Little has changed! Dating and romance scam business model still intact! Slight reductions in figures indicate the ACCC is having some impact, however the tens of millions of dollars lost is incomprehensible, and does not tell the story of the impact of the dollars lost on victims. Continue reading Scammer business model still intact!
I have recently been contacted by two different people about variations on the theme of online dating. Both are worth passing on, to show that Online Dating Fraud comes in many forms, and the unscrupulous will stop at nothing to make money from the vulnerable and unwary.
Fake Match-Making Sites
The first of these variations is of online dating sites that are set up to defraud the person joining the site, by charging them money to connect with potential partners, when the partners are not really available, but paid by the dating site to pretend to be available, to lure partners to stay on the site and pay money for the privilege of contact, and pretend to be able and available to marry.
This was reported to me by David Brunner who claims he was caught on 3 different sites, Natashaclub, HotRussianBrides and Anastasiadate, paying exorbitant fees for each contact letter ($20 each). After speaking to a number of different ladies on Natashaclub he connected with a lady, and after some time talking/connecting, went to Crimea and met her. He fell in love, and on returning home was encouraged to send her gifts and pay for language lessons. He later found that not only were the sites paying the girls a salary to appear to be available for marriage, but that they got bonuses for the gifts that were sent to them. As David describes it, the woman he met did get married, but continues to work at a “find a bride” website.
She is still at the website, trying to get more men to send her money. 95% of the sites in this industry are all scams. They work the same way. They charge the men outrageous rates to “chat” or write emails. They pay the women for the activity of all the men who are writing them. The women are rewarded handsomely when they get men to send gifts. And when the men comes to visit, they switch to translation scams and try to get the men to purchase clothing, etc. Then return it all when the men leave.
Despite talking to the authorities, scam survivor groups, and the industry organisation such as iDate, he has had no success in getting this recognised as another form of Fraud in the industry. I asked David if he thought these unsavory match making companies were ‘pimping’ out the woman. He replies
Oh absolutely, they are pimping women. Publically, they claim they not aware of the women who are married. Privately, they pay agencies in Ukraine who in turn hire women to come to their site. They keep all of these transactions a secret away from the public eye. If the men knew they were paying agencies in Ukraine, men would stop using the services.
Here is a sample ad he provides from a forum in Ukraine.
Wanted unmarried or divorced pretty girls to work in a marriage agency. Age 25-40 years. Work at home: correspondence, chats. There are meetings (at your request)
Intimacy is excluded.
The requirement for the candidates:
– knowledge of the English language or the ability to use an online translator -zhelanie earn -poryadochnost, responsibility, perseverance experience welcome. S / n from $ 100 up to 1500 USD per month (salary depends on your diligence) the receipt of gifts and a free photo session. Communication with the men from the US and Europe, the ability to get married. Questions on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (after 14:00 to 00:00) 097 154 67 65 Alexander
Good luck to David on his fight to raise this issue. he says he will fight on.
The second variation is Immigration marriage fraud, called “The Game” from
South Africa/Gambia, told to me by Kim Sow who had also been a victim of this herself. She now co-runs a group called Immigration marriage fraud UK, a research, support and campaign group set up to stop the criminal abuse of marriage in cases where one party deceives the other into believing they are in a genuine relationship, for the purpose of obtaining visas (for the UK), and/or money. This organisation was founded by Delene Alouane, in March 2013, and Kim joined last year (the Daily Mail item below is incorrect in this regard and has published a correction). Google each name for more information.
I know this is not unique to the UK, though the prevalence of the men from the south african continent countries to prey on British women, even engaging in multiple marriages (bigamy) for this purpose, as she tells it, seems especially heinous. Here are some references to her story.
Unfortunately marriage for the purpose of getting entry permits/visas, called marriages of convenience when it is a consensual purposeful activity by two parties, are illegal, but known to occur.
When its not consensual, but a deliberate fraud by one party on the other, that is a different thing. It is not especially related to online dating, but is a form of relationship fraud.
In Australia we all know of stories of people getting married, the marriage (or even de facto relationship) lasting a requisite two years, then a separation/divorce where the person who entered the relationship with little or nothing then demands a half share of whatever the other more wealthy person brought to the marriage.
What is difficult to gauge is the pre-meditation of this activity, but on behalf of our friend loosing their hard earned wealth, we remain at times cynical. It would not take much for us to upgrade our assessment to call it marriage fraud, whether immigration is involved or not! The loss experienced would be very similar to that of dating scams, if not at times worse.
I frequently get letters from across the world from people who have just realised they have been scammed. These letters often talk about the shame and guilt that they have once they realised they have been scammed. How do I reply to them? I know they write to me because they must tell their story to someone, to make sense of it for themselves, and they know I will understand.
A recent writer said
I have been sending money to woman in ..[deleted for privacy].. for ..[deleted for privacy]… I am not stupid, and I realised that this could not be the real thing, but I continued to write to her. I denied the obvious for so long time. I feel ashamed of my self. I now delete all “her” e mails, but I still feel afraid and guilt.
It is a challenge to know what to write to people in this situation. I have been there too, wondering if it is a scam, denying to myself that it is, wanting the dream that is promised so badly. But I have had a long time thinking (and writing) about it since.
I wrote back to him
sorry to hear that you have also been impacted in this way.
Feelings of shame and guilt can be very debilitating, I know. It plays on our sense of our own involvement and responsibility for what has happened.
Please take into account that you have been emotionally manipulated by experienced professionals who have led you to do things that you would not do without this manipulation. This includes you continuing to give money. It is all because of the manipulation. In this state you cannot be rational.
Put the responsibility where it really lies, with the scammers and fraudsters, not with you. You have nothing to be ashamed or guilty of.
This I know!
I hope these few words help. Also talking about it helps, so do this if you can with people you trust.
He wrote back saying that he was feeling better and starting to love and respect himself more. He also acknowledged that it might be a good idea to talk to someone….
So much is included in this interchange about the impact of being caught in these frauds
- Our trust in our “rational” self is shattered, and our self worth plummets
- We blame ourselves for what has happened
- We feel ashamed and guilty for what we have done
- We don’t know who will understand, and it is hard to find people who will
- If we don’t find the right people to talk to, we don’t
- We cannot make sense of it and love ourselves if we cannot speak the truth…
I know from my own experience that when we don’t talk, we shut down all our relating, and cannot be our true selves even with friends or family, let alone new people we might meet.
Societal attitudes continue to put the blame on us. This vortex of continued shame and blame must be broken. The only way we can do this is by speaking about what has happened, first to one person, then another, and another. We need to correct them when they blame us, speaking out, putting responsibility back on the fraudsters where it truly lies. Putting the blame on the emotional manipulation we have endured and unwittingly colluded with. We have been abused.
There are numerous instances where attitudes in society have been successfully changed, so it is possible. Its happened around rape – no longer do we (most of us) believe that the woman ‘asked for it’. Attitudes are in the process of changing around the acceptability of domestic violence, especially here in Australia.
We must make an effort to change these attitudes to being scammed too. It is fraud, it is deliberate, it is violent and abusive, and it is done by criminals to us. This is not acceptable!
Only by speaking out can this be changed.
The ACCC’s data shows that people aged 45 and over are disproportionately vulnerable to romance scams: those aged 65 and over have the highest rate of “conversion” after being contacted by a fraudster, at 55 per cent. I discuss some reasons why I think this is so.
I know I promised to do more on the book Cyber Love’s Illusions: the Healing Journey, but I have been distracted by preparing to move and doing some speaking engagements with the Yarra Plenty Regional Library network in north eastern Melbourne. This series of talks was organised as part of Seniors Week, and is my story of being caught in a romance scam, what happened, how I came through this, and how to be aware of the dangers. I’m also asked to cover all the different sorts of scams that people are experiencing.
As part of the discussions in my talk, I’ve been asked several times about why seniors are more susceptible. The first question to as is “Is it true that they are more susceptible?”. The Targeting Scams: report of the ACCC on scams activity 20141 reveals that the age group 55 and over accounts for 37% of those impacted by all sorts of scams, and 24% of the reported losses.
The latest statistics for this year so far clarify that Singles aged 45 and over comprise 65% of reported dating scams. The numbers that go unreported are unknown, but it is felt that these reported figures are just the tip of the iceberg… Delia Rickard2, deputy chair of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), estimates that that number represents only 10 per cent of the true levels, as reporting rates are very low. There is also little difference between men and women, they both get caught in scams.
My ideas about why this group is more susceptible include:
- Sometimes less experience with technology/computers/devices, and so not so clear on the risks and the precautions one should take. This was not my problem – I have worked in the computer industry since 1984. But I was still a victim to a scam.
- Knowledge of how to safely use social media. Dr. Cassandra Cross comments to the Joint Committee into Cyber Safety for Seniors3 that
Many seniors do not have an adequate knowledge of security
settings on accounts, either about their existence in the first place,
or the importance of changing the default setting. They believe
that only their contacts can access the information that is being
posted. In reality, this is not the case.
This means they are unaware of the dangers and may be allowing information about themselves to be visible to others. They also may not be protecting themselves against viruses, identity fraud and other dangers.
- Thirdly, as they (and I) had not previously considered online dating, they may have not been aware of the warnings being made. With so much information bombarding us, we just filter out what is not relevant at the time. As well, the Dating site report card from the ACCC indicates that only 48% of websites prominently display warnings, and only 23% display warnings which meet the industry standards. With this the case it is doubly likely that they have not seen the warnings.
- Perhaps it is also a generational thing. The values we were taught as we grew up were very much that you did not lie, and you told the truth. It is hard for us baby-boomers and older to realise that some people are not doing this. We trust people. Perhaps not so much now-a-days, but we grew up not locking our houses. I think this carries through to all our relationships, especially when they, the fraudster, says they are looking for someone open and honest because they have been hurt in the past. We are vulnerable to believing this.
- Its also likely that the older age group is targeted specifically with an expectation that at their time in life they will have more money, and more disposable money. My experience is that fraudsters are targeting older people, though not not exclusively so. I have also met younger people who have been scammed.
- Delia Rickard, in the SMH article again, combines this with the possibility that older people are more lonely…
it’s because older people tend to have more money “and they’re often at a lonely stage of life. The people we’re seeing tend to have been through a divorce or been widowed, or their kids have left home. They’re lonely and they want to believe it more”.
The isolation of the older and elderly populations is a topic in its own right, but its becoming clearer that our desire for friendship, intimacy, companionship and sex do not diminish. This may lead us to try the ‘new way’ of connecting, on line. I believe scammers also target those newly going on to online dating sites, before they have become aware of tall of the dangers
In my talk I quote Jane Juska, who wrote her memoir of how, as a 67 year old, she put an add in the Wanted column in The New York Review of Books that went like this: “Before I turn 67 – next March – I would like to have a lot of sex with a man I like. If you want to talk first, Trollope works for me.” And it worked: she found men to play with, some to blame, some to drive her nuts, to make her laugh and sometimes cry. So she wrote a book about it called A Round-Heeled Woman: My Late-Life Adventures in Sex and Romance. I love her quote:
Love is a tyrant, isn’t it? It keeps you in thrall, it makes you do things you would never do in your right mind, go places you don’t especially want to go. It screws up your thinking, not to mention your stomach.
But I am getting off track. The ACCC’s data shows that although people aged 45 and over are less likely to fall victim to fraud overall, they are disproportionately vulnerable to romance scams: those aged 65 and over have the highest rate of “conversion” after being contacted by a fraudster, at 55 per cent. People aged 45 and over comprise more than 80 per cent of victims in romance scams.
Of course with all this focus on the seniors I do not want to imply that they are stupid. We also need to take account of the fact that if they have been caught in a scam they have been manipulated and groomed by professional fraudsters who know what works and who set about creating an emotional state so they can abuse our/my better nature all for the sake of the money they make from it.
1. Targeting Scams:report of the ACCC on scams activity 2014 https://www.accc.gov.au/publications/targeting-scams-report-on-scam-activity/targeting-scams-report-of-the-accc-on-scam-activity-2014
2. Delia Rickard, quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald,How Dating Scams Target Older People, Julia May, October 3, 2014 http://www.smh.com.au/national/how-dating-scams-target-older-people-20141002-10p4ft.html#ixzz3oOk9rqxv
3. Cybersafety for Seniors: A Worthwhile Journey Second Interim Report Joint Select Committee on Cyber-Safety March 2013, Page 37. http://www.aph.gov.au/parliamentary_business/committees/house_of_representatives_committees?url=jscc/senior_australians/report/fullreport.pdf
The definitive text on healing from being scammed is Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, by Anna Alden Tirrill and Jon van Helsing. Here I review the first section on the emotional aftermath of the scam and letting go.
I have talked about various aspects of healing journey after being scammed in my posts here, mostly from my own experience. The definitive text is Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, by Anna Alden Tirrill and Jon van Helsing. This is the companion book to Cyber Love’s Illusions: Anatomy of a Romance Scam. I have wanted to have these books for some time, but have not had the money to pay for them and shipping to Australia. A dear friend has gifted them to me, but only the first has arrived so far. Both books have at their core the information and experience gathered from the Yahoo group Romancescams run by the experienced team from www.rormancescams.org . They have supported tens of thousands of romance scam support group members and millions of visitors to their site.
I was pleased to see that the ‘Healing Journey’ book addresses the emotional aftermath of being scammed in one section and the practical and legal aftermath in another. I have made similar distinctions through my blog. So far, I have only read the first section, and plan to write my next blog on part two.
The first chapter helps readers identify if you have been scammed. There is a quiz, with 18 Yes/No questions. Three or more YES answers leads you to consider red flags to see if they apply including:
- 9 characteristics or behaviours of scammers on first contact
- 22 typical characteristics of their communication skills
- 21 habits that define them
- 3 inconsistencies noticed about scammers
If you have identified that you have been scammed from this, there are 7 things you should do, including an additional set of six activities to prove to yourself that the person is not who they say they are, provided by a Nigerian “deep throat”. A number of different scam scenarios are shared, as well as examples of types of photos used by scammers, actual IM conversations, and a fake passport. Its all very comprehensive so if you have had any doubts before now, if any of these apply to you there will be no lingering doubts. There is also a space at the end of each chapter to write down your own thoughts about information covered in the chapter.
Through the next chapters the difficulties of letting go of the fantasy relationship set up by the scammer are covered, including the similarities with Battered Women’s Syndrome, and the stages these women go through. To quote:
“In extreme cases of victimization, as with domestic abuse, the overriding emotions included: learned helplessness, loss of self-esteem, self-blame, anxiety, depression, fear, suspiciousness, loss of belief in the possibility of change, and the tendency to use self-destructive methods of coping with fear and stress, like food, drug or alcohol abuse. Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS) is recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a formal clinical syndrome within Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
And, when the eventual awakening to the scam happens,
“This awakening brings with it the emotional devastation, not only of a broken heart, but diminished self-image, demolished self-confidence, and the inability to trust oneself, one’s judgement, one’s feelings and ultimately, other people.”
I recently received feedback that at a particular outing, one of the other people there found me ‘unfriendly’. I realised that it was exactly this state of being described in this quote applying in my life. I could not put myself out there to be friendly because at that time I did not value myself as someone worth knowing.
The feeling of being emotionally raped and the stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome as it applies to romance scams are explored. There are quotes from victims of the difficulties they have in letting go of the fairy tale romance, the dream that has been built by the scammer, and the grief and loss that is experienced. The way I got through this was to go to www.romancescam.com and read the postings there of interactions of others with scammers. I soon saw that the scenarios were the same, the text was often the same, and sometimes the names are the same. The name of the daughter in my scam was Patience Blessing ( I just searched on the name Patience and found this). I found a scenario VERY similar to mine where the daughter was called Blessing Patience. By doing all this research I was able to see that the scam was NOT PERSONAL. It was not about me as a person at all. It was all about the money I could provide. Doing this enabled me to let go of the idea that there was a person there that loved me. I realised it was all just an act.
The difficult topic of cyber-love is explored, including how people are lured by wanting “to know they are desirable, special, wanted, loved and cherished”, into disrobing in front of a webcam. Whilst they think they are doing this in the privacy of their own home with the partner that they love, will marry, and who is caressing them with loving words in a seemingly mutual engagement, in reality they are doing this on a webcam beaming to a cyber-café, somewhere in Nigeria most likely, with men standing around ogling at them and laughing at them. The importance of this event in the mind of the victim cannot be underestimated however, as it signifies and further inflates a deep level of intimacy, that is a further manipulation of the victim into being emotionally likely to send money.
“Because the scammer uses this perceived intimacy to make inroads into the victim’s mind, emotions and will, he can often totally disengage the victim’s normal reasoning ability and her (or his) sense of discernment and judgement”.
This is a key ingredient in “taking the brain” that I talk about in a previous blog. I know the power of this intimacy from personal experience. I had not realised it was actually abuse until I read this in the Scams of the Heart Blog. I held on to a comment made by my scammer that he was “surprised that he found himself attracted to my body type” as an indication that he was really attracted to me way beyond the time when I let go of other beliefs that the scam had been real. Luckily for me I was not subject to a further blackmail scam with threats to make my ‘webcam’ activity public, but I do know of others who have received this threat.
Though its not the last chapter in this section on the emotional impacts, I will close this blog with this further quote from this great book which echoes my last post on the Right of Reply:
“Above all else, victims need to understand that they DID NOTHING WRONG! They were being a loving, compassionate and caring person. They’re not stupid and they’re not to blame. They don’t need to put themselves down or let anyone else judge or criticise them.”
More on the book in my next blog.
Anna Alden Tirrill and Jon van Helsing, Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, 2010 Published by White Cottage Publishing Company. http://www.cyberlovesillusions.com/ This is the companion book to Cyber Love’s Illusions: Anatomy of a Romance Scam.
I felt moved to provide a ‘Right of Reply’ comment addressing the negative responses to a recent guest contributor blog posted on Starts at Sixty. Its re-posted here.
I recently wrote a blog about my scam experience which was posted on the Starts at Sixty website, which I have recently joined. As with previous publications by me or others, there were many comments questioning “how could she be so stupid?”, “hasn’t she seen the warnings?”, “why doesn’t she join a club?”, etc. There were also positive and supportive comments, but I felt moved to provide a ‘Right of Reply’ comment addressing the negative ones. The following is copied from my comment (Comment No 199) on Starts at sixty. I don’t know if it will be read by those who commented on the blog, but thought it was worth reposting here.
Firstly thank you to all of you who were supportive, or understanding of my situation. Sorry for those who have suffered in a similar way, or who have friends/family who have.
Secondly, I don’t appreciate being called stupid. You would not call someone who was burgled as stupid, and we have learnt not to call someone who was raped stupid. Please remember that I was caught by professional fraudsters who emotionally manipulated me into sending money. If you want to know more about how this works, check out my blog, especially the one on Taking the Brain. http://romancescamsurvivor.org/2015/07/taking-the-brain/
How about calling the fraudsters criminals instead.
Many comments were about being lonely, and why not get a pet. I do have a cat, thank you, and he was certainly a god-send through the difficult times after the scam. I did not do this because I was lonely, having been alone for many years. However I did want companionship, and I was certainly vulnerable to someone’s loving attention. These are not the same. I had not seen previous warnings because I had never thought I would need them, never considered going onto a dating site.
All those news programs and warnings you have seen this year most
likely have had me in them. There are not many people willing to speak out about what has happened, but I am, so I have been in the press quite a bit – sorry if its getting a bit tedious for you. The latest figures show that romance scam is still the largest area of money lost to all types of scams, about $27 million across Australia last year. There is still a need to put warnings out there.
How could I give money to someone I had not met? In my mind at the time this was the person I was most intimate with, not a stranger. I was speaking to him many times a day. We had agreed to marry. Would you not help out your life partner if they were in need?
Why do I speak out? Because I will not let the shame of what happened shut me down and not be truthful about what happened. I know those calling me stupid, or sad, want me to do that, feel shame and shut up. I will not. Talking out lets me regain my self respect because I am truthful about what happened. This story is an authentic representation of what happened to me and I now know it is nothing to be ashamed of. Yes I made a mistake and did not see the red flags. I lost a lot of money as a consequence that I could not afford to loose. I still have not recovered from this loss, and maybe never will. I was caught and manipulated by expert and skilled fraudsters.
I will not be be put under a rock because of this. I have learned lessons from this that in speaking out I hope to pass on. I have moved from being a victim to a survivor. I will continue to speak out, educate others and stand up for those who have unwittingly become victims of these professional fraudsters
as I did.
The direct and most tangible consequence of being caught in a scam is loss of money. Some people don’t realise they have been scammed until large amounts are gone, never to be returned. For some, its smaller amounts. Whether its small or large is not a measure of its impact. I have seen people loose relatively small amounts, but given that they have small incomes and large outgoings, this has had a huge impact on them.
Regardless, the response to being under the spell of a scammer when they ‘take the brain’ is that we will go beyond reason to give money. Not only do we loan our carefully sequestered savings, we can also take on more debt, sell our hard earned assets, and steal, beg and borrow money from our families or other places. We will loan whatever we can get our hands on to the scammer. We won’t know till later that this money will not come back. As we are defrauded, we condemn ourselves and our families to a different and poorer future.
It is beyond devastating when we realise that not only are we are not going to get the money back from the scammer, as promised, but that there is nothing anyone else can do to get it back either. That money is gone into the ether (a.k.a. the scammer’s pockets). In western society we expect to be able to make redress when things go wrong. There are normally laws which say this is wrong, and the person can be apprehended, charged, found guilty and there may be possible restitution or support as victims of crime. In the international and digital circumstances where most scams operate today, this is not possible. Local or national law enforcement, wherever we are, do not have any jurisdiction in other countries.
I remember when it first happened to me, many friends and family said insistently, there must be someone who can do something, the police, the national police, a parliamentarian…. Whilst the law enforcement agencies are building relationships internationally in areas where scammers operate from, and this has had some effect on scammers being caught in those countries, this makes minimal overall impact on the amounts being defrauded by scammers. New scammers will quickly step into the spaces left.
But I wanted to talk more on the personal level about the financial consequences, and will go through this in phases, primarily based on my own experience.
Phase 1: Immediate survival
When we finally realised we have been scammed, we may be, as I was, unable to survive the immediate period financially without additional help. I had given away pay I had just received and had no way to pay bills and buy food for the following few weeks. I had to borrow from a friend to get through the ensuing weeks. Not having been able to do this would have left me destitute and greatly damaged my future credit rating. Thank you friend!
Luckily I had a job, but those who are out of the workforce who have given all of their reserves and sold all of their assets are in more dire straits, having to rely on sometimes unsympathetic friend and family for help. They may need help of every form, food, accommodation, bills. They need this help at the same time as dealing with the shock of the emotion loss of a loved one (the scammer) and the shock and shame of realising that money is not going to come back. Also this is a time of dealing with police, making reports to law enforcement agencies, trying to understand scams, and changing email and bank details. It all takes time and effort and often has to be done outside of work hours. This phase, I suggest covers about a month.
Phase 2: Reduce outgoings
In the ensuing months, we will need to cancel any discretionary expenditure we may have had, when we had lifestyles and assets. This may be magazine or web site subscriptions, gym subscriptions, find credit cards with 0% interest periods, get lower levels of health insurance, lower cost car insurance, etc.. In situations where we may have lost credit ratings, or be losing significant assets such as houses, it can involve substantial paring back.
In those first months I had to juggle which bills I would pay, knowing that as I had a well-paying job, I would be able to rectify any un-payed bill in the following month. Creative cash flow accounting I call it.
Luckily I had a job, a place to live which I could continue to afford, and the semblance of my life on the outside continued as normal. I was able to rationalise my financial loss as equivalent to someone loosing money in and investment scheme gone bad, and there had been a lot of those during the global financial crisis.
Eventually I did have to move to lower cost rental accommodation. For many, they may not have work or suitable accommodation, and I cannot imagine what life is like for them. I spoke to one lady who was sleeping in a chair at a relative’s place, having lost everything. For many who are older, there will be no opportunity to work again, to re-establish an asset base, and it can mean that already they have been reduced in a short time from able to manage financially to joining the ranks of the poorest in our society. They may need to rely on family (sympathetic or not) or charities for support.
Its is important to get financial counselling appropriate to your own situation at this point. Financial laws are different in different countries regarding processes such as bankruptcy.
Phase 3: Managing longer term impacts
This will be an individual matter depending on each person’s circumstances. For me, though initially I had a good job and was able to survive week to week, I had, when under the scammer’s spell, taken money from my superannuation/retirement fund that I was not allowed to do. It took me 2 years of legal negotiation with the Australian Tax Office to find that I would be taxed at the highest rate on this money, leaving me with a tax bill of over AU$76,000 in addition to all that I had lost. It was a hard lesson that organisations such as these do not have any compassion for a person’s circumstances, even when there is, within the law, supposed ‘discretion’.
At about this point, I was also retrenched from my job. Whilst I did receive a redundancy payment, over time I found I was not able to find another suitable job. I put this down to my age of being 61 years old. As a consequence, I found myself in extreme hardship, not being able to cover my outgoings with a meagre unemployment support, which in Australia we call Newstart.
This meant I could have been out on the street, loosing my rental accommodation, if not for being able to get some hardship money from my superannuation/retirement fund. I have joined the ranks of the poor and possibly destitute. I am sure this is similar to many that have fallen victim to the professional fraudsters that we know as scammers.
In summary, the loss of money from being defrauded by scammers may bring on periods of extreme adjustments in lifestyle. This may occur at the point of realisation, or later, but is likely to be significant, commensurate with the amounts of money lost. Full impacts may not be known initially, but may be revealed years later. Whenever it is revealed, it is likely to be in a negative direction.
My thought and prayers go out to all who find themselves in this situation.
I saw the term “taking the brain” in an article where an ex-scammer talked about the stages they go through in a scam. It is the end goal of “love bombing”, the intensive grooming that scammers go through, where “the victim’s defences are broken down by exhaustion, social isolation and an overwhelming amount of attention“.
In the long article in AARP The Magazine , Enitan [false name used in the article], the ex-scammer says
“The goal is to get the victim to transfer allegiance to the scammer. “You want them thinking, ‘My dreams are your dreams, my goals are your goals, and my financial interests are your financial interests,’ ” he says. “You can’t ask for money until you have achieved this.”
I’ve had a number of contacts recently from family members of people who they believe are being scammed, and have given away huge amounts of money. They wonder why they cannot get through to their loved one, and reached out to me for help. I also saw a show on Dr. Phil where he interviews a woman who has given away US$300,000, and was still declaring her love and refusing to admit she had been scammed.
Those who have realised they have been scammed continually get the question, “How could you give you money to someone you have never met?” It is nearly impossible to explain to people who have not experienced it. This phrase, “taking the brain” is the best explanation I have seen yet. It is no wonder, that with this intent plus tried and true techniques being used by scammers, that those caught in the scam have agreed to marry their fictitious partner, feeling like they have found their one true love. This is the confirmation to the scammer that they have control, and can now ask for money. I certainly felt, after I realised that I had been scammed, that I was not in control of myself at that time. It is not detectable from the inside the scam though.
On a SBS TV program showing a BBC Documentary 2015 – Is Your Brain Male or Female this week I saw that oxytocin, the honeymoon hormone which increases the level of trust when in love, only impacts women. This was a surprise to me, because the numbers of men scammed is greater than women, though women report it more, according to the AARP article where they quote Monica Whitty’s 2008 book, Truth, Lies and Trust on the Internet. The article again quotes Whitty:
Computer-mediated relationships, she says, can be “hyperpersonal — more strong and intimate than physical relationships.” Because the parties are spared the distractions of face-to-face interaction, they can control how they present themselves, creating idealized avatars that command more trust and closeness than their true selves. “What happens is, you can see the written text and read it over and over again, and that makes it stronger,” she says.
It has always been the level of intimacy developed in a scam that I think is not well understood or believed by those who have not experienced a scam. The level of intimacy may have been made even more intense by cybersex, which can be used as a form of ‘consummation’ of the virtual marriage, and cement the achievement of the goal of ‘taking the brain’.
It is in the context of the intimacy developed during a scam, the ‘taking the brain’ that I come back to the issue of loved ones who are being scammed, and what family members can do about it. The victim when confronted may refuse to believe it is a scam and may be continuing to send money. There is no easy answer as to what to do, especially as unacknowledged feelings of shame and denial in the face of relative’s insistence that it is a scam may push the victim to take a stance of “its not a scam, its true love and you would not understand“, words given to them by the scammer, even more strongly. Again from the AARP article:
Shame, fear of ridicule and the victim’s own denial enforce this contract of silence. “Once people are invested in these , it’s extremely difficult to convince them they are not dealing with a real person,” says Steven Baker, director of the FTC’s Midwest Region [USA] and a leading expert on fraud. “People want to believe so bad.”
This family interaction is hard for everyone involved, and can lead to break-up between family members. It is quite different from the scenario in my post I think my friend is being scammed, where friends were discussed. Family relationships may be much more emotionally loaded. There are also more serious financial implication, as assets are sold, inheritances are given away, loans are taken out and the victim is left with less than nothing. The bewildered family may be left with the ongoing financial burden or at least the need to support the now destitute scam victim.
I am trying to think if there is anything more that could be done in these situations apart from what I suggested in my previous post. I think in these situations it is more important to contact the authorities, and see if you can get any involvement from them. Hopefully they would be tracking activity of scammers. I’m hypothesising that an interaction with an independent third party of authority may help.
Please add your own comments below if you have ideas about or success with any other tactics when confronted with a family member who is actively being scammed, so we can all learn from this experience. Contact me directly and I will post on your behalf if you require anonymity.
Finally, the article quotes our own Brian Hay, head of the fraud unit of the Queensland Police Service in Brisbane about the fraudsters:
Think romance fraud on an industrial scale. “The strongest drug in the world is love,” Hay says. “These bastards know that. And they’re brilliant at it.”
AARP THE MAGAZINE
‘Are You Real?’ — Inside an Online Dating Scam
A con man steels one woman’s heart – and $30,000. Here’s how it happened.
by Doug Shadel and David Dudley, AARP The Magazine, June/July 2015
I had been warned there might be a follow-on or ‘secondary scam’, after my scam event in 2012, and had thought myself lucky that there had not been one. Until last week. It came via Skype.
How alluring the thought of getting my lost money back could be, if I let it. The Skype contact request came with a photo of what I assumed to be an older official looking man. Actually when I look again, it looks like someone in a bookshop or library, not official at all! No doubt the ‘full statement’ would gather personal information which could be abused, either by ID theft, or they would ask me to pay fees to get the money back. I know by now its all about getting their hands on my money.
I know enough by now to check, so went to the Interpol website and found this, located in their FAQs.
“I have been contacted by someone claiming to work for INTERPOL. How can I check this is genuine?
The INTERPOL General Secretariat does not contact members of the public. If you have received an email from an individual claiming to work for INTERPOL, it should be considered fake. Read more about email scams falsely using the INTERPOL name.”
As an aside, when I was scammed it was suggested by friends that I contact Interpol to find my scammer. Officially, they say
“Am I the victim of online fraud?
There are many common frauds circulating over the Internet, including fraudulent lotteries, so-called ‘419’ scams, fake inheritance claims, online purchases scams, online dating and chat-room confidence tricks. If you believe you are the victim of one of the above, please contact your local or national police authorities.” [my emphasis]
But back to the story… I did not accept the invitation to connect on Skype, and blocked the contact.
I am not talking about situations where the victim is blackmailed by a scammer who has taken a revealing webcam of them, such as in ‘sextortion’. You can see more in my blog on this. I am also not talking about when the scammer is confronted, and then admits to being a scammer, but declares that they have really fallen in love with the victim. I am talking about money recovery scams when a supposed official contacts the victim, as they did me, saying they can help get money back. I have heard stories of this being Senior Police, Ministers etc. See this great description by Scamwarners.com, who have some great sample emails used in this type of scam.
The WA Police and Consumer Protection have been particularly active in the area of romance scams. They say some secondary scam “Bogus stories have included:
- offers of scam compensation from law enforcement or government agencies even though no such scheme exists
- a supposed doctor calling to alert a fraud victim that the scammer had attempted suicide and needed medical bills paying or he would not survive;
- a woman contacting a fraud victim to explain she is the scammer’s wife and he beats her but she wants to leave and needs money to do so; and
- claims made to a fraud victim that the scammer is facing jail unless more money is sent.”
I find these stories so outlandish, but understand that they are designed to hook the victim in the same way the initial scam did. Here is a case study cited on Lifehacker by Cassandra Cross, one of our top Australian researchers on this topic, of such a situation.
“CASE STUDY: A woman in her 50s was approached by a man in America. She developed a relationship with him, which included her talking and emailing his “daughter”. She lost $A30,000 before she realised it was a fraud and stopped sending money.
But she became a victim in a secondary scam, from bank officials in another country claiming her “husband” had opened an account in her name. She lost another $A30,000 trying to access these funds.
She reconnected with the original man, believing that they both may have been scammed by this banking official and that she might be able to continue her relationship with him. In the process, she has lost all her savings, her house, her job and it put immense strain on her relationships with family and friends.”
One thing I have heard about these secondary scams is that they can be very convincing, supposedly coming from people (government officials or police) of very high status, and with convincing documentation. They can even set up phone calls with these officials to further add to the realism of the scam/fraud scenario. It can become very confusing to tell reality from lie when the evidence seems so real.
There has been some research done on susceptibility of people to repeat scams, and that research, done for the UK Office of Fair Trading in 2009 showed that it was 10 – 20 percent of people who have been scammed. That’s quite high.
Two things to say about all this:
- We need to acknowledge the complexity of our emotions and how easily we can be manipulated by ‘hope’ of something different, better, more, or situation remedied, especially in areas of love and money. Hope has a lot to answer for.
- The level of sheer gall (and ingenuity) of the scammers to brashly keep trying to get our money, using any and every scenario they can and with near to real backup materials and manipulations, is astounding.
So the lesson is simple. If you have been scammed, be hypersensitive to follow-on or secondary scams. Especially be aware that these are likely to come from online connections, as mine did, via email, Skype or even LinkedIn. They may purport to be officials of some sort. In reality, true organisations will never contact you this way. So beware.
I was contacted recently by a woman who was concerned for her friend and wanted some urgent advice. “I have been listening to a friend’s beautiful love story unfolding, and then realised where it was heading”, she said. She had seen the same pattern previously herself but had pulled out. She had found my blog and got in touch. She acknowledged that “Although we are both intelligent women our need to be loved, and love, is stronger than reason, as you know”. Yes, I know this only too well and at a high cost.
I had already been thinking about this question, and had even drafted a book outline on the topic. I had been warned by friends, but disregarded the warnings, and have ‘kicked myself’ since. So here are a few pointers to help, from the perspective of being a friend. (Remember that men can also be scammed by women, its not allways this way around.)
Understand how scams/scammers work
It important that you understand how scammers work so you can understand what is happening to your friend.
- The scammer has gathered information on your friend, and knows their weak points, and how much they want to be loved. They will have no qualms about using this against your friend to their monetary advantage.
- The scammer will profess love quickly and deeply, making it seemed destined, special, magical, and its natural for anyone wanting love to respond to this. Though the text of emails, messages, chats are tried and tested pro-forma materials, they will seem genuine, personal and include promises of forever love. Your friend may at this stage be sharing with you the excitement of finally found their one true love.
- When ‘in love’, the hormone oxytocin is engaged, and this heightens trust, so the friend will be more trusting of the scammer than they might otherwise be. This means that they will be more likely to not focus on the inconsistencies in the experience, passing them by.
- They will be communicating at all hours, especially through the night, keeping your friend sleep deprived. This makes it more difficult for your friend to make rational decisions when the scammer eventually asks for money. The scammer may also provide legitimate looking documents as evidence of their credibility or financial capacity to repay money.
- When confronted about being a scammer, the scammer will respond with righteous anger, feigning affront, and will encourage the friend to cut off from others, especially those with warnings.
The scammer will say that “what we have is special” and “they would not understand so don’t bother trying to explain – they will understand when they see us together – don’t talk to them”. They will not ever intend to be together, but they will profess and promise otherwise. The scammer will encourage your friend to cut off from you and other friends or family. This may mean they will try and push you away or cut off from you.
- A high level of intimacy will be developed, including possible connections to others in the scammer’s imaginary family, including children. This adds an element of normality and family intimacy which counters the sense that it might be a scam.
- They ask for honesty and make lots of promises (but will never return them).
As a friend of someone being targeted for a scam
- Keep close contact with your friend and resist being pushed away. Encourage them to keep sharing with you. You may want to just cry out “Stop it” but this might push them away from you and its important to keep the communication open.
- Be respectful of what your friend is feeling, however try to keep them open the equal possibility that it is a scam.
- If you can, get actual emails and photos of the scammer. Use these to do some checking using some of the sites such as romancescam.com, and scamsurvivors.com to check for previously stolen photos and search for stand-out segments of text. As the same ones are used frequently, you may find them already reported, giving you information to take to your friend as evidence of a suspected scam. Also do a Google image search on the photo: you are looking for the photo being connected to other names than the one used by the scammer. Make sure you check on all results pages, and check for any google messages saying there is more to be seen, checking these results as well. If you have the technical ability you can check the IP address in the email header as well to see if it is coming from the same location as the scammer.
- If you do find evidence that it may be a scam, present it as another possibility, not “the truth”, and encourage your friend to look further for themselves. Be careful not to make them wrong or unworthy of love. When this happened to me I became rebellious, insisting that I deserved to be loved, and it pushed me further towards the scammer.
Here are some what not to say and why tips from by Soraya Grant in her Scams of the Heart blog. This blog is excellent, and well worth a read in more detail.
- The person who contacted me made a great point about the need for a friend to match the time and energy level of the scammer, and identified the “need to apply just as much bombardment of information and support, even when it feels like intruding”. She specifically judged when her friend could take in and be receptive to certain pieces of information. It takes a great friend to do this – I commend her on her efforts.
- If you are not sure what to do, reach out, to me or some of the other sites offering support resources. There is help out there. See my Support for Victims of Scams page.
- If your friend does part with money, and then realises they have been scammed, encourage them to report it. See my blog on this.
Luckily in this instance we can report a good outcome. Contact was broken off with the scammer, and life has moved on.
One last thing.. be wary about secondary scams. Once they are in contact they may try again. This includes, for example, scammers pretending to be police or Interpol, saying they have your money, or your scammer, including providing forged documents about this. Don’t be tempted to go there, its another scam. More on this in my next blog.