I recently gave a talk to a local PROBUS Club (for over 55s who are retired), about my experience of being scammed. I’m getting better at doing these talks, but still am taken aback by some of the questions. The one that most niggled this day was if I had been single for much of my life.
“Ah!” He said, when I replied positively to this. In his mind I knew he had now put me in the box of “lonely, therefore scam- able”. I wanted to scream, because I knew he was also making the leap to “I’m not lonely, therefore it won’t happen to me”. They all wanted to believe “it won’t happen to me”. All 90 of them listening to my talk on how I was scammed. It was similar to those other questions which implied that I was gullible or stupid to fall for a scam.
Though I had explained that it was not loneliness which made you vulnerable, but rather naïvety to what it was like online, and so, not being prepared and forewarned, the question stayed with me. It was one that often came in these presentations.
It kept me awake all night thinking about how I could have respond to this automatic trigger. Having thought it through, now I was angry and wanted to scream “You are asking the wrong question! Instead you should be asking questions like who are the perpetrators? What are our police forces doing to prosecute them and lock them up, or at least protect us from them? They abuse us and take our money!”.
Why did it always come back to blaming us, the victims, for a personal attribute such as being lonely. They put all the responsibility on to us for everything that had happened, and this was neither fair, nor correct.
The way I saw it, it is a bit like rape. Fifty years ago a woman raped would have been asked if she had a short skirt on, or if she had already been with a man, and then blamed for “wanting it, attracting it”. Today we know better. We know that rape is perpetrated on women as a power game by men, and we know that whatever the circumstances, that this does not excuse the behaviour of the men, and that it is not the woman’s fault.
Being the victim of a scam is not our fault either, and attitudes will have to change the same way they did for rape victims. We did not ask to be scammed. Being lonely (and I deny that I was) is not a reason to be scammed.
Similarly with the grooming that pedophiles engage in for child sexual assault, we do not blame the child for complying with the pedophiles wishes, sometimes over years. There is a power imbalance there and we know it is not the child’s fault.
The outcome that scammers achieve through love bombing is similar in that it ensures compliance with their request for money. There is also a power imbalance, hidden behind that fact that that are lying, and manipulating our emotions with skill and deliberateness. We are also groomed, into a love state where our rational mind is dis-engaged and they can control us to do their bidding. I will have to do a better job of explaining this in future presentations.
Its too easy, when people have not experienced a scam and the emotional manipulation that takes place to explain away that a victim was scammed because they are lonely. And the research shows this to be the case.
In a small number of circumstances, it is likely that fraud victims could be understood as gullible, greedy, and naïve persons, but our research dispels this myth, rather arguing that the vast majority are not, and the reason many are susceptible to them results from the various techniques (such as social engineering and grooming) used by the fraudsters.♠
There had been few questions about the perpetrators from this 90 strong audience in the presentation. Few questions about what the police had done. Little anger that it could be allowed to happen. Little anger that my vulnerability had been so easily abused, no acknowledgement that these were evil people who abused others. The role of the perpetrator and and highly skilled and tech savvy nature of these criminals is ignored.
Perhaps the way I told my story incited this view. In speaking about what happened I wasn’t visibly contrite enough about it, I wasn’t being vulnerable and self admonishing enough about my own role in it. As a way to protect myself and not have to relive it all I had cut myself off from the emotion behind it and talked about it matter-of-fact-ly, and skipped over much of what happened too quickly so the impact of it was lost.
I will have to act the part of victim and explain it better next time. To make them more aware, that it can happen to anyone, that it could happen to them to, lonely or not.
♠Mark Button and Cassandra Cross, Cyber Frauds, scams and their Victims, Routledge, 2017, Page 63.