiff for the sole and complete purpose of using the plaintiff's assets for his own personal gain" and that he "engaged in a pattern of defrauding women of large mounts of money." Montgomery, ruled the judge, had preyed on "a series of innocent, vulnerable women to take advantage of their emotions and to cheat them out of whatever they owned."

"My husband was looking for a cash cow, and he found me," Andersen said.

In all, Montgomery apparently married at least four women, some at the same time. Andersen has posted her story and pictures of Montgomery online at, a Web site she started so women -- and men -- could share their stories of betrayal.

"People who have not had this experience really have a hard time understanding it. Nobody believes that someone can get taken this way," said Andersen.

But get taken they do.

Hooked on Adventure

By all accounts, Sandra Boss, Clark Rockefeller's ex-wife, is an accomplished, intelligent woman. A graduate of Stanford and Harvard Business School, she is currently a director in the London office of McKinsey and Company. Just what might draw such a woman like Boss to a man who, by the FBI's account, may have at least six aliases and no job?

Liane Leedom thinks she might know. Leedom has made something of a study of con artists and their relationships. She describes herself as both a psychiatrist and a victim.

Leedom was just looking for a nice guy when she met Barry Lichtenthal. Tired of being lonely and raising two daughters on her own, Leedom was ready for a relationship. So she says she took a chance on a slightly overweight "nice guy" from Colt's Neck, N.J.

Unfortunately, after a short 17-month relationship, Leedom ended up with an ex-husband who'd been convicted and sentenced to jail for practicing medicine without a license, sexual assault and violating parole. It turned out he had previously been convicted of fraud and forgery.

Leedom believes con artists seek out people who will be "good" victims, just like a psychopath may seek out someone to kill.

"Con artists are looking for someone with a high degree of empathy and compassion, and they want someone who can be a little adventurous. Con artists are often exciting and fun to be with, otherwise they wouldn't be so attractive, would they?" said Leedom.

Leedom likens falling for a con artist to becoming addicted to a drug. You get "hooked" on the relationship in Phase 1 and then move on to Phase 2, where a person's odd behavior, lies or confusing ways will be interpreted in more forgiving ways because you love them. Finally, comes the withdrawal stage or the "unmasking," when the con falls apart.

For Leedom, the "unmasking" came with her husband's arrest.

"They harm you physically, spiritually, emotionally. They harm your relationships, your career and completely destroy your life. That's feeling number one. Then there are all the feelings associated with having been betrayed and deceived, that this was a person you loved… and finally you think, how am I going to survive this?" said Leedom.

Trish Rynn, 46, describes herself as a survivor. Rynn is now living with a friend in New Jersey after she says her ex conned her out of property and cash while carrying on a relationship with another woman. Although several years have passed, the anger and anguish are still apparent in her voice.

"I find it really hard to be in a normal relationship now of any kind. How can I, when I know all anyone is thinking is how stupid I was to give everything I owned over to this one person… I'm just trying to get myself stronger," said Rynn.

And Rynn has some advice to offer Sandra Boss.

"I would advise that woman to find that child and get that child away from that man. Con artists are all the same they don't have feelings or emotions for anyone," said Rynn.

After sharing her story, accompanied by a flood of tears, Rynn calmed down and said simply, "I'm not the same person I was."

Of course, who someone really is goes to the very heart of a con man's game. And that's what law enforcement, family and friends are still trying to figure out about Clark Rockefeller.