Scammers active and now hacking

As victims, we become hyper-vigilant, and also notice things like phone numbers still in use.  This victim has set up a web site looking for others being contacted via the same phone number +61 488159797, concerned that they might also be caught in a scam.  Read her full shocking story here. Contact her directly if you have any information to share.

This victim also sought to do some due diligence by getting a private investigation company to look into a potential partner she met on RSVP, only to find later that her interactions with this company were hacked and intercepted, with false positive responses about her scammer provided to her in reply.  This encouraged her to believe the information provided by the scammer was true. Continue reading Scammers active and now hacking

Award winning research – Prevention messages need review

Cassandra Cross, The QUT cyber fraud and scam researcher, claims putting out warnings about all the different types and plots of scams does not effectively deliver warnings that help people avoid scams, especially romance scams.  The focus needs to change so effective, consistent and repeatable warnings are given, and the ongoing losses are stopped. She has been in the news again winning awards for her article about this, as well as being quoted in the press, doing a TED talk, attending local and overseas conferences, and having her (co-authored) book published.

Highly Commended Award celebrates unique insights into what prevention strategies work.

The Emerald Literati Awards celebrate and reward the outstanding contributions of authors and reviewers to scholarly research. Her article with fellow (Toronto Police Service) author Michael Kelly The Problems of “white noise”: examining current prevention approaches to online fraud  received the Highly Commended award for the Journal of Financial Crime. Continue reading Award winning research – Prevention messages need review

Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

The latest report out from the ACCC called Targeting Scams 2017  came out on Monday 15 May with the 2016 figures.  In the area of romance scams the figures ($25.4 million reported lost) have not changed much, up slightly from 2015, but still under the 2014 level.  The report indicates some moves in the right direction, but much more effort in many directions is still needed.

Unfortunately, the figures reported cannot be regarded as a true level. It is generally acknowledged reporting is only at about 10% – 12% of actual cases. I was interviewed by Catherine Gregory of ABC News for The World Today program about the latest report and media release. Listen to this here.  (PS: alsohere’s my comments from last year’s report.) Continue reading Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

“Beware dodgy scammers” sends wrong message

At the behest of the Consumer Affairs Victoria I participated in a widely-covered press interview, jointly with the Minister [The Hon Marlene Kairouz MP: Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation] to provide warnings to people about the dangers of romance scams in the lead up to Valentine’s Day this year. Whilst the press articles covered the full story, the TV news shorts offered the message “Beware dodgy scammers”.  There are a number of problems with this message.

  1. It implies that you can determine up front that these people are “dodgy” and “scammers” and so avoid them, when their success is because they are the opposite of this. They appear respectable, reasonable, capable, financially secure, caring and articulate.  They build intimacy and trust, and only when they have you fully in-love and hooked do they ask you for money.  By then it can be too late, and even suggestions that they are scammers are not believed. Though there might be variations in the types of scams, the mechanism is similar – get you to trust them beyond your own reason.
  2. It gives no real red flags to look out for, such as moving contact off the dating site to email and phone, early and strong professions of love, not being in your local area so unable to meet, constant contact, use of stolen photos, scripted emails, and eventually requests for money.
  3. The impact of being caught in a scam is glossed over, but can in fact be devastating emotionally and financially, both short and long term.

Continue reading “Beware dodgy scammers” sends wrong message

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

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!

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.

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…

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.