We knew it, right? Scam money goes to international organised crime syndicates. Well, to be truthful, that’s what we suspected, but did not have enough information as a lay-people to really know it for sure. Now we do, after a lengthy expose on Australian ABC’s 4 Corners program called Meet the Scammers, Mon 11 Feb 2019, by journalist Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop.
As well as information about the network behind an organised crime king-pin arrested in Canada in 2014, the program talks in depth to some ‘game boys’, some “entry level criminals” in Ghana, according to a Ghanaian police official about how and why they scam.
What is interesting about these ‘café boys’ is the ease with which they talk about their ‘business’ of scamming and how they justify scamming as a legitimate way to make a living and get ahead. They also refer to the colonisation of West Africa that took place in their great-great grandfather’s time, and how taking money from westerners is payback for this.
Professor Monica Whitty, now at Melbourne University, describes scammers as “masters of manipulation” and the reporter shows sites which enable emerging scammers to learn the trade by buying proven scripts, getting documents or images photoshopped, acquiring bank accounts, getting help from those who have already proven it works. This seeking for ‘best practice’ is mentioned several times, and seems to happen at the lowest and highest levels for everyone’s mutual benefit. That’s everyone in the scamming business, not their ‘clients’ [ie, victims].
Identity theft and the setting up of fake online profiles based on stolen photos is the basis of these scams. Even gender is not sacrosanct, with these young black ‘game boys’ portraying themselves as both men and women, and talking openly about online sex with both men and women ‘clients’.
One scary point the expose reveals is how romance scams are easily and often linked to money laundering and drug mules, showing several victims of these. This is where organised crime really comes into play, and a case with a criminal based at Villawood detention centre in 2014 is depicted. The more recent arrests at Villawood Detention Centre, (see also my previous blog on this) was also mentioned.
Scamming, according to Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan of the Australian Federal Police is happening on an “industrial… global scale”, and figures of $12 Billion over 5 years was cited by an American commentator. That’s US Dollars! Everyone knows though that this is only the tip of the iceberg.
On the plus side is the fact that some arrests have happened, that finally the police internationally are seeing how big this is and how widely it is connected and are finally beginning to doing something about it.
As usual the devastation for victims is talked about, but nothing
mentioned about the support scam victims need after the event.
One of the people profiled in the program is Colonel Bryan Denny (Ret.), who’s photo has been used on social media and dating sites for years. He, together with Kathy Waters, who’smother was a scam victim and have set up a support group http://www.advocatingforu.com/ and are seeking to change the 230 Communications Decency Act of 1996 to better combat identity theft in America. To support them, sign their petition here.
Well done to victims Chyrel Muzic and Peter Strand for also talking out about their scam stories. We need more victims to speak out.
Congratualtions Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop on a great program.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
As victims, we become hyper-vigilant, and also notice things like phone numbers still in use. This victim has set up a web site looking for others being contacted via the same phone number +61 488159797, concerned that they might also be caught in a scam. Read her full shocking story here.Contact her directly if you have any information to share.
This victim also sought to do some due diligence by getting a private investigation company to look into a potential partner she met on RSVP, only to find later that her interactions with this company were hacked and intercepted, with false positive responses about her scammer provided to her in reply. This encouraged her to believe the information provided by the scammer was true. Continue reading Scammers active and now hacking
Western Union (USA) admits that its system facilitated scammers, and puts money aside to recompense victims. What does this mean for us in Australia? How can you see details of your financial transactions?
In a media release from the Federal Trade Commission (USA) posted on 19 January 2017, it was announced that not only did Western Union admit its culpability in “willfully failing to maintain an effective anti-money laundering program and aiding and abetting wire fraud” but also that it has forfeited $586 million so it can recompense victims of these frauds.
Whilst the cited cases are based around sending money to China for people or drug trafficking, and aiding and abetting offshore gambling, the terms of the overall judgement, taken jointly by a large number of US agencies, are much more general than just this. The problems with Western Union, according to them included: Continue reading Western Union admits that its system facilitated scammers
The more contacts I have from people who have been scammed the more I see the different types of scams that are being carried out. The amount of ‘romance’ can vary. There are a number of types of activities that have building a relationship as a primary focus. You will find these listed on the governmental sites that talk about scams as Online Scams or Fraud, and this is a more generic description. Only when you read the detail does it make it clear this relates to what is commonly known as ‘romance’ or ‘dating’ scams.
In my blog I have focused on scams that use romance as the hook to then enable the scammer to exhort money. The contact mechanism is often dating sites, but can also be any membership site or social media such as Facebook or even communication mechanisms such as Skype or Viber. Whilst dating sites have the benefit (to the scammer) of legitimacy and expectation of making contact, because that is the purpose of the site, other mechanisms, like on Facebook, the scammer is putting out a ‘cold’ request for contact with no automatic expectation, except social convention and politeness perhaps, of a response. They must be successful though, because they keep doing it, and I know from victims who respond thinking “its just friendship, it can’t hurt”, that whatever lure they are using, it works. Continue reading Different types of romance scams
Australians lose millions of dollars through romance scams and there is no evidence that police are doing anything. Here are the responses to my queries to the relevant agencies. Victims want justice, the police don’t seem to be taking any notice. This is not good enough!
My last blog questioning what the police are doing to investigate scams has generated some interesting responses. A promise for more information from a senior member of the Victorian police; a response from the ACCC to my query; and someone’s FOI request has given a standard response from the Australian Institute of Criminology (ACIC). Since July the ACIC has had responsibility for ACORN. Continue reading Police are not doing enough about scams!
[How victim blaming applies to romance scams. The latest research from Dr. Cassandra Cross explains how scam victims are blamed, how they are impacted and the influence on the reporting of scams. Who you should not tell about your scam, from Dr Brené Brown.]
The term ‘victim blaming’ has come to the fore recently in relation to photos of schoolgirls being published online, and one school’s response to this. As with rape and other sexual assaults in the past, the victim (schoolgirls) were blamed for their actions, clothing, etc inciting their abuse. The same happens with victims of romance scams.
“Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially responsible for the harm that befell them“, according to Wikipedia. RationalWiki describes further: “Blaming the victim describes the attempt to escape responsibility by placing the blame for the crime or other abuse at the hands of the victim. Classically this is the rapist claiming his victim was “asking for it” by, for example, wearing a short skirt.”
The past years has seen an increasing understanding that rape victims are not to blame for their rape, no matter what they wear, and women walking through parks, or on their way home after a night out are not inciting their sexual assault simply by being out. The change in understand has been brought about by a concerted effort by women’s groups raising and successfully addressing the spectre of the sexual double standard involved. Continue reading Victim Blaming endemic in Romance Scams