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

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

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!

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??

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

Scammer business model still intact!

Little has changed! Dating and romance scam business model still intact! Slight reductions in figures indicate the ACCC is having some impact, however the tens of millions of dollars lost is incomprehensible, and does not tell the story of the impact of the dollars lost on victims. Continue reading Scammer business model still intact!

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.

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.

Scam Methods, Trends and “sextortion”

Wayne May and Monica Whitty know a great deal and the latest about scams.  Wayne is the CEO and Founder of the UK based site ScamSurvivors.com.  Monica Whitty researches scams from the University of Leicester.  They both know about scams and can talk about what  the trends are, what methods are currently being used by scammers.

Monica Whitty being interviewed in 2012
Monica Whitty being interviewed, 2012

I had known about Monica before.  She has a great research report which I have provided a link to on the Research page of this site.  I recently discovered this worthwhile video of her being interviewed about her research. In particular I was struck by her comments about how people are groomed, which is done by keeping people sleep deprived, and separating them from their friends.  That certainly happened with me.  Its only 6:04 minutes, so watch the interview here.

For a recent update, I found this audio podcast from The Guardian Tech Weekly. She starts off talking about some recent hi tech movies, but then gives a good update.  Her interview starts at 31:45 minutes into the hour long program.

I came across these videos  of both Monica and Wayne because they are attending iDate as speakers.  iDate is the Conference for the dating and internet dating industry, and there are several conferences held in different places around the world for different markets.  Monica and Wayne are scheduled to speak at the London iDate Conference in October 2015. I’d love to be there and hear what they say is the latest this year.

Interview with Wayne May, 2014
Interview with Wayne May, 2014

Wayne May I had not heard of before, but was very pleased to see an interview from him from the same conference held in 2014.  This one lasts 43:06 minutes, but there are gems all the way through.  He talks about “sextortion” as the latest trend, where people, mostly men, are inveigled to strip off and perform acts on videocam, this is saved, and then they are blackmailed by threats to show the videos to family and colleagues. Scamsurvivors.com covers all sorts of scams, not just romance or dating scams. It has a whole forum for sextortion. It also has other videos, and photo galleries as well as provides 24/7 support for victims or suspected victims of all types of scams.

More than this though, if you have any questions about scam, how they work, who they impact, how you identify one, who looks after sites like these, all of them are asked and answered by Wayne May in this video.  Its well worth the watch.

In fact, take some time, watch, listen to them all.  I will post these links onto the research page when I next post.

Let me know what’s your favourite video or resource about romance scams?