Western Union admits that its system facilitated scammers

Western Union (USA) admits that its system facilitated scammers, and puts money aside to recompense victims. What does this mean for us in Australia? How can you see details of your financial transactions?

In a media release from the Federal Trade Commission (USA) posted on 19 January 2017, it was announced that not only did Western Union admit its culpability in “willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud” but also that it has forfeited $586 million so it can recompense victims of these frauds.

Whilst the cited cases are based around sending money to China for people or drug trafficking, and aiding and abetting offshore gambling, the terms of the overall judgement, taken jointly by a large number of US agencies, are much more general than just this.  The problems with Western Union, according to them included: Continue reading Western Union admits that its system facilitated scammers

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Different types of romance scams

The more contacts I have from people who have been scammed the more I see the different types of scams that are being carried out.  The amount of ‘romance’ can vary.  There are a number of types of activities that have building a relationship as a primary focus.  You will find these listed on the governmental sites that talk about scams as Online Scams or Fraud, and this is a more generic description. Only when you read the detail does it make it clear this relates to what is commonly known as ‘romance’ or ‘dating’ scams.

In my blog I have focused on scams that use romance as the hook to then enable the scammer to exhort money.  The contact mechanism is often dating sites, but can also be any membership site or social media such as Facebook or even communication mechanisms such as Skype or Viber. Whilst dating sites have the benefit (to the scammer) of legitimacy and expectation of making contact, because that is the purpose of the site, other mechanisms, like on Facebook, the scammer is putting out a ‘cold’ request for contact with no automatic expectation, except social convention and politeness perhaps, of a response.  They must be successful though, because they keep doing it, and I know from victims who respond thinking “its just friendship, it can’t hurt”, that whatever lure they are using, it works. Continue reading Different types of romance scams

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Police are not doing enough about scams!

Australians lose millions of dollars through romance scams and there is no evidence that police are doing anything. Here are the responses to my queries to the relevant agencies.  Victims want justice, the police don’t seem to be taking any notice.  This is not good enough!

My last blog questioning what the police are doing to investigate scams has generated some interesting responses. A promise for more information from a senior member of the Victorian police; a response from the ACCC to my query; and someone’s FOI request has given a standard response from the Australian Institute of Criminology (ACIC).  Since July the ACIC has had responsibility for ACORN. Continue reading Police are not doing enough about scams!

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Victim Blaming endemic in Romance Scams

[How victim blaming applies to romance scams. The latest research from Dr. Cassandra Cross explains how scam  victims are blamed,  how they are impacted and the influence on the reporting of scams.  Who you should not tell about your scam, from Dr Brené Brown.]

The term ‘victim blaming’ has come to the fore recently in relation to photos of schoolgirls being published online, and one school’s response to this.  As with rape and other sexual assaults in the past, the victim (schoolgirls) were blamed for their actions, clothing, etc inciting their abuse.  The same happens with victims of romance scams.

Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them, according to Wikipedia. RationalWiki describes further: “Blaming the victim describes the attempt to escape responsibility by placing the blame for the crime or other abuse at the hands of the victim. Classically this is the rapist claiming his victim was “asking for it” by, for example, wearing a short skirt.

The past years has seen an increasing understanding that rape victims are not to blame for their rape, no matter what they wear, and women walking through parks, or on their way home after a night out are not inciting their sexual assault simply by being out. The change in understand has been brought about by a concerted effort by women’s groups raising  and successfully addressing the spectre of the sexual double standard involved. Continue reading Victim Blaming endemic in Romance Scams

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Intimacy as Psychological Manipulation

The building of a sense of intimacy is what makes us susceptible to the requests for money that come in a romance scam. At a certain point, this intimacy becomes overarching of our rational reasoning. I wanted to explore this concept more and how it works in scams.

See also my earlier blog on Taking the Brain, about the ‘tipping point’ of intimacy that a scammer aims for, where they know they have full control over their victim.

We have heard the warning “Don’t give money to someone you haven’t met!” And yet those of us who have been caught in a scam do give money.  Why?  Because despite not meeting them in person, we have conversed with them frequently and often, and a level of intimacy has been developed.  We therefore step over the warning, thinking it does not apply in our  specific circumstance.  “This could not be a scam”, we say to ourselves, because scams are not so intimate as I am experiencing. How has this level of intimacy been developed?  I know now this is a result of emotional manipulation….  what I found when I explored this was: Continue reading Intimacy as Psychological Manipulation

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Variations on a theme – marriage scams

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

Marriage Scams
Marriage Scams

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. Continue reading Variations on a theme – marriage scams

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A reminder: we have been abused

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.

'Shame' from The History of Emotions Blog
‘Shame’ from The History of Emotions Blog

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 Continue reading A reminder: we have been abused

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Cyber Love’s Illusions

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.

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Cyber Love's Illusions Book Cover
Cyber Love’s Illusions Book Cover

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.

Illusions of Love, by Kalolaina
Illusions of Love, by Kalolaina

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 blogbrainI 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.
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Right of Reply…

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.

100815_senior_woman_computerI 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. Continue reading Right of Reply…

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Devastating financial consequences

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.

lost everything 1Regardless, 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

Private-loans-and-student-death-300x199When 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.  rationalisationI 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.

TaxLimitationOnBusinessLossesThis 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.

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