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
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
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!
[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
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
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. Continue reading Variations on a theme – marriage scams
The definitive text on healing from being scammed is Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, by Anna AldenTirrill 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 mylast poston 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.
This is the companion book to Cyber Love’s Illusions: Anatomy of a Romance Scam.
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.”
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.
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.
Following on from my last post The shame of being scammed, about some of the mechanisms of shame that operate around a romance scam and how debilitating this can be, in this post I will talk about how we get beyond the shame. If we let ourselves be defined by this shame, to let this shame consume us, we are unconsciously colluding with our scammer(s) to be the victim that they have taken advantage of. This post is about what to do about the shame when it incapacitates us.
Brené Brown talks in her work about how to stop the 3 requirements which allow shame to exist and grow: “Secrecy, Silence and Judgement”. She elaborates on how shame is often something we feel as result of childhood conditioning and wounding, and her work with gender differences for shame is also illuminating. Our focus in this post however is on the shame of a specific incident – the being scammed.
Nicholas de Castella talks about the cost of shame, including the energy lost through hiding and cutting off from our feelings, which in turn cuts us off from others. “In the splitting off process we lose our sense of aliveness and our sense of connection to our essential being” he claims. This may leave us feeling like we are “being reduced in size or diminished”, and also leads to feelings of “being separate and distant from others”.
I remember for the year or so after the scam how I would be reluctant to go out, except to family, and though I was talking to girlfriends, was unconsciously keeping it at a very surface level. I gave the impression of being very together and positive, whilst underneath I was feeling unworthy, shut down, and unable to be my confident self. How could anyone respect or trust me when I did not respect or trust myself. Though I did not realise it at the time, this also impacted how I operated at work. I was definitely diminished, cut off, and not my full self, just as de Castella suggests I would be when in a state of shame.
Only when I had to defend myself and justify what had happened to the Australian Tax Office (ATO), did I fully understand what had happened. The ATO wanted to tax me at a high level (46.5%) because of money I had taken out of a Self Managed Super Fund against regulations. In writing to the ATO I come to terms with the fact that it was not just ‘unfortunate’ that I had been scammed, as they had labelled it, but that I had been deliberately targeted by professional and skilled fraudsters who had groomed and manipulated my emotions so I would compliantly part with my money. It took a lot of researching of scamming to come to this realisation.
This fits with one of Brown’s four steps to deal with shame, which is to reality check the situation. One part of this when scammed is to truly understand that you have been defrauded, and the second part is to understand how deliberate an emotional manipulation this has been, and that it is not just a mistake that you have made. The relationship that the scammer has promised you was not real, and never was. From the outset the money they conned you into paying was never for the reasons they gave. The promises to return your money were never going to be kept. Though it may have seemed that you willingly gave money, your acquiescence was totally manipulated by their deliberate lies. The reality is that you were not at fault or to blame, in the same way that someone mugged is not to blame for the mugging, or someone who is raped is not to blame for that rape.
Understanding this also allowed me to have some compassion for myself, and for what I had done, and took away the self judgement and feeling of unworthiness. This in turn allowed me to talk with and reconnect more fully with others. As I wrote the Objection to the ATO ruling about this, I also shared it with my girlfriends. As de Castella says:
“One of the ways to release the charge on a particular incident that we feel ashamed of is to find a safe, honouring, non-judgemental space where we can bring what we are hiding out. A space where we will be honoured: seen, heard, felt and allowed to explore how we are feeling about it.”
Writing this objection to the ATO, even though it did not achieve an exemption from paying the tax, is the point at which I was able to shift from being a victim to being a survivor, and was able to fully acknowledge what had happened, and my true responsibility in it. It shifted the blame from me to the scammers, where it should reside. I was no longer feeling the ‘un-wholeness’ that was identified as a symptom of shame in the last blog post.
As an aside, the tax bill felt like I was being ‘fined’ for being a victim and left me with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in additional to what I had already lost in the scam.
In sharing the draft of the objection to the ATO with those close to me, and getting their feedback on it, I was able to break the silencerequirement for shame and fulfil another of Brown’s four steps – to reach out and share with someone you love and trust. This also allowed them to have some empathy for what had happened.
The third requirement for shame to exist is secrecy and the antidote to this is to speak out, to ‘speak shame’. “Shame cannot survive being spoken”, Brown says. This is the reason I have spoken to the press about my scam, why I write this blog, and why I started the Romance Scam Survivor Meetup in Melbourne. By becoming an Ambassador for ACORN, I have also been able to support the prevention message, and hopefully prevent others from having the same experience. From doing these things I have been able to regain my self-respect, and rebuild my strength and self-confidence.
The forth activity to combat shame and build resilience in dealing with shame, whenever it occurs, is to understand what triggers the shame feelings in us. Usually these are the legacies of our childhood, especially those common messages we receive at that time like “Don’t be seen”, “Don’t be heard”, etc.. The previous post talks about mechanisms which occur in scams. Understanding and awareness that our feelings are of shame enables us to not be caught in the judgement, silence and secrecy that maintains them, and instead to reality check the situation, share with friends about our feelings, and identify and speak out the shame that we are feeling (this does not have to be to the person who triggered the shame).
Having had my own baptism of fire experience with shame I find shame and how it operates within us fascinating. There is much more that I have not included here. I highly recommend reading more of these authors. Both add different and additional dimensions to the understanding of Shame and how to go beyond the shame…