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Love, betrayal and revenge

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These three women were duped by a charismatic con man, but fought back by warning other women on the web. Now he’s under arrest, reports Jordan Baker.

It was the eyes that hooked Diana Mors. His charm and generosity were appealing, too, but she loved his George Clooney gaze – a gaze that made her feel like the only woman in the world. Tom* was funny, handsome and smart, almost too good to be true. But, she reasoned, good things eventually come to those who deserve them.

It was in late 2008, as they got to know each other through emails, that Tom told her of his loneliness after his fiancée died in a car accident. He mentioned only in passing the fortune that alloweé him to take extravagant holidays, wander the country and go back to university. He was new to Brisbane and would be staying a little while, he told her. He had a suggestion: could he rent a room at her house rather than stay at a lonely hotel?

He moved in, romance blossomed, and Tom showed his gratitude by taking her shopping for designer clothes and a car. They had have extravagant dinners. But Tom never paid for the shopping sprees on the spot, and the purchases were never delivered. When they dined out, she would pay and he’d add it to the money his personal assistant was transferring to her account.

When, after six weeks, he owed her about $2000, Diana told Tom to leave and sort his finances out. “You know where I am once you’ve worked things out,” she told him. He packed his bags and disappeared. She later found out he moved straight in with Rebecca, a woman he met online using Diana’s internet connection.

While living at Diana’s house, Tom had dazzled smart, savvy Rebecca Bell, 33. He shared many of her interests, and she was moved by the tragic story of his fiancée who died in a car accident. “He had a lot of confidence and I think that enticed me,” Rebecca says. “You feel like you haven’t had a connection with someone like that in a long time.”

He was wealthy, he told her, but expensive hotels were lonely. He was staying with a friend, but would rather rent a room off Rebecca. She invited him into her home and romance blossomed. He valued her opinion and consulted her about his business dealings. She saw emails and texts from his associates, which seemed to back up his tales. He took her shopping for expensive gifts, although there was always a reason why he could not pay on the spot.

“Each time I’d try to ask him questions, he’d produce a document or email, or turn it around on me, saying how could I not trust him?” she tells The Weekly. As Rebecca waited to move into a house he said he had bought for her, Tom flew to Adelaide to give a speech on carbon credits. “I knew he was leaving,” she says. “I was relieved. And then a little light bulb went off in my head.”

Rebecca dug out the phone number of the “friend” he’d mentioned, a woman called Diana, and sent her a text message. It read: “I’ve been with Tom. I think he’s a con man.” Diana called her immediately. “Honey,” she said, “you don’t know the half of it.”

Using information they remembered from conversations with Tom, they tracked down one of his victims, who in turn helped them track down others. With painstaking research, they pieced together the past 10 years of his life and contacted 21 women across Australia and the USA, who had been hurt and ripped off by Tom. Diana and Rebecca learned that there were worse cases than theirs; some women were financially ruined. Their quest became two-pronged – to protect other women, and to support those who had fallen victim. They call it a “survivors group”.

Yet on the many occasions they tried to report Tom to police, they got little sympathy. “Police would say there’s no law against lying or moral misconduct,” says Diana. “What gets me is if I walked into David Jones and took thousands of dollars worth of goods, I’d be in prison. But when he walks into someone’s life and rips them off, you get a condescending look and ‘buyer beware, honey’.”

Read more of this story in the January issue of The Australian Women’s Weekly.

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