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.
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
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..
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 ACCC’s data shows that people aged 45 and over are disproportionately vulnerable to romance scams: those aged 65 and over have the highest rate of “conversion” after being contacted by a fraudster, at 55 per cent. I discuss some reasons why I think this is so.
I know I promised to do more on the book Cyber Love’s Illusions: the Healing Journey, but I have been distracted by preparing to move and doing some speaking engagements with the Yarra Plenty Regional Library network in north eastern Melbourne. This series of talks was organised as part of Seniors Week, and is my story of being caught in a romance scam, what happened, how I came through this, and how to be aware of the dangers. I’m also asked to cover all the different sorts of scams that people are experiencing. Continue reading Why are Seniors more susceptible to scams?
I felt moved to provide a ‘Right of Reply’ comment addressing the negative responses to a recent guest contributor blog posted on Starts at Sixty. Its re-posted here.
I recently wrote a blog about my scam experience which was posted on the Starts at Sixty website, which I have recently joined. As with previous publications by me or others, there were many comments questioning “how could she be so stupid?”, “hasn’t she seen the warnings?”, “why doesn’t she join a club?”, etc. There were also positive and supportive comments, but I felt moved to provide a ‘Right of Reply’ comment addressing the negative ones. The following is copied from my comment (Comment No 199) on Starts at sixty. I don’t know if it will be read by those who commented on the blog, but thought it was worth reposting here. Continue reading Right of Reply…
Even after realising we have been scammed the one question that remains, not only for our friends and families, but also for ourselves is “How did this happen?”, “How could I, an intelligent, successful, down to earth, usually rational and responsible person, have done this?” I took several months to write out all that happened into a diary/timeline after realising I had been scammed. Even after doing this I still did not fully understand. That came later…
The reality is that we are ‘groomed’, similar to how child abuse victims are groomed.
These tactics of grooming by child abusers include :
the ability to charm, to be likeable, to radiate sincerity and truthfulness
establishing a trusting relationship, for example spending time with them and listening to them. They may treat the child as ‘special’; giving them presents and compliments.
use gifts and trickery to manipulate and silence the child into keeping the sexual assault a secret. This treatment can isolate the child from siblings, friends or parents.
gradually desensitising the child and violating their boundaries. For example, they may spend a lot of time with the child when he or she is bathing, dressing, or going to bed.
convincing them that if they tell about the sexual abuse, something terrible will happen
giving the child the impression that they have consented and that they are in a ‘relationship’ with the offender, or even that they initiated the relationship
making the child to feel responsible for the abuse, and feel too ashamed or scared to tell anyone.
As I compiled this list for this blog I understood even more about the deliberation used in romance scams. By changing the word child to person, and other minor changes to the sentence, all of the above happen in a romance scam (at least my scam), often including sexual abuse (through cybersex). There is one more tactic though that is more relevant in scams of adults, an understanding of which adds to the picture.
In my list of being groomed for a romance scam the scammer:
builds a very strong and intimate relationship, so that it feels in your mind like they are part of the family. This may include initiating a proposal of marriage, and positioning for and ‘committing to’ a long term partnership or marriage. I have highlighted ‘committing to’, as there is never any intention of following through on this in a scam.
Points 1, and 6 from the child grooming list above are relevant here. As well, there is evidence that as we become more ‘in love’ the love hormone oxytocin will create more trust and develop more empathy. We are very familiar with the ‘honeymoon period’ of a relationship and I suspect this is partly what is in operation during this period. We know from outside that when someone is in the honeymoon period we are in an altered state, we are seeing things ‘through rose coloured glasses’ and that it will, over time, pass and things will become normal again.
Donna Andersen, in her blog on Lovefraud.com, from her understanding of the work done by Paul Zac comments:
When psychopaths target us for romantic relationships, they shower us with attention and affection. They spend a lot of time talking with us, and conversation builds trust. They say and do things to indicate that they trust us, and we should trust them. They tell stories about themselves designed to appeal to our empathy. They rush us into emotional, physical and sexual intimacy.
All of this causes the release of oxytocin in our brains, which is absolutely normal. Because of the oxytocin, we feel calm, trusting, empathetic and content. We especially feel trusting of the person who caused this reaction in us — the psychopath.
Though Donna Anderson is considering psychopaths in a much wider context of romance related fraud than I am with romance scammers, I think the term is applicable. Scammers are unfeeling, and unconcerned with consequences, and when I replace psychopath with scammer, these statements are absolutely true.
Secondly, in romance scams, we are cut off from others. Initially we are cut off from the safety of the dating site, by encouraging us to talk via email, and then talking via a chat or video messaging system such as Yahoo Messenger or Skype. They will never let you see them in person however, because who they are is not the handsome person in the picture they have presented themselves to be in the dating profile.
If there is any sense of others warning us that this might be a scam, we are encourage to not listen to what others are saying, because “what we have is special, and no-one will ever understand” combined with ”I don’t want your emotions to be upset” and “when they eventually see us together it will be easier to explain”. And because we are now trusting, and feeling we have a special intimacy, we cut off from our friends.
Thirdly, point 5 above for child grooming translates in a romance scam to “If you don’t give me money something terrible will happen”. This might be innocuous initially, for example, I need something for my business supplies, but as the story is developed, there is ‘evidence’ of awful things happening such as threats of violence to the scammer; stories of being mugged/robbed; car accidents where people are killed; threats of prison and/or not being able to leave the country. These circumstances or reasons for needing money are given in a context of increasing levels of danger and urgency to allow the scammer to get to where their money is accessible and they can repay you the ‘loans’ that you have provided to get them out of trouble. If you don’t pay, terrible things will happen. Which because you are trusting, you believe.
Fourthly, and this one may be adult specific, scammers keep you sleep deprived
and continually engaged so as to minimise the time you have to reflect and think rationally about what is happening. They talk to you late at night, early in the morning, and through the middle of the night. Often requests for money happen in the middle of the night 1 am – 4 am when it is hard to resist them.
A friend used the term ‘spellbound’ when I was talking to her about my experience, and this term is very appropriate. We have been spellbound through professional and deliberate manipulation of our emotions by professional fraudsters, grooming us to part with our money. It was not personal for them, but the impact is very personal for us.