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Real Life

A Conman stole my heart - and my money

Mark Lines charmed vulnerable women for cash. one heartbroken victim reveals the true cost of his lies.
As I watched my boyfriend Mark Lines drive away in the $36,000 sports car I had bought him, I tried to fight back the doubt that had begun to haunt me. In the two months we'd been together, he had borrowed more and more money, always promising to pay it back. I had believed him, but now I wasn't so sure. Could he be lying?
I knew the answer just days later when the police rang me. "We're investigating a complaint that Mark Lines has conned money from various women," the officer said. The man who I thought loved me was really a heartless swindler and I was a victim.
I met Mark on my 46th birthday in 2006. I'm a jewellery designer and he was looking at my stall in a local market. We started chatting and I told him why I was smiling. A few hours later, he returned with a flower for me.
"Happy birthday," he grinned. I felt so flattered. He was much younger than me, only 33, with piercing blue eyes and blond hair. He said he was a diving instructor and offered to teach me. The diving was great and I was touched when he gave away the crayfish he caught.
Everyone seemed to like him. I did, too. The next day, he said his friend was selling her dive gear. It was worth $7000 but she wanted $1800. I jumped at the chance for a bargain. Although I had just met him, I felt I could trust him.
When I went to Australia for a trip, he asked me to get him a cellphone, saying he would pay when I got back. By that time, our relationship was growing. That's when he said he loved me. When he moved out of his flat, I let him stay with me. It's in my nature to help people, and I believed Mark needed me.
one night he told me he had been abused when he was young. I was touched that he trusted me enough to tell me and it made me feel even closer to him. "I have a lot of compensation money coming, because of the abuse," he said. But when I asked him where the dive gear and cellphone money were he got annoyed. "Don't you trust me?" he said angrily.
His excuses were so plausible the gear was being tested and the phone was faulty that I believed him. over the next month I parted with $3500 to help him train for a new job, and put my name down for a $36,000 sports car. He promised to pay $200 a week, but the automatic payment he set up was from an empty bank account that the bank closed.
I assumed I would get my money back once the compensation arrived. I wanted to confront him when the police revealed the truth. But I realised if I did, he would drive off and I'd get nothing back. Keeping my cool, I rang Mark and asked him to come to my house. Then I arranged for a friend to block the car in when he arrived and for another friend - a man - to tell him to leave me alone.
I never saw him again until I opened the newspaper recently. Looking thin and shabby, Mark was in Christchurch District Court, having admitted seven charges of obtaining by deception, three of document fraud and one charge of theft.
The evidence revealed the extent of his lies over a three-year period as well as his 109 previous dishonesty charges. He had been seeing a British backpacker at the same time he lived with me, and had conned her out of $40,000. She even bought him a ticket to go to Britain with her, but he never took the flight - he was already seducing his next victim by then.
A mum-of-two gave him cash, paid his rent, bought him dive gear and gave him a car. She believed the abuse compensation story and loaned him her house deposit. No wonder the judge, who sentenced him to three years and three months, called him an "emotional predator" who intimidated and manipulated his vulnerable victims.
Mark, now 35, was eventually caught when he tried to chat up a woman who turned out to be the sister of a victim. He also has to pay $40,000 reparation, to be shared among his victims, on top of $20,000 he owes for earlier offences.
Mark won't start paying it back until he is freed, though. And meanwhile, I'm paying $200 a week for the sports car. I haven't found a buyer yet and I'll have to drop the price and lose money just to be rid of it.
I've moved to a new city to make a new life for myself, away from the memories. Mark has taken much more than money from me. I've lost my trust in men, and I don't know if I'll ever get that back.

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