Scam money goes to organised crime

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

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.


Colonel Bryan Denny (Ret.)

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’s mother 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.

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
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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?

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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

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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

Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

The latest report out from the ACCC called Targeting Scams 2017  came out on Monday 15 May with the 2016 figures.  In the area of romance scams the figures ($25.4 million reported lost) have not changed much, up slightly from 2015, but still under the 2014 level.  The report indicates some moves in the right direction, but much more effort in many directions is still needed.

Unfortunately, the figures reported cannot be regarded as a true level. It is generally acknowledged reporting is only at about 10% – 12% of actual cases. I was interviewed by Catherine Gregory of ABC News for The World Today program about the latest report and media release. Listen to this here.  (PS: alsohere’s my comments from last year’s report.) Continue reading Latest Targeting Scams 2017 report from ACCC

Police are not doing enough about 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!

What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??

When someone contacts me saying they have been scammed and what should they do one of my first suggestions to them is to report the scam to ACORN (Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network).  I am an Ambassador for them, so that’s logical, right?  But what does ACORN do?

I was recently contacted by someone in this situation, and her story, is, according to the research by Cassandra Cross mentioned in my last post, not that unusual.  She communicated with me over a number of days, complaining that no-one in the various police forces would take her call, and that she was continually referred on to someone else, who then referred her on again.  This included state police, federal police, and even Interpol, who could work on her behalf, but only if contacted by the relevant local agency (police).  But they weren’t interested in even taking her details. Continue reading What are our police forces doing about romance scammers??