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
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!
The building of a sense of intimacy is what makes us susceptible to the requests for money that come in a romance scam. At a certain point, this intimacy becomes overarching of our rational reasoning. I wanted to explore this concept more and how it works in scams.
See also my earlier blog on Taking the Brain, about the ‘tipping point’ of intimacy that a scammer aims for, where they know they have full control over their victim.
We have heard the warning “Don’t give money to someone you haven’t met!” And yet those of us who have been caught in a scam do give money. Why? Because despite not meeting them in person, we have conversed with them frequently and often, and a level of intimacy has been developed. We therefore step over the warning, thinking it does not apply in our specific circumstance. “This could not be a scam”, we say to ourselves, because scams are not so intimate as I am experiencing. How has this level of intimacy been developed? I know now this is a result of emotional manipulation…. what I found when I explored this was: Continue reading Intimacy as Psychological Manipulation
A new book, a new resource, a great article for you to read… essential new items for the scam aware….
A New Book.
I haven’t met Elina Juusola but I do know she is another dating scam survivor. A colleague passed her details to me. She is stepping up and telling the world about her experience, to educate others, and this is highly commendable.
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.
I was contacted recently by a woman who was concerned for her friend and wanted some urgent advice. “I have been listening to a friend’s beautiful love story unfolding, and then realised where it was heading”, she said. She had seen the same pattern previously herself but had pulled out. She had found my blog and got in touch. She acknowledged that “Although we are both intelligent women our need to be loved, and love, is stronger than reason, as you know”. Yes, I know this only too well and at a high cost.
I had already been thinking about this question, and had even drafted a book outline on the topic. I had been warned by friends, but disregarded the warnings, and have ‘kicked myself’ since. So here are a few pointers to help, from the perspective of being a friend. (Remember that men can also be scammed by women, its not allways this way around.)
Understand how scams/scammers work
It important that you understand how scammers work so you can understand what is happening to your friend.
The scammer has gathered information on your friend, and knows their weak points, and how much they want to be loved. They will have no qualms about using this against your friend to their monetary advantage.
The scammer will profess love quickly and deeply, making it seemed destined, special, magical, and its natural for anyone wanting love to respond to this. Though the text of emails, messages, chats are tried and tested pro-forma materials, they will seem genuine, personal and include promises of forever love. Your friend may at this stage be sharing with you the excitement of finally found their one true love.
When ‘in love’, the hormone oxytocin is engaged, and this heightens trust, so the friend will be more trusting of the scammer than they might otherwise be. This means that they will be more likely to not focus on the inconsistencies in the experience, passing them by.
They will be communicating at all hours, especially through the night, keeping your friend sleep deprived. This makes it more difficult for your friend to make rational decisions when the scammer eventually asks for money. The scammer may also provide legitimate looking documents as evidence of their credibility or financial capacity to repay money.
When confronted about being a scammer, the scammer will respond with righteous anger, feigning affront, and will encourage the friend to cut off from others, especially those with warnings. The scammer will say that “what we have is special” and “they would not understand so don’t bother trying to explain – they will understand when they see us together – don’t talk to them”. They will not ever intend to be together, but they will profess and promise otherwise. The scammer will encourage your friend to cut off from you and other friends or family. This may mean they will try and push you away or cut off from you.
A high level of intimacy will be developed, including possible connections to others in the scammer’s imaginary family, including children. This adds an element of normality and family intimacy which counters the sense that it might be a scam.
They ask for honesty and make lots of promises (but will never return them).
As a friend of someone being targeted for a scam
Keep close contact with your friend and resist being pushed away. Encourage them to keep sharing with you. You may want to just cry out “Stop it” but this might push them away from you and its important to keep the communication open.
Be respectful of what your friend is feeling, however try to keep them open the equal possibility that it is a scam.
If you can, get actual emails and photos of the scammer. Use these to do some checking using some of the sites such as romancescam.com, and scamsurvivors.com to check for previously stolen photos and search for stand-out segments of text. As the same ones are used frequently, you may find them already reported, giving you information to take to your friend as evidence of a suspected scam. Also do a Google image search on the photo: you are looking for the photo being connected to other names than the one used by the scammer. Make sure you check on all results pages, and check for any google messages saying there is more to be seen, checking these results as well. If you have the technical ability you can check the IP address in the email header as well to see if it is coming from the same location as the scammer.
If you do find evidence that it may be a scam, present it as another possibility, not “the truth”, and encourage your friend to look further for themselves. Be careful not to make them wrong or unworthy of love. When this happened to me I became rebellious, insisting that I deserved to be loved, and it pushed me further towards the scammer.
Here are some what not to sayand why tips from by Soraya Grant in her Scams of the Heart blog. This blog is excellent, and well worth a read in more detail.
The person who contacted me made a great point about the need for a friend to match the time and energy level of the scammer, and identified the “need to apply just as much bombardment of information and support, even when it feels like intruding”. She specifically judged when her friend could take in and be receptive to certain pieces of information. It takes a great friend to do this – I commend her on her efforts.
If you are not sure what to do, reach out, to me or some of the other sites offering support resources. There is help out there. See my Support for Victims of Scams page.
If your friend does part with money, and then realises they have been scammed, encourage them to report it. See my blog on this.
Luckily in this instance we can report a good outcome. Contact was broken off with the scammer, and life has moved on.
One last thing.. be wary about secondary scams. Once they are in contact they may try again. This includes, for example, scammers pretending to be police or Interpol, saying they have your money, or your scammer, including providing forged documents about this. Don’t be tempted to go there, its another scam. More on this in my next blog.
Wayne May and Monica Whitty know a great deal and the latest about scams. Wayne is the CEO and Founder of the UK based site ScamSurvivors.com. Monica Whitty researches scams from the University of Leicester. They both know about scams and can talk about what the trends are, what methods are currently being used by scammers.
I had known about Monica before. She has a great research report which I have provided a link to on the Research page of this site. I recently discovered this worthwhile video of her being interviewed about her research. In particular I was struck by her comments about how people are groomed, which is done by keeping people sleep deprived, and separating them from their friends. That certainly happened with me. Its only 6:04 minutes, so watch the interview here.
For a recent update, I found this audio podcast from The Guardian Tech Weekly. She starts off talking about some recent hi tech movies, but then gives a good update. Her interview starts at 31:45 minutes into the hour long program.
I came across these videos of both Monica and Wayne because they are attending iDate as speakers. iDate is the Conference for the dating and internet dating industry, and there are several conferences held in different places around the world for different markets. Monica and Wayne are scheduled to speak at the London iDate Conference in October 2015. I’d love to be there and hear what they say is the latest this year.
Wayne May I had not heard of before, but was very pleased to see an interview from him from the same conference held in 2014. This one lasts 43:06 minutes, but there are gems all the way through. He talks about “sextortion” as the latest trend, where people, mostly men, are inveigled to strip off and perform acts on videocam, this is saved, and then they are blackmailed by threats to show the videos to family and colleagues. Scamsurvivors.com covers all sorts of scams, not just romance or dating scams. It has a whole forum for sextortion. It also has other videos, and photo galleries as well as provides 24/7 support for victims or suspected victims of all types of scams.
More than this though, if you have any questions about scam, how they work, who they impact, how you identify one, who looks after sites like these, all of them are asked and answered by Wayne May in this video. Its well worth the watch.
In fact, take some time, watch, listen to them all. I will post these links onto the research page when I next post.
Let me know what’s your favourite video or resource about romance scams?
In the early days with my scammer, we exchanged emails with a lot of questions in them about what we liked and did not like. In the context at that time the questions seem innocent enough, but embedded in them are key questions that the scammer can later use. Eg. when he went back to England he asked if I knew anyone in England. My negative response to this let him know that he did not need to worry about me knowing too much about where he lived.
In general conversations/exchanges about interests, passions, previous relationships, etc there will be items that you share about what you like and don’t like. One item I put on my profile was an interest in property investing. That is a give-away that you have an interest in money making ventures.
By revealing themselves first, and saying that they are looking for someone who is honest and open, they lay the ground for you being the same. E.g
"Relationships: Give 100%, if this can not be given, then you are not that true friend, lover or husband/wife. Be true to yourself, and your love ones. Honesty, communication, and understanding along with patience will make the difference. This is just my opinion mind you. Sharing, is more than finance, material assets, more importantly, it is the sharing of yourself, time, and love. Giving always more to the other, and they will give back. It is a forever revolving door of giving..."
As well as giving away information that can be used, what is not commented on by the scammer can sometimes be telling. My scammer did not comment on my political inclinations, my spiritual preferences, or seem to take more than a cursory interest in Australia or Victoria. this felt a bit odd at the time, as they are areas that can be disastrous and deal breakers in relationships. These were items that I wanted to know about him, but did not get the chance to follow up. In hind-site, the absence of a response shows how shallow the communication actually was, but at the time things were moving at such a pace that it was difficult to pick up on this.
Instead the talk turns to what feels special… and this is the hook!
"I will say my heart tells me you are one very special woman. Whatever will be between you and I, please know you have a friend for life regardless of the miles between us. I feel very blessed that you responded to my email, that I will cherish forever. In our walks of life, it is not often you come across another who still has morals, family values, respect and continues to follow their dreams.
Its so easy to not take notice of the contradictions or incongruities. We must get better at making sure we do follow up on these.
If you think you are being scammed, get in touch with ACORN . Remember its not just a scam, its a deliberate and professional fraud that is being perpetrated.
ACORN: The Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network. This is an national policing initiative that allows cybercrime victims to easily and instantly report cases of criminal activity online, as well as providing information on how to avoid falling victim to cyber criminals.
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…
This website will be dedicated to providing information for people who have been a victim of an internet romance or dating scam.
It recognises that we have been caught by professional fraudsters. We may or may not have lost money in this process. Anyone can be caught in such a fraud. Increasingly we are seeing attempts to contact us not only by online dating sites, but all forms of online groups and social media, anywhere where names are found.
It will include
how to deal with our feelings
where to find support
some scam scenarios, though other sites do this more extensively
warnings about changing scenarios.
In writing this blog, I hope it will help others to transition through the process of early realisation, victim, to survivor. I welcome comments.
Early realisation is when we have just realised, by whatever mechanism, that we have been scammed. During this time there is much emotion, shock, embarrassment, and shame. This is often suffered alone.
Victim is when we have accepted we have been scammed, but this fact is still running our lives. We don’t trust others or ourselves.
Survivor is when we have fully come to terms with what has happened, we have recovered our equilibrium, and have moved on with our lives. Within a safe environment we are OK about talking about what has happened. We may also be willing to go public with our experience.