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

Why are Seniors more susceptible to scams?

 The ACCC’s data shows that people aged 45 and over are disproportionately vulnerable to romance scams: those aged 65 and over have the highest rate of “conversion” after being contacted by a fraudster, at 55 per cent.  I discuss some reasons why I think this is so.

I know I promised to do more on the book Cyber Love’s Illusions: the Healing Journey, but I have been distracted by preparing to move and doing some speaking engagements with the Yarra Plenty Regional Library network in north eastern Melbourne.  This series of talks was organised as part of Seniors Week, and is my story of being caught in a romance scam, what happened, how I came through this, and how to be aware of the dangers. I’m also asked to cover all the different sorts of scams that people are experiencing. Continue reading Why are Seniors more susceptible to scams?

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…

Groomed to give our money away

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[1] :

  1. the ability to charm, to be likeable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness
  2. 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.

    6 Stages of Grooming, courtesy of Camp How
    6 Stages of Grooming, courtesy of Camp How
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. convincing them that if they tell about the sexual abuse, something terrible will happen
  6. 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
  7. 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[2], 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.

    We are encouraged to cut off from friends and family who might warn us.
    We are encouraged to cut off from friends and family who might warn us.

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
Contact is often through the night
Contact is often through the night

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.

[1] Laurel House: North and North-West Tasmania Sexual Assault Support Services  http://laurelhouse.org.au/?page_id=36  Sexual Offender Tactics and Grooming

[2] Donna Anderson, LoveFraud.com Blog from May 2013 Oxytocin, trust and why we fall for psychopaths