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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What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??

When someone contacts me saying they have been scammed and what should they do one of my first suggestions to them is to report the scam to ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network).  I am an Ambassador for them, so that’s logical, right?  But what does ACORN do?

I was recently contacted by someone in this situation, and her story, is, according to the research by Cassandra Cross mentioned in my last post, not that unusual.  She communicated with me over a number of days, complaining that no-one in the various police forces would take her call, and that she was continually referred on to someone else, who then referred her on again.  This included state police, federal police, and even Interpol, who could work on her behalf, but only if contacted by the relevant local agency (police).  But they weren’t interested in even taking her details. Continue reading What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??

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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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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.

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Why it is important to report romance scams?

In my last blog I mentioned ACORN, the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. In this one I wanted share why it is so important to report romance or dating scams to organisations such as this.

ACORN
Report Romance Scams to ACORN

As I said last time, ACORN is a national policing initiative that allows cybercrime victims to easily and instantly report cases of criminal activity online, as well as providing information on how to avoid falling victim to cyber criminals.

When I reported my scam experience, late in 2012, I reported to the local police station. I took all of my documents in, which they copied, they took my statement, and that was that. I was so embarrassed I can remember being very detached, giving a local constable the detail, but not showing any emotion. There was no sense they could do anything, and online research I did later indicated that it was unlikely that I would ever get anything back. I felt powerless to do anything about what had happened.  Friends suggested I contact other policing agencies but I was so ashamed of what had happened that I could not.

The one thing I know the local police did do was report the names used by my scammers to Western Union, so that they could be stopped if used again. Only the police could do that. I also heard that Western Union reported that the money I sent via them was collected in Nigeria. That was a surprise, as I had sent the money to Dubai.

We don’t always hear about it but the fact that ACORN is set up shows that the police are doing something, and police jurisdictions working together helps get results. For example, I know of one woman in Victoria was told by Police from Western Australia that she was being scammed, which they were able to do because they were watching the account to which she was sending money. They stopped her losing even more money. The ability to watch bank accounts, Western Union and other money transfer agencies that are being used by scammers, and share this information across jurisdictions is critical to early detection and prevention of romance scams.

Scams disruption project findings

Another example of police jurisdictions working together is the Scams disruption project started in August last year. This saw 1500 letters being sent to people across Australia identified as sending money overseas, warning them that it may be a potential scam. This project has a great page on how to identify romance scams. 60% of the transactions stopped. For the first time this clearly identified social media as a source of the initial contact, though dating sites still were the source of 74% of the relationship formed as a basis of the scam.  I wish this had happened two years before, perhaps stopped my scam happening, or at least getting so bad….

It was not easy to go into that police station and front up to the huge error I had made and the hundreds of thousands of dollars I had lost. Being able to report online will now make this easier, and hopefully mean that the event and the financial loss can be reported sooner, again enabling police to be engaged in prompt investigation and identification of perpetrators.

Orowo Jesse Omokoh, arrested for allegedly killing Jette Jacobs

Effectiveness, as gauged by stopping and arresting perpetrators, cannot be achieved by local justice agencies however, as mostly the perpetrators are overseas. The building of sufficient evidence and proof, however, to take to overseas police jurisdictions is critical. Unfortunately history says it takes a death to raise the profile enough for action to be taken, as in the case of the Western Australian woman Jette Jacobs who was killed in South Africa. They did arrest her killer, and in the process, the Australian Federal Police built good relationships with the Nigerian police.

I hear that scammers are now moving to Ghana, as there are no reciprocal policing arrangements or relationships there. I also hear that the proportion of scams targeting Australians is greater than elsewhere in the world. I wonder why, but could guess, based on my own experience, that it is because we have more difficulty determining what’s true or real in places that are more distant from us.

For myself, when my scammer said he had to pay taxes in Dubai that he had not allowed for, and that people came and threatened violence and to throw him in jail if he did not pay, I had no way of assessing if this was a likely and real scenario for Dubai. Unfortunately I assumed it was true, and gave money to help. Another scenario I have heard is of a scammer claiming to have an Italian background, and the woman who was targeted knowing that the accent did not hold true because she was familiar with Italy. She realised that it was a scam, and avoided losing money because of this.

But I am getting a little off track. Over $28 million was reported lost to romance scams in Australia last year, according to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), who run the ScamWatch website. At least that is what we know about, and we only know about them because they were reported. I suspect that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We won’t really know the true amounts until more are reported. If we knew the true costs to our economy, this would put pressure on police jurisdictions, parliamentarians, and dating sites to do more.

The fourth reason to report the scam to ACORN and similar organisations is a psychological one. If we do not name it for ourselves, say what has happened, tell the truth, and instead retreat into shame and silence, we remain forever a victim of the scam. By telling the truth about what has happened, calling the scam the professional and criminal fraud that it is, we can step out from behind being a victim, take small steps to regain our self respect, and become a survivor. It is the first step to owning up to the fact that we have made a mistake, learning from it, and moving forward. I hope you take (or have taken) action and become a survivor. Its not too late to go ahead and report if you haven’t already. It will still add to the picture and understanding of what is happening here in Australia even if it was some time ago.

Just to be clear, The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s SCAMwatch website also takes reports of scams. If you have fallen victim to a scam, you should report the matter to the ACORN. Where a crime may not have occurred, but the matter involves a scam, this can be reported to SCAMwatch to help keep Australians informed about the latest range of scams in circulation. Information on online scams reported to the ACORN will be shared with the ACCC.

For overseas readers, to report Romance Scams:

In America, make a report to IC3 The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).

In the UK, National Fraud Authority (NFA): It seeks to coordinate existing counter fraud work across public, private and voluntary sectors.

In Canada, Canadian Anti Fraud Centre (CAFC): A call centre for victims of fraud across Canada.

ACORN Ambassador LogoBecause of my willingness to speak out on these issues I have been selected as an Ambassador for ACORN. I receive no financial compensation for this.
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