I think my friend is being scammed…

I was contacted recently by a woman who was concerned for her friend and wanted some urgent advice.  “I have been listening to a friend’s beautiful love story unfolding, and then realised where it was heading”, she said.  She had seen the same pattern previously herself but had pulled out.  She had found my blog and got in touch. She acknowledged that “Although we are both intelligent women our need to be loved, and love, is stronger than reason, as you know”.  Yes, I know this only too well and at a high cost.

I had already been thinking about this question, and had even drafted a book outline on the topic.  I had been warned by friends, but disregarded the warnings, and have ‘kicked myself’ since.  So here are a few pointers to help, from the perspective of being a friend. (Remember that men can also be scammed by women, its not allways this way around.)

Understand how scams/scammers work

It important that you understand how scammers work so you can understand what is happening to your friend.

  1. The scammer has gathered information on your friend, and knows their weak points, and how much they want to be loved.  They will have no qualms about using this against your friend to their monetary advantage.
  2. friendsThe scammer will profess love quickly and deeply, making it seemed destined, special, magical, and its natural for anyone wanting love to respond to this. Though the text of emails, messages, chats are tried and tested pro-forma materials, they will seem genuine, personal and include promises of forever love. Your friend may at this stage be sharing with you the excitement of finally found their one true love.
  3. When ‘in love’, the hormone oxytocin is engaged, and this heightens trust, so the friend will be more trusting of the scammer than they might otherwise be. This means that they will be more likely to not focus on the inconsistencies in the experience, passing them by.
  4. They will be communicating at all hours, especially through the night, keeping your friend sleep deprived.  This makes it more difficult for your friend to make rational decisions when the scammer eventually  asks for money.  The scammer may also provide legitimate looking documents as evidence of their credibility or financial capacity to repay money.
  5. When confronted about being a scammer, the scammer will respond with righteous anger, feigning affront, and will encourage the friend to cut off from others, especially those with warnings.
    heartThe scammer will say that “what we have is special” and “they would not understand so don’t bother trying to explain – they will understand when they see us together – don’t talk to them”.  They will not ever intend to be together, but they will profess and promise otherwise.  The scammer will encourage your friend to cut off from you and other friends or family.  This may mean they will try and push you away or cut off from you.
  6. A high level of intimacy will be developed, including possible connections to others in the scammer’s imaginary family, including children.  This adds an element of normality and family intimacy which counters the sense that it might be a scam.
  7. They ask for honesty and make lots of promises (but will never return them).

As a friend of someone being targeted for a scam

  1. Keep close contact with your friend and resist being pushed away.  Encourage them to keep sharing with you.  You may want to just cry out “Stop it” but this might push them away from you and its important to keep the communication open.
  2. Be respectful of what your friend is feeling, however try to keep them open the equal possibility that it is a scam.
  3. chanakya-politician-the-earth-is-supported-by-the-power-of-truth-itIf you can, get actual emails and photos of the scammer.  Use these to do some checking using some of the sites such as romancescam.com, and scamsurvivors.com to check for previously stolen photos and search for stand-out segments of text.  As the same ones are used frequently, you may find them already reported, giving you information to take to your friend as evidence of a suspected scam.  Also do a Google image search on the photo: you are looking for the photo being connected to other names than the one used by the scammer.  Make sure you check on all results pages, and check for any google messages saying there is more to be seen, checking these results as well.  If you have the technical ability you can check the IP address in the email header as well to see if it is coming from the same location as the scammer.
  4. If you do find evidence that it may be a scam, present it as another possibility, not “the truth”, and encourage your friend to look further for themselves. Be careful not to make them wrong or unworthy of love.  When this happened to me I became rebellious, insisting that I deserved to be loved, and it pushed me further towards the scammer.
  5. Scams of the Heart link
    Scams of the Heart Blog link

    Here are some what not to say and why tips from by Soraya Grant in her Scams of the Heart blog.  This blog is excellent, and well worth a read in more detail.

  6. The person who contacted me made a great point about the need for a friend to match the time and energy level of the scammer, and identified the “need to apply just as much bombardment of information and support, even when it feels like intruding”.  She specifically judged when her friend could take in and be receptive to certain pieces of information. It takes a great friend to do this – I commend her on her efforts.
  7. If you are not sure what to do, reach out, to me or some of the other sites offering support resources.  There is help out there.  See my Support for Victims of Scams page.
  8. If your friend does part with money, and then realises they have been scammed, encourage them to report it.  See my blog on this.

Luckily in this instance we can report a good outcome.  Contact was broken off with the scammer, and life has moved on.

One last thing.. be wary about secondary scams.  Once they are in contact they may try again.  This includes, for example, scammers pretending to be police or Interpol, saying they have your money, or your scammer, including providing forged documents about this.  Don’t be tempted to go there, its another scam. More on this in my next blog.

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The shame of being scammed

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:

'Shame' painting by Carla Navoa
‘Shame’ painting by Carla Navoa
  • 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.

Monica Lewinski:  Shame and Survival, Vanity Fair
Monica Lewinski: Shame and Survival, Vanity Fair

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] Soraya Grant, Scams of the Heart blog, Thursday, July 11, 2013, What Not to Say When a Friend Has Been Scammed.  http://scamsoftheheart.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/what-not-to-say-when-friend-has-been.html
[ii] Brené Brown on Oprah Life Class The 3 things you can do to stop a shame spiral.  http://www.oprah.com/oprahs-lifeclass/Brene-Brown-on-the-3-Things-You-Can-Do-to-Stop-a-Shame-Spiral-Video Also in her books and TED talk.
[iii] The Anatomy of Shame by Nicholas de Castella http://www.eq.net.au/wp-content/themes/emotional/pdf's/AnatomyofShame.pdf Institute Of Heart Intelligence, www.eq.net.au 

 

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