IF YOU haven’t seen it by now, what have you been doing?

We’re talking abut The Puppet Master -- a new Netflix documentary spills the secrets behind Robert Freegard, an international con-artist who is reportedly living in Berkshire.

Documentary ‘Hunting the Ultimate Conman’ is about Robert Hendy-Freegard, a conman who "controlled, conned and fleeced at least seven women and one man, stealing close to a million pounds".

READ MORE: 'The Puppet Master' tracked down to Berkshire

As well as detailing his past crimes, the docuseries hones in on a family who fear for their mother's safety.

Robert Hendy-Freegard was jailed in 2005 and labelled “the puppet master” for the control he exercised over victims.

Over ten years he duped seven women and a man, convincing them they were IRA targets and persuading them to cut themselves off from friends and family.

Hendy-Freegard's whereabouts is unknown, although The Times said they 'tracked him down to a house in Berkshire' where dogs were shut in a room upstairs.

READ MORE: Puppet Master contacts local newspaper to tell his side of the story

The Times reported: "Last week we tracked him down to a house in Berkshire. Pictured for the first time in many years, Hendy-Freegard did not want to speak on the record at first. The house had rubbish all over the floor, and dogs were shut in a room upstairs.”

The Puppet Master has received critical acclaim for its storytelling and its not the only conman crime series that has gained attention recently.

From dramas and documentaries to podcasts and books, con artists have been taking over the true crime genre, with fans gripped by shocking tales of complex and long-running scams.

READ MORE: Robert Hendy-Freegard -- where is he now?

Gripping six-part podcast Sweet Bobby told the story of a bizarre, decade-long catfishing case and The Tinder Swindler exposed a fraudster luring women into his web of lies.

The newest addition to the genre is Inventing Anna, the long-awaited drama series based on the true story of Anna Sorokin, played by Ozark star Julia Garner.

Sorokin went by the name Anna Delvey, posing as a wealthy German heiress to scam banks and friends out of thousands of dollars.

But why are we so fascinated by shady characters and the people they exploit?

Entertainment value

Offering the intrigue of a whodunnit but without (usually) a murder, these binge-worthy series are, first and foremost, hugely entertaining.

“The brain derives pleasure out of being amused – especially when it knows it is in a safe environment, such as on the sofa when watching Netflix,” says Dr Audrey Tang, psychologist and author of The Leader’s Guide To Resilience. “A story about a successful scammer will likely entertain us as much as it will inform us.”

When multimillion pound scams are involved, the stories are often glitzy and glamorous, giving us “insight into places that we might never have seen before”, she adds. “Escaping into an on-screen world or exciting book chapter can give us a moment of respite.”

And if there’s a happy ending, even better, says Ieva Kubiliute, wellness psychologist at Olio Lusso (oliolusso.com): “People who side with the victim feel happy and satisfied when fraudster falls in the hands of the law. These pleasurable feelings improve our movie experience, and general wellbeing.”

Empathy and gratitude

Judging by online comments, viewers tend to fall into one of two camps when it comes to financial scams: those who feel sorry for the victims, and those who wonder how they ever fell for such obvious tricks.

“Although most of us sympathise with characters who fall for the scam, the feeling ‘it will never happen to me’ [is common],” says Kubiliute.

“In the case of The Puppet Master, the situations the victims found themselves in were, hopefully, those which many of us will never experience, and we can feel an (albeit unconscious) sense of gratitude as we watch,” says Tang. “Or if we have ourselves been conned or scammed in the past, we may think ‘At least it’s not just me’.”

Emotional insight

There’s a reason for that ‘edge-of-your-seat’ feeling, or the tears you shed when watching a captivating story – it’s because your brain interprets the experience as if it is really happening.

Tang explains: “Although the cerebral part [of the brain] reminds us we are merely an audience, we do experience emotion as we watch anything, and what we see on TV – especially in a true crime story – may be more emotionally charged than horrors, romances or comedies, because we believe it to be ‘real’.”

Discussing the on-screen action also gives us a way to examine and interpret our own and others’ behaviour. For instance, you could ask: ‘Would you have loaned Anna Delvey the money?’

“It’s a bit like the proverbial ‘asking for a friend’,” says Tang. “We can be incredulous, frustrated or full of admiration, and the more we talk, the more we can gauge what is acceptable and not acceptable types of behaviour in our own social circles.”

Learning the tricks of the trade

A bit like the safety videos you had to watch in school, these dramas and documentaries can act as cautionary tales.

“Learning the tricks of fraudsters, con artists and scammers can help us cope,” says Kubiliute, especially as we could “easily find ourselves the victims of [similar] circumstances in real life”.

Tang adds: “I will sometimes take the analysis a little deeper, and look at the emotional states that make us most likely to fall prey to such circumstances. For example, if you recognise one of the characters in a scam drama was ‘so desperate’ at the time, we could then use this to educate ourselves and think twice – especially at the times when we ‘really want’ something, or feel down and need to be ‘picked up’. Those are the times at which we are most vulnerable.”