I frequently get letters from across the world from people who have just realised they have been scammed. These letters often talk about the shame and guilt that they have once they realised they have been scammed. How do I reply to them? I know they write to me because they must tell their story to someone, to make sense of it for themselves, and they know I will understand.
A recent writer said
I have been sending money to woman in ..[deleted for privacy].. for ..[deleted for privacy]… I am not stupid, and I realised that this could not be the real thing, but I continued to write to her. I denied the obvious for so long time. I feel ashamed of my self. I now delete all “her” e mails, but I still feel afraid and guilt.
It is a challenge to know what to write to people in this situation. I have been there too, wondering if it is a scam, denying to myself that it is, wanting the dream that is promised so badly. But I have had a long time thinking (and writing) about it since.
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 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.
I 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…
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.
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.
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.
The 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.
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.
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.
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. The 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.
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.
They ask for honesty and make lots of promises (but will never return them).
As a friend of someone being targeted for a scam
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.
Be respectful of what your friend is feeling, however try to keep them open the equal possibility that it is a scam.
If 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.
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.
Here are some what not to sayand 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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
After my last blog on the importance of speaking out about being scammed, I wanted to talk more about how Shame operates to keep us quiet, and the need to step out from behind shame.
Shame is one of the biggest factors that stops us talking about what has happened to us. It operates in several ways in romance scams, once we realise this is what has happened to us.
Firstly, we are ashamed of our own ability to not see through the scammer, because we have believed in their words and promises. We have thought we had something ‘special’. There is a societal expectations that we should be an effective judge of character and on this occasion we have been found wanting. We feel shame because we are not whole, we are deficient in this way because we do not have this skill. Because of this we do not deserve respect from others, and more painfully, we also no longer respect ourselves. We do not trust our own feelings, as a basis for action. Any trust in ourselves is broken. This is congruent with the definition given by Brené Brown, a leading exponent on shame mechanisms, who says a feeling of shame implies that we are a bad person, compared with a feeling of guilt, which points to a bad action or behavior.
Secondly, we feel shame because we have not had the security of our money as the highest motivation. Our western capitalist societies value financial security and rationality above all else, especially above love, which is seen as irrational. In this instance we have gone against this societal norm and given away our money because of love. Many of us who have done everything to assist our ‘loved one’ [the scammer] financially, have seriously and detrimentally damaged our own financial standing in the process, creating:
loss of security such as housing, now or future;
Loss of other valuables, assets, and ability to support ourselves into the future
loss of savings that we have work hard for years for;
increased credit through credit cards, loans, mortgages;
and at times, illegal activities such as stealing or using money that we are not entitled to use.
In some cases, it may be impossible to recover financially from these losses, and these losses may cause further financial detriment such as additional taxes or loss of credit ratings or bankruptcy.
Thirdly, shame is generated by the fear of being publicly humiliated. As Monica Lewinsky has highlighted in her recent essays and TED talk on the Price of Shame, the internet as a tool for humiliation is very strong, and its power enormous, to reinforce our societal view of what we have done wrong, no matter how incorrect it is.
I have experienced this directly, in the Facebook comments to the exposé that I participated in on A Current Affair, and more recently, in comments attached to an article in the Daily Mail. In reading the comments you will see many people saying the comments below. These comments hurt, because they do not reflect an understanding of the situation, which can be seen from my responses to the comments.
“How could she be so stupid” (I wasn’t stupid, I was deliberately targeted by professional, manipulative and skilled fraudsters who have honed their skills by doing it thousands, perhaps millions of times. These skills include the “same type of mind control techniques used by cult leaders and domestic and dating violence perpetrators”[i]. I did not know I was being lied to and my feelings manipulated.)
“Hasn’t she heard all the warnings” (No. I was never interested in online dating before, so was not aware of the warnings. I did not even know there was a need for warnings. When I was warned, I was already ‘hooked’ in the relationship, and the scammer encouraged me to disassociate with those who were warning me.)
“How could she give money to someone she has not met” (This was someone [the scammer] who had built up such a degree of intimacy with me that I had agreed to marry him. This was not done lightly. I felt I had met and got to know him, so this premise is incorrect. Even though I had not seen him, I had talked incessantly with him. It is not like I was giving money to someone off the street that I had not met before.)
My understanding of the motives behind these comments is that evidence of being caught in a scam highlights a potential vulnerability that we all have, but don’t like the prospect of. Making the comment pushes this fear away from ourselves, with a haughty declaration of “It would never happen to me” that clearly sets THEM, the invincible ones apart from US , the ones who get conned and scammed. So it’s a separation defensive mechanism through creating superiority. Whilst I understand the mechanism impacting those who comment, the victim’s fear of public reaction and ridicule especially when not feeling strong in ourselves, makes us feel doubly ashamed.
Lastly, any research we do into scams tells us that we are unlikely to be able to do anything to get our money back, so we are unable to rectify the situation, to make it right again, to get retribution, to apportion blame where it should reside, with the scammer. In this we are powerless, and the lack of control we have mirrors the lack of control we had to be rational in the first place within the scam. We are again ashamed that we cannot now ‘fix’ or redress the situation. This powerlessness is in contrast to the multitude of TV shows that portray the criminal being caught and punished.
All of these mechanisms of shame coalesce when we realise we have been scammed, so it is not surprising that being scammed not much talked about, at least in an open exploratory way. Scams are talked about to shock people into taking more precautions, but for us this is too late.
Brené Brown[ii] says that there are 3 things which allow shame to exist: “Secrecy, Silence and Judgement”. All of these are in operation, in fact they spiral together when we realise we have been a victim of a romance scam. Its no wonder that people do not report scams, and do not tell family and friends about it either.
Nicholas de Castella comments about shame:
Shame is an emotion. It is the sadness (energy of loss) in which we feel that we are wrong, bad, flawed or invalid. A common reaction to feeling shame is to tighten our bodies, leaving us feeling numb, blank and unable to respond. This is a collapse of being into virtually non-emotional existence. Our right to ‘be’ is invalidated – challenging our right to: have an experience, to have an opinion, to have a feeling, to have an existence.[iii]
The experience of shock and shame you feel when you realise you have been scammed is truly debilitating for the victim.
In my next Blog, I will talk more about how to come out from behind the shame and become a survivor.
I know I have an interesting romance scam story – I was caught in a romance scam, gave away over $260,000 expecting it to be returned, and lost it all. I noticed, however, as I was interviewed for TV, that I was happy and cheerful to be doing so. Even the questions about “What did you feel at the time?” I answered with a smile on my face. I have done this a few times now.
I know they come to me because there are not too many people willing to speak out about their experience. It is hard to publicly acknowledge that I fell in love, and I was fooled by their lies. People may think I am stupid, and I was. It is a vulnerable place to be.
In speaking out, though, I own what I was responsible for.
I own that I wanted love, and to be loved. That’s normal.
I own that I chose to follow my heart, in giving the money to the person I thought was my partner for life, rather than be ‘sensible’ or ‘reasonable’.
I own that I did not take heed of the warnings I was given, and stepped over the inconsistencies, thinking, no, feeling that I was ‘in love’ and that it could not be a scam with this level of intimacy.
I own that I made a mistake, and that this has made my finances precarious to say the least, now and into the future.
Many who suffer hardship turn around and fight for it to not happen to others. The Morcombes, and Rosie Batty are the most high profile ones that come to mind, but there are many. In speaking out, particularly with a message about prevention or recovery from scams, I am doing the same. I am saying I will no longer be a victim of this singular event, I will make it have a powerful and ongoing meaning in my life, and through this, the lives of others.
In speaking out I have regained my self-respect. I am not hiding my mistake behind shame and embarrassment. I proclaim that I am human, and that I can learn and grow from my mistake, and hopefully love again.
I have discovered a love of writing. As well as this blog I have written a book, though I am still looking for a publisher.
About scammers, I have learned
They are skilled professionals, manipulating us, twisting our love to defraud us of our money
It is not personal. By this I mean that they do not care about us personally. They are scamming many people at the same time, using the same photos and scripts/emails under different names, in teams. They actively lie to us, never intending to follow through on their promises.
I say this here because it is important to know about scammers. Without this it is too easy to say it is the victim’s fault, they were just stupid or naive. No, the victim was deliberately targeted and defrauded. And they should not be stigmatised with shame for falling victim to this. It can happen to anyone.
Be wary, and know how to check what’s true, i.e. do a Google photo search.
Never give money, or your bank details. Don’t think it is OK if you send money via banks: These are not safe institutions in the hands of scammers. Certainly do not send money via Western Union. The money can be collected from anywhere in the world despite where you think you send it to. No-one else is going to protect your money. I made over 20 separate transactions and was never asked by anyone if it could be a scam.
Rapid declarations of love are downright suspicious, especially when you have not met the person face-to-face, and no-matter how beguiling they sound. Scammers are very good at building up a sense of intimacy which makes you think it could not be a scam, but this is false. Promises to come and meet and marry you are false, and will never be fulfilled. Only communicate or date with someone who is local to your own area, that you can meet face-to-face.
Educate yourself about the various red flags which might indicate a scam, and if in doubt, treat it as if it is a scam. Here’s a great example from the Scam Disruption Project.
Speak out and educate others about what you are finding….
If you do actively protect yourself in this way it is possible to meet the love of your life online. Many people do.
This is how I came to be a Romance Scam Survivor. By powerfully speaking out. I will continue todo so.
Even after realising we have been scammed the one question that remains, not only for our friends and families, but also for ourselves is “How did this happen?”, “How could I, an intelligent, successful, down to earth, usually rational and responsible person, have done this?” I took several months to write out all that happened into a diary/timeline after realising I had been scammed. Even after doing this I still did not fully understand. That came later…
The reality is that we are ‘groomed’, similar to how child abuse victims are groomed.
These tactics of grooming by child abusers include :
the ability to charm, to be likeable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness
establishing a trusting relationship, for example spending time with them and listening to them. They may treat the child as ‘special’; giving them presents and compliments.
use gifts and trickery to manipulate and silence the child into keeping the sexual assault a secret. This treatment can isolate the child from siblings, friends or parents.
gradually desensitising the child and violating their boundaries. For example, they may spend a lot of time with the child when he or she is bathing, dressing, or going to bed.
convincing them that if they tell about the sexual abuse, something terrible will happen
giving the child the impression that they have consented and that they are in a ‘relationship’ with the offender, or even that they initiated the relationship
making the child to feel responsible for the abuse, and feel too ashamed or scared to tell anyone.
As I compiled this list for this blog I understood even more about the deliberation used in romance scams. By changing the word child to person, and other minor changes to the sentence, all of the above happen in a romance scam (at least my scam), often including sexual abuse (through cybersex). There is one more tactic though that is more relevant in scams of adults, an understanding of which adds to the picture.
In my list of being groomed for a romance scam the scammer:
builds a very strong and intimate relationship, so that it feels in your mind like they are part of the family. This may include initiating a proposal of marriage, and positioning for and ‘committing to’ a long term partnership or marriage. I have highlighted ‘committing to’, as there is never any intention of following through on this in a scam.
Points 1, and 6 from the child grooming list above are relevant here. As well, there is evidence that as we become more ‘in love’ the love hormone oxytocin will create more trust and develop more empathy. We are very familiar with the ‘honeymoon period’ of a relationship and I suspect this is partly what is in operation during this period. We know from outside that when someone is in the honeymoon period we are in an altered state, we are seeing things ‘through rose coloured glasses’ and that it will, over time, pass and things will become normal again.
Donna Andersen, in her blog on Lovefraud.com, from her understanding of the work done by Paul Zac comments:
When psychopaths target us for romantic relationships, they shower us with attention and affection. They spend a lot of time talking with us, and conversation builds trust. They say and do things to indicate that they trust us, and we should trust them. They tell stories about themselves designed to appeal to our empathy. They rush us into emotional, physical and sexual intimacy.
All of this causes the release of oxytocin in our brains, which is absolutely normal. Because of the oxytocin, we feel calm, trusting, empathetic and content. We especially feel trusting of the person who caused this reaction in us — the psychopath.
Though Donna Anderson is considering psychopaths in a much wider context of romance related fraud than I am with romance scammers, I think the term is applicable. Scammers are unfeeling, and unconcerned with consequences, and when I replace psychopath with scammer, these statements are absolutely true.
Secondly, in romance scams, we are cut off from others. Initially we are cut off from the safety of the dating site, by encouraging us to talk via email, and then talking via a chat or video messaging system such as Yahoo Messenger or Skype. They will never let you see them in person however, because who they are is not the handsome person in the picture they have presented themselves to be in the dating profile.
If there is any sense of others warning us that this might be a scam, we are encourage to not listen to what others are saying, because “what we have is special, and no-one will ever understand” combined with ”I don’t want your emotions to be upset” and “when they eventually see us together it will be easier to explain”. And because we are now trusting, and feeling we have a special intimacy, we cut off from our friends.
Thirdly, point 5 above for child grooming translates in a romance scam to “If you don’t give me money something terrible will happen”. This might be innocuous initially, for example, I need something for my business supplies, but as the story is developed, there is ‘evidence’ of awful things happening such as threats of violence to the scammer; stories of being mugged/robbed; car accidents where people are killed; threats of prison and/or not being able to leave the country. These circumstances or reasons for needing money are given in a context of increasing levels of danger and urgency to allow the scammer to get to where their money is accessible and they can repay you the ‘loans’ that you have provided to get them out of trouble. If you don’t pay, terrible things will happen. Which because you are trusting, you believe.
Fourthly, and this one may be adult specific, scammers keep you sleep deprived
and continually engaged so as to minimise the time you have to reflect and think rationally about what is happening. They talk to you late at night, early in the morning, and through the middle of the night. Often requests for money happen in the middle of the night 1 am – 4 am when it is hard to resist them.
A friend used the term ‘spellbound’ when I was talking to her about my experience, and this term is very appropriate. We have been spellbound through professional and deliberate manipulation of our emotions by professional fraudsters, grooming us to part with our money. It was not personal for them, but the impact is very personal for us.