Taking the brain…

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. Marriage proposal 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 Scammerphysical 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.”

Reference:  
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

 

 

 

Beware the follow-on scam danger zone…

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.

Interpol
Request to add contact to 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?

Interpol LogoThe 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:

  1. offers of scam compensation from law enforcement or government agencies even though no such scheme exists
  2. 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;
  3. 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
  4. 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.

Gene Fernando - The Complexity of Emotions
Gene Fernando – The Complexity of Emotions

Two things to say about all this:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 think my friend is being scammed…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. friendsThe 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
    heartThe 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.
  6. 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.
  7. They ask for honesty and make lots of promises (but will never return them).

As a friend of someone being targeted for a scam

  1. 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.
  2. Be respectful of what your friend is feeling, however try to keep them open the equal possibility that it is a scam.
  3. chanakya-politician-the-earth-is-supported-by-the-power-of-truth-itIf 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Scams of the Heart link
    Scams of the Heart Blog link

    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.

  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.