Yesterday I received an email from a person on my mailing list with a message saying they had found my photo in a scammers profile. Oh what joy! My picture on a scam site under the name of Elizabeth Edwin.
(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..
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
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 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.
The more contacts I have from people who have been scammed the more I see the different types of scams that are being carried out. The amount of ‘romance’ can vary. There are a number of types of activities that have building a relationship as a primary focus. You will find these listed on the governmental sites that talk about scams as Online Scams or Fraud, and this is a more generic description. Only when you read the detail does it make it clear this relates to what is commonly known as ‘romance’ or ‘dating’ scams.
In my blog I have focused on scams that use romance as the hook to then enable the scammer to exhort money. The contact mechanism is often dating sites, but can also be any membership site or social media such as Facebook or even communication mechanisms such as Skype or Viber. Whilst dating sites have the benefit (to the scammer) of legitimacy and expectation of making contact, because that is the purpose of the site, other mechanisms, like on Facebook, the scammer is putting out a ‘cold’ request for contact with no automatic expectation, except social convention and politeness perhaps, of a response. They must be successful though, because they keep doing it, and I know from victims who respond thinking “its just friendship, it can’t hurt”, that whatever lure they are using, it works. Continue reading Different types of romance scams
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!
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??
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