Scam syndicate arrested in Villawood Detention Centre

On Friday 14th September it was reported that some scammers who were living in Villawood Detention Centre had been arrested.
Seven people, male and females have been arrested for Identity Fraud, Romance Scams, business email scams and fraudulent sale of goods, with income from the frauds of over AUS$3m. All 7 people arrested are either Nigerian or Nigerian dual nationals. 
The money has been sent on to Nigeria and is unlikely to be recovered. The press coverage has sensationalised the fact that these people had over 16 mobile phones and additional SIM cards between them, whilst living in a Detention Centre.

A number of observations can be  made:

1. It is great to see some local arrests for these scams, as scams are mostly instigated from overseas and the police do not have jurisdiction to address the criminal nature of the fraud. These arrests mean that some of the reports from victims that are being made to sites like ACORN and Scamwatch are being followed up on. This is the first real evidence we have seen that police are taking reports seriously and checking them out, and often victims say that they feel their reports are useless and seem to fall into a black hole. Unfortunately, we are still not able to see many police actions where the perpetrators reside overseas.

The alleged leader of the scam ring was arrested at Villawood Detention Centre. Supplied: NSW Police to ABC

2. Even though the arrests are within Australia, these are Nigerian people. I know that scams that are being run out of Malaysia often also involve Nigerians. I do not want to disparage all Nigerians – there are ‘baddies’ in every culture – but I am very wary of the Nigerian diaspora, the spread of Nigerians with criminal intent into different countries, and the ability of these people to then use the scam skills they may have learned back home in Nigeria to continue to target ways to make easy money from vulnerable others. These arrests show that this is happening.

3. Over the years of talking to victims, a number have said to me that the phones being used to call them have had accounts within Australia. I had no way to understand this, and had been skeptical of their assertions. I thought it was just the ability to buy phone numbers anywhere in the world. I admit I was wrong. These arrests show that it is quite possible that local phone numbers and connections were used by scammers who are within Australia, maybe even this group of 7 that have been arrested.

4. These arrests confirm that these scams are being undertaken by a team of people, a syndicate. It is not just one lone scammer who has targeted a vulnerable person, but it is deliberate criminal behavior by a team of perpetrators targeting multiple individuals and business victims.

5. The scammers only had phones, though 16 of them. It shows how much can be done with the smallest of devices. I would also say that it shows a high level of sophistication, particularly with the ability to “spoof” emails to make fake requests for fund transfer look legitimate to businesses. No wonder the subsequent news/media reports are highlighting the need for businesses to have a two-step verification of any changes to fund transfer details.

6. I have commented on the increasing IT sophistication of scammers, and mentioned hacking in my previous posts. Though we don’t know the full details of this case, the fact that the scammers can ‘spoof’ emails, and steal identities shows that the IT skills they are using are at the highest level.  Police skills are needed to match this level of activity and counter any other local scammers.

7. Though my focus has been predominately on romance scams, the fact that this team was engaged in Identity Fraud, Romance Scams, business email scams and sale of goods shows that scammers are diversified in their approach and their capability. Dr Cassandra Cross has highlighted in her articles that scammers can tailor the scam to the victim,  and can sometimes change the nature of the scam within a scam. She reminds us that to try and create scam warning messages based on single scam story-lines will be ineffectual and that we need more concise messaging such as to not to send money under any circumstances.

8. Again we are reminded that these people will use whatever techniques work to manipulate people into parting with their money. What they are doing is unconscionable, involves lying and psychological manipulation as well as being criminal fraud.

I look forward to reading more about this case as it unfolds.

Fake Friends, Liars and Gumtree scams

A number of interesting articles/pieces came my way recently, especially the piece on the number of fake Facebook accounts being found.  Even when they are removed from Facebook, they are replaced by others…  I also watched a TED talk on how to spot liars, get quoted in an article about Gumtree scams, add a warning about phishing and about scam promises to get your money back.

Fake friends

Recently journalists at the ABC (Australian Broadcasting Commission), our national TV and Radio network, broke a story about hundreds of fake Facebook accounts linked to ‘Texas’, a town of 900 people in Queensland, Australia.

Of the 500 fake accounts they identified, they identified 448 of these as having suspicious signals. Similar anomalous accounts can also be found for our towns of Miami (Queensland), Virginia (Queensland) and Toronto (New South Wales).”  They think it is because scammers are trying to use North American locations, but the Australian city links come up first.  It’s a case of mistaken location: Continue reading Fake Friends, Liars and Gumtree scams

NZ Resident Research Request

Are you a victim of a romance scam and a New Zealand resident?  The University of Auckland is looking for you.

They are undertaking research on: Where to Turn for Support? The Impact of Online Romance Fraud on Relationships Between Victims and Kin. 
Researcher: Christopher C McCormick, Supervisor: Vivienne Elizabeth

Not enough is known about support for victims after scams have been perpetrated.  Please sign up if you are a New Zealand resident or a family member of a NZ scam victim.

Please pass this on to anyone who might be in this category. Continue reading NZ Resident Research Request

Victim stories as a prevention strategy

I woke up with an insight the other night.  I was part of a group brainstorming with Consumer Affairs Victoria. They want to do something about romance scams and were looking at intervention points.  The insight I had is that one of the biggest resources for prevention messages is scam victims, yet it is virtually untapped.  I’ve been saying for some time that more needs to be done for romance scam victims.  There is currently very little done for or with them. Yet they have great stories to tell.

They are encouraged to report their scam to ScamWatch or ACORN,  and they might get an automated response back with no identifying name, but to the victim, there is very little indication of anything else happening.  They are left alone to deal with the grief, the shame, and the often devastating financial circumstances.  They suffer through depression, low self esteem, lack of self worth, as well as sometimes suicidal thoughts and actions.  I know this from personal experience, and from the many contacts I have with victims who tell me this, saying they are still in this state even many years after they have been scammed. Continue reading Victim stories as a prevention strategy

A stolen photo mystery

Yesterday I received an email from a person on my mailing list with a message saying they had found my photo in a scammers profile.  Oh what joy!  My picture on a scam site under the name of Elizabeth Edwin.

(See Updates  for this mystery at the bottom of this post)

This notification led me on a voyage of discovery as I followed the mystery down a number of paths.

Firstly I contacted the site for female fake profiles –  https://www.stop-scammers.com/ to let them know that the photo was of me.  It was a photo taken of me by the Herald Sun in July 2015 that I also use on my Media Presence page. I received an automated email back, but it will be interesting to see what they say about this.  Names of the real people behind the photos is not divulged on the site that I could see.  This site has thousands of stolen photos and fake profiles with other supporting information about scammer activity.  I only used the free service, which is a bit limited, but it looks like a comprehensive site. Continue reading A stolen photo mystery

Susceptible to scams? 66 percent are..

Whenever I speak publicly about being scammed there is often either an innuendo or a direct attribution that because I have been lonely I am likely to be vulnerable to a scam.  For ‘lonely’ translate to ‘faulty individual’.  Thus the formula follows, in their minds:  I am not lonely, therefore I am not ‘scam-able’.  I reject the formula, but more on that later.  Now there is research which has looked specifically at susceptibility to cybercrime.  Low and behold “In total, 60% of the population surveyed presented as being in the higher risk categories for susceptibility to cybercrime.”[i]  So, for a great many people, it could happen to them.

Undertaken by Lee Hadlinton and Sally Chivers, and published in Policing: A Journal of Policy and Practice[i], this research looks at susceptibility to cybercrime levels through the lenses of information security awareness,  trait impulsivity, and cross references these with age and employment factors. Continue reading Susceptible to scams? 66 percent are..

Is the psychological abuse in domestic violence similar in scams?

In the past years, since Rosie Beatty became Australian of the Year, there has been much emphasis on Domestic Violence and the toll this takes on many women, as well as programs to combat this.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I see Romance Scams as a form of abuse, but one that in comparison gets very little support or acknowledgement, except when the increasingly disastrous financial figures are published. So how are these forms of abuse similar and different? Analysis has begun on this topic by Dr Cassandra Cross and her colleagues.   Continue reading Is the psychological abuse in domestic violence similar in scams?

Does Lonely mean Ripe for a Scam

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. Continue reading Does Lonely mean Ripe for a Scam

Oxytocin: the ultimate scam power game

I continue to explore what causes the ‘altered state’ that is created when we are caught in a romance scam. Its not only others who wonder “how could she do it?”  Victims also wonder about what they have done and why, even well after they have realised they have been scammed.

I think one of the culprits is Oxytocin, the so called Love Hormone.  According to Wikipedia:

Oxytocin is a peptide hormone and neuropeptide. Oxytocin is normally produced by the paraventricular nucleus of the hypothalamus and released by the posterior pituitary.

That’s way to technical for me.

But my ears pricked up recently when I was listening to the ABC’s The Science Show, and Alan Harvey was talking about the positive energy experienced by group singing.  He linked this to Oxytocin.  Here’s what he says about it.

All of what he suggests as positive responses to singing together can also be attributed to victim behavior during a scam. Further reading on oxytocin cites greater generosity and co-operation, heightened altruism and reduced anxiety as ‘pro-social’ behaviors linked with higher levels of oxytocin.

I know from experience that when inside a scam, we are committed to our loved one/scammer, and will do whatever it takes to support or rescue them from the many sorts of trouble they are in.  Afterwards we wonder what happened, why we didn’t see what was going on, why we rejected warnings from friends, and stepped over any inconsistencies or red flags that there were.  We don’t understand what happened even when looking back on it. Perhaps because the rational part of our brain was dis-engaged at the time. Instead our brain was immersed in the fog of oxytocin. Afterwards we mostly blame ourselves for what happened and loose trust in ourselves. After all, we actively gave the money. Or did we?

What this look at the pro-social affects of oxytocin reveals is that it is likely there are deliberate goals behind the building of the romance part of the scam.  In developing the love within the relationship, the ‘love hormone’ is triggered and all of the pro-social affects are engaged:

  • empathy with the plight of the scammer
  • enhanced trust of them when they say they will give all the money back, and will be there soon
  • reduced anxiety and cooperation with what they ask us to do and what they say is the reason for things
  • altruism – sacrificing ourselves financially for our loved one
  • generosity, yes, we will give everything we have
  • encouraging us to take risks, and not see possible dangers or implications the relationship might have. Even if it’s damaging. Even if it’s toxic. (1)

If the scammer can engage the victim in cybersex, this is even more enhanced, so some of the research says. (2) Even more oxytocin induced ‘bonding’ occurs.  I know that from experience too.

As well as the grief, shame, despair and financial struggle that goes on after a scam, in the periods when we are alone with ourselves, we wonder what happened, why did we do it. It is a great mystery even to those of us who have been in it.

We need to shift out thinking to emphasise that the romance aspect is a deliberate and critical foundation to the scam, in order to generate the oxytocin that lets scammers take control of us.  Once the oxytocin is generated scammers are free to use all of the pro-social effects of oxytocin to have us part with our money.  Syndicates of scammers have tried and tested which words and mechanisms lead to the best results, causing us to fall in love more easily, deliberately, so they can control us.

Part of The Power Game
by Adam Martinakis, 2011

Yes, perhaps part of us wanted to fall in love. But that’s separate from the manipulation of that state and the deliberate abuse of consequences by someone else.  That abuse is not OK. We understand abuse of power when it is say, between a teacher and a student.  This is another form of active abuse of power. Its emotional manipulation as the ultimate power game, the winner of the game taking all the money, literally.

 

(1) Oxytocin, the Love and Happiness Hormone December 22, 2017 in Psychology

(2) Social effects of oxytocin in humans: context and person matter
Jennifer A. Bartz1*, Jamil Zaki2*, Niall Bolger3 and Kevin N. Ochsner3
1 Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Seaver Autism Center, Department of Psychiatry, New York, New York, 10029, USA
2 Harvard University, Department of Psychology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02138, USA

Claim remission of scammed funds from Western Union now!

Quick update…

Its Official!

I have received notification from both Stay Smart Online and ACORN that its now possible to claim for losses because of scams from Western Union, but claims MUST be in by 12 FEBRUARY 2018.

Department of Justice Seal

Western Union has entered into agreements with the US Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission to make $586 million (USD) available to victims. You do not need to be a US citizen or resident to make a claim.

You will need to provide details and evidence of each transaction to the US Department of Justice (DoJ), and they say it may take some time to process, but at least we will be on the list.
The Department of Justice say, in their FAQs:

The amount you get will probably be a percentage of the amount you lost minus any refund you have already gotten.
Your payment will be based only on the amount of the money transfer. You cannot recover collateral expenses such as Western Union fees, incidental losses, or transfers sent through other companies.
It will still take some time—potentially a year or more—to process and verify petitions, and determine who is eligible to get a payment.

To access the remission forms, and access other information about this, go here.  Good Luck.  I will certainly be doing this.

PS: getting a notification from ACORN about this shows that it is useful to make reports to ACORN.