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.
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!
I frequently get letters from across the world from people who have just realised they have been scammed. These letters often talk about the shame and guilt that they have once they realised they have been scammed. How do I reply to them? I know they write to me because they must tell their story to someone, to make sense of it for themselves, and they know I will understand.
A recent writer said
I have been sending money to woman in ..[deleted for privacy].. for ..[deleted for privacy]… I am not stupid, and I realised that this could not be the real thing, but I continued to write to her. I denied the obvious for so long time. I feel ashamed of my self. I now delete all “her” e mails, but I still feel afraid and guilt.
It is a challenge to know what to write to people in this situation. I have been there too, wondering if it is a scam, denying to myself that it is, wanting the dream that is promised so badly. But I have had a long time thinking (and writing) about it since.
The definitive text on healing from being scammed is Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, by Anna AldenTirrill and Jon van Helsing. Here I review the first section on the emotional aftermath of the scam and letting go.
I have talked about various aspects of healing journey after being scammed in my posts here, mostly from my own experience. The definitive text is Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, by Anna Alden Tirrill and Jon van Helsing. This is the companion book to Cyber Love’s Illusions: Anatomy of a Romance Scam. I have wanted to have these books for some time, but have not had the money to pay for them and shipping to Australia. A dear friend has gifted them to me, but only the first has arrived so far. Both books have at their core the information and experience gathered from the Yahoo group Romancescams run by the experienced team from www.rormancescams.org . They have supported tens of thousands of romance scam support group members and millions of visitors to their site.
I was pleased to see that the ‘Healing Journey’ book addresses the emotional aftermath of being scammed in one section and the practical and legal aftermath in another. I have made similar distinctions through my blog. So far, I have only read the first section, and plan to write my next blog on part two.
The first chapter helps readers identify if you have been scammed. There is a quiz, with 18 Yes/No questions. Three or more YES answers leads you to consider red flags to see if they apply including:
9 characteristics or behaviours of scammers on first contact
22 typical characteristics of their communication skills
21 habits that define them
3 inconsistencies noticed about scammers
If you have identified that you have been scammed from this, there are 7 things you should do, including an additional set of six activities to prove to yourself that the person is not who they say they are, provided by a Nigerian “deep throat”. A number of different scam scenarios are shared, as well as examples of types of photos used by scammers, actual IM conversations, and a fake passport. Its all very comprehensive so if you have had any doubts before now, if any of these apply to you there will be no lingering doubts. There is also a space at the end of each chapter to write down your own thoughts about information covered in the chapter.
Through the next chapters the difficulties of letting go of the fantasy relationship set up by the scammer are covered, including the similarities with Battered Women’s Syndrome, and the stages these women go through. To quote:
“In extreme cases of victimization, as with domestic abuse, the overriding emotions included: learned helplessness, loss of self-esteem, self-blame, anxiety, depression, fear, suspiciousness, loss of belief in the possibility of change, and the tendency to use self-destructive methods of coping with fear and stress, like food, drug or alcohol abuse. Battered Women’s Syndrome (BWS) is recognised in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) as a formal clinical syndrome within Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
And, when the eventual awakening to the scam happens,
“This awakening brings with it the emotional devastation, not only of a broken heart, but diminished self-image, demolished self-confidence, and the inability to trust oneself, one’s judgement, one’s feelings and ultimately, other people.”
I recently received feedback that at a particular outing, one of the other people there found me ‘unfriendly’. I realised that it was exactly this state of being described in this quote applying in my life. I could not put myself out there to be friendly because at that time I did not value myself as someone worth knowing.
The feeling of being emotionally raped and the stages of Rape Trauma Syndrome as it applies to romance scams are explored. There are quotes from victims of the difficulties they have in letting go of the fairy tale romance, the dream that has been built by the scammer, and the grief and loss that is experienced. The way I got through this was to go to www.romancescam.com and read the postings there of interactions of others with scammers. I soon saw that the scenarios were the same, the text was often the same, and sometimes the names are the same. The name of the daughter in my scam was Patience Blessing ( I just searched on the name Patience and found this). I found a scenario VERY similar to mine where the daughter was called Blessing Patience. By doing all this research I was able to see that the scam was NOT PERSONAL. It was not about me as a person at all. It was all about the money I could provide. Doing this enabled me to let go of the idea that there was a person there that loved me. I realised it was all just an act.
The difficult topic of cyber-love is explored, including how people are lured by wanting “to know they are desirable, special, wanted, loved and cherished”, into disrobing in front of a webcam. Whilst they think they are doing this in the privacy of their own home with the partner that they love, will marry, and who is caressing them with loving words in a seemingly mutual engagement, in reality they are doing this on a webcam beaming to a cyber-café, somewhere in Nigeria most likely, with men standing around ogling at them and laughing at them. The importance of this event in the mind of the victim cannot be underestimated however, as it signifies and further inflates a deep level of intimacy, that is a further manipulation of the victim into being emotionally likely to send money.
“Because the scammer uses this perceived intimacy to make inroads into the victim’s mind, emotions and will, he can often totally disengage the victim’s normal reasoning ability and her (or his) sense of discernment and judgement”.
This is a key ingredient in “taking the brain” that I talk about in a previous blog. I know the power of this intimacy from personal experience. I had not realised it was actually abuse until I read this in the Scams of the Heart Blog. I held on to a comment made by my scammer that he was “surprised that he found himself attracted to my body type” as an indication that he was really attracted to me way beyond the time when I let go of other beliefs that the scam had been real. Luckily for me I was not subject to a further blackmail scam with threats to make my ‘webcam’ activity public, but I do know of others who have received this threat.
Though its not the last chapter in this section on the emotional impacts, I will close this blog with this further quote from this great book which echoes mylast poston the Right of Reply:
“Above all else, victims need to understand that they DID NOTHING WRONG! They were being a loving, compassionate and caring person. They’re not stupid and they’re not to blame. They don’t need to put themselves down or let anyone else judge or criticise them.”
More on the book in my next blog.
Anna Alden Tirrill and Jon van Helsing, Cyber Love’s Illusions – The Healing Journey – Recovering from a Romance Scam, 2010 Published by White Cottage Publishing Company.
This is the companion book to Cyber Love’s Illusions: Anatomy of a Romance Scam.
If I look back at the circumstances around how I got caught in a scam there are a number of things I can identify that made me particularly vulnerable.
The biggest thing is I felt ready, ready to connect, ready for a new relationship, ready to find someone special.
I had just moved interstate, back to the city where I grew up. I had not lived in Melbourne for 45 years, having left when I was 17 to go away to study at university. I had been back to visit of course, as all of my family except my Mum lived in and around Melbourne, but not lived here. So it was a big step.
I’m the sort of person who once they decide on something, I get myself organised and it happens. This was the case with the interstate move as well. I had been down for a couple of visits, doing job interviews, looking at houses, and on the last day of my old contract had a new job lined up to go to. I took a house unseen. I packed up everything, and moved, and it all went smoothly.
All of this meant that I felt good about myself. I thought, why not find someone to explore Victoria with. I wanted companionship. I had seen many other couples around me, often together for many years and still enjoying each other’s company, travelling around the world together. I wanted that togetherness for myself as well.
As I wrote in my book (Love over Money, still to be published ) I was ready. Being ready means you are open, in a state of anticipation and expectation. This is what makes you vulnerable as it is easy for those with ulterior motives to get their hooks in to us.
This combined with lack experience of online dating and the dangers meant I approached it expecting people to be truthful and honest, especially when they say they are. Scammers often say they are truthful and honest, and that they are looking for someone like this as they have been hurt in the past by people who have let them down.
In reality it is all a lie, but it is hard to detect that at the beginning. Scammers seem sincere, normal, keen to connect to the right person, and match that in us. And I responded normally, out of that open space, not understanding that it is all an act, a well tried script, a lie…