Shame shapes how we relate during holidays

For those of us who have experienced scams, and the shame that comes with this, holiday periods with family and friends can be very difficult.

For myself, at times like this when I am in a social situation, even with family, it is easy to just sit in the corner and not communicate and connect with others.  This is because underneath it all, I feel broken, unworthy, unlovable. I think I am not worthy of being a friend to anyone, so I am likely to be stand-offish and not initiate any conversations or connections. Others may find me as reserved, and interpret that as me thinking I am superior. Underneath it all, how can I trust others to like me or be real with me when inside I do not trust myself, or like myself for what I have done.

This is how shame operates, by isolating us and shutting us down.
We think we avoid pain, embarrassment, and blame by keeping what has happened to us a secret.  Unfortunately we cannot only keep this one thing secret.  It leaches into other parts of us, making it difficult to share other parts of ourselves as well.  The end result is to further isolate us into ourselves and prevent the development of supportive and intimate friendships/relationships.

The one thing that I found was an antidote to shame was when I began to speak out publicly about the scam I experienced.  When I decided to speak out I was able to say to myself “I have made a mistake, and to make mistakes is human.  We are allowed to make mistakes and to learn from them.”  It meant I was vulnerable, sharing my ‘mistake’ with the world letting everyone know I was not the perfect person I might wish others to see me as.  But it was only a mistake.  This gave me the strength to face up to what had happened.  Each time I spoke out I gained strength, I regained my self-respect, because I was being true to myself and what had happened. There is nothing wrong with making mistakes in life. 

Cassandra Cross

People cope differently from this experience: some are angry, some are depressed, some talk of suicide, while others spend every waking hour trying to figure out how they were scammed and try to prevent it happening to others.

Love Hurts: the costly reality of online romance fraud, 
The Conversation 11 December 2014

The mistake I own up to was that I did not see the lies being told by the scammer., I believed him.  Research shows that 60% of the time, people cannot detect lies, so really, I was with a lot of others in the human pool!  Soit raises the question, why do we feel so much shame from this one mistake, when it can happen to so many of us?

When we are scammed we think it is just us and the scammer, in our ‘special’ relationship and we believe them.  The truth is it is not a one-on-one situation.  Scammers often have a team of people beside them.  You might meet other team members as the scammer’s child, friend, lawyer or other official, or a nurse or doctor after a car crash.  You might not realise that the person you speak to on the phone or web is not the same person who is texting you or emailing you. 

one fish swimming in the opposite direction of a troupe of fishes

It is really a one against many situation, and yet we are so ashamed that we did not see it.  How could we? It should not be shameful to not realise we a dealing with a business behemoth, that the power differential is gigantic.  One caring, loving and naïve person against a team of skilled and deliberate fraudsters. We got caught by their lies and in their manipulations, and gave our money.  If we had been rational, we would not have done this.  Yet ‘society’, many people who do not know the truth of what happens, blame us, the victim, for not suspecting the lies, for not being able to stay rational in the face of skilled and deliberate emotional manipulation.

The victim blaming must stop. It does not respect the truth of what happens in scams and damages and traumatises people with shame. It is more an indication that people want to separate themselves from the possibility that they could also be caught in a scam and make out it could/would not happen to them. It is a defence mechanism by those yet to be caught in scams.

Trivialising scam victims by assuming they are just lonely old women or men is another way scams are misrepresented.  Anyone can get caught in them…

In our holiday social gatherings there should be space to be real with each other, admit our mistakes, and still be loved for the unique individuals that we are. But despite the supposed good wishes of the season we are not there yet for romance scam victims.

I encourage all victims feeling shame to find someone they can trust to tell of their mistake.  Tell them about what you have learn from this blog, that there is more to scams than they think. This can build understanding of how scams really work, and maybe by this time next year things will be improved.

Best wishes of the season, and wishing you strength, honesty and healing in the year ahead.

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.

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

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

5 Years On

Its just over 5 years since I was scammed, and the third anniversary of my blog is on February 10, when I published my first post with my purpose and mission for this Blog. The most important issues I have covered since then in my blog are summarised here.

Jan Marshall, Scam Victim Support Group
Jan Marshall taken 7 Jan 2015, taken by Simon Leo Brown of the ABC

Since I started my blog  3 years ago I have posted 30 mini essays on topics about how scams work, its impact on victims, how law enforcement responds, the ongoing statistics, and recent books and research. As well, my site now has 11 different pages, including one which lists the many instances I have been interviewed for TV, Radio, Magazine and Podcasts.

This Media Presence page does not include the times I have spoken to victims, Continue reading 5 Years On

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

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??

Victim Blaming endemic in Romance 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