Did you see the recent news from the ACCC that scammers are using games such as Words with Friends and Scrabble to make contact with their victims and develop relationships for romance scams? I did, and I’ve also had reports of scam contacts being made via Language Learning classes, and via LinkedIn. From my experience, in just about any organisation requiring membership, the member can be vulnerable to scammer contact. They set up a fake profile and/or membership and join in activities of that group, and make what seems to be a friently, if unsolicited contact asking to chat…
The Media Release identifies that romance scammers have moved beyond online dating sites to Facebook and Instagram and now include these popular game sites.
Scammers will still use their old contact mechanisms, but as prevention messages grow in volume, potential victims are more likely to be sceptical and avoid the common pitfalls when they are easily identifiable. Unfortunately, warnings are not yet covering the need to avoid unsolicited contacts on these gaming sites.
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.