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
(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
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..
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.