The building of a sense of intimacy is what makes us susceptible to the requests for money that come in a romance scam. At a certain point, this intimacy becomes overarching of our rational reasoning. I wanted to explore this concept more and how it works in scams.
See also my earlier blog on Taking the Brain, about the ‘tipping point’ of intimacy that a scammer aims for, where they know they have full control over their victim.
We have heard the warning “Don’t give money to someone you haven’t met!” And yet those of us who have been caught in a scam do give money. Why? Because despite not meeting them in person, we have conversed with them frequently and often, and a level of intimacy has been developed. We therefore step over the warning, thinking it does not apply in our specific circumstance. “This could not be a scam”, we say to ourselves, because scams are not so intimate as I am experiencing. How has this level of intimacy been developed? I know now this is a result of emotional manipulation…. what I found when I explored this was:
From Wikipedia: I have selected extracts which fit and illuminate what I think are the key elements at work in scams, and left the links and footnotes within the quotes in the text. These links are also worth looking at further if you are so inclined.
Psychological manipulation is a type of social influence that aims to change the behavior or perception of others through abusive, deceptive, or underhanded tactics. By advancing the interests of the manipulator, often at another’s expense, such methods could be considered exploitative, abusive, devious, and deceptive. …. The process of manipulation involves bringing an unknowing victim under the domination of the manipulator, often using deception, and using the victim to serve their own purposes.
Techniques of manipulation:
Simon (Simon, George K (1996). In Sheep’s Clothing: Understanding and Dealing with Manipulative People. ISBN 978-1935166306. This is the reference for the entire Wikipedia section on Psychological Manipulation) identified the following manipulative techniques (I have selected these from an extensive list):
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Seduction: Manipulator uses charm, praise, flattery or overtly supporting others in order to get them to lower their defenses and give their trust and loyalty to him or her. They will also offer help with the intent to gain trust and access to an unsuspecting victim they have charmed.
Unidentified lying and seduction are the keys to creating a sense of intimacy that is so powerful that it can easily be abused by the fraudster of a romance scam. We need more education in the fact that it is hard to tell if someone is lying, especially in internet interactions. More from Wikipedia on seduction:
Seduction, seen negatively, involves temptation and enticement, often sexual in nature, to lead someone astray into a behavioral choice they would not have made if they were not in a state of sexual arousal.
From my experience, not only was there the emotional ‘arousal’ of manipulated romantic love, but there was sexual arousal as well, and this was encouraged and enhanced through cyber-sex. No wonder that we are lead into “a behavioural choice” that we would not have made if we were not in this state. I have often talked about myself as ‘not being in control’ during the scam, and now I understand more fully why.
A friend has often commented to me about my lack of understanding of and protection of my boundaries during the scam, so I followed the link about one of the vulnerabilities that may exist in victims: “emotional dependency – victim has a submissive or dependent personality. The more emotionally dependent the victim is, the more vulnerable he or she is to being exploited and manipulated.” I found the following section on Enmeshed romantic relationship on the Co-dependency page most pertinent:
These relationships typically have a rapturous beginning, a feeling of a whirlwind romance. The codependents feel drawn to each other as if they’re soul mates or some omnipotent entity has brought them together, the feeling is euphoric and doesn’t really last longer than a few months. As the relationship unfolds, the codependents develop an unhealthy attachment and rely on each other for their sense of self-worth. In a codependent relationship, the codependent’s sense of purpose is based on making extreme sacrifices to satisfy their partner’s needs. Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy. One or both parties depend on their loved one for fulfillment. There is almost always an unconscious reason for continuing to put another person’s life ahead of your own, and often it is because of the mistaken notion that self-worth comes from other people.
The drawing together as soul mates is one of the lies the scammers tell us. The early stages of romantic love are, especially for women, also symptomatic of loosing ones sense of self. The scammer, as a skilled psychological manipulator, is able to control our sense of self worth by making us feel so special, and position themselves so that we believe that only with them, the person who will make our dream of ever lasting love come true, will we be happy. We are prepared to sacrifice all for this, and will give money often to our severe financial detriment.
Other Techniques of Psychological Manipulation
Preston, Ni, M.S.B.A. is the author of “How to Successfully Handle Manipulative People” and says: “Psychological manipulation can be defined as the exercise of undue influence through mental distortion and emotional exploitation, with the intention to seize power, control, benefits and/or privileges at the victim’s expense.” He lists many techniques, of which I have taken four (in italics) which in my experience are actively used by scammers.
1. Home Court Advantage
A manipulative individual may insist on you meeting and interacting in a physical space where he or she can exercise more dominance and control. This can be the manipulator’s office, home, car, or other spaces where he feels ownership and familiarity (and where you lack them).
The scammer will phone, email or message you at their will, not yours. When messaging, they can see you, but there will always be an ‘error’ with their webcam so you cannot see them. This is of course because they are not the photo you have fallen in love with.
2. Let You Speak First to Establish Your Baseline and Look for Weaknesses
Many sales people do this when they prospect you. By asking you general and probing questions, they establish a baseline about your thinking and behavior, from which they can then evaluate your strengths and weaknesses. This type of questioning with hidden agenda can also occur at the workplace or in personal relationships.
Many of my first interactions with my scammer was a long list of questions, in the guise of getting to know each other, that did just this. They will also pace you with attitudes/values that they want you to exemplify, eg that they are looking for honest and open people, because they have been hurt in the past.
8. Giving You Little or No Time to Decide
This is a common sales and negotiation tactic, where the manipulator puts pressure on you to make a decision before you’re ready. By applying tension and control onto you, it is hoped that you will “crack” and give in to the aggressor’s demands.
By calling in the middle of the night with their problems, keeping you sleep deprived, not only do they give you no time, but they effectively create a state where you cannot make a rational decision, and make you feel very guilty if you are not feeling inclined to do their bidding.
Examples: Exaggerated or imagined personal issues. Exaggerated or imagined healthissues. Dependency. Co-dependency. Deliberate frailty to elicit sympathy and favor. Playing weak, powerless, or martyr.
The purpose of manipulative victimhood is often to exploit the recipient’s good will, guiltyconscience, sense of duty and obligation, or protective and nurturing instinct, in order to extract unreasonable benefits and concessions.
The scammer’s ‘victimhood’ is the lies and stories they use as the basis for needing money. They have no hesitation, as only psychopaths can, in soliciting and manipulating good will of people who want to love and beloved. they use stories of financial loss; physical threat; their own or family accident and ill health; problems with legal or regulatory bodies, and all variations on these themes.
Scammers are very skilled at building intimacy as a basis for effective psychological manipulation to get money from us, at our financial expense.