Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why Do I Feel Separated From the World?

by Soraya

The aftermath of a scam can leave the victim feeling separated from the world. This may be one of the eeriest, most uncomfortable sensations you will ever experience, but there are ways to work through it and feel connected to others again.


Reason # 1: You snapped at a friend or several friends, fought with them over whether or not the situation was a scam, or picked a fight due to the stress the scammer's stories were putting you under.

This is one of those situations where you are going to have to face being wrong about something and make amends. The way to do this will depend entirely upon the details of your specific situation. Some people take an "apology" better if it is left unsaid. They appreciate it when you simply start talking to them in a friendly and calm manner again, and things work themselves out best if you make sure to avoid bringing up the topic you fought about again, at least for a while. Other people feel better when you apologize to them directly. In these situations, a simple and direct "I shouldn't have spoken to you like that and I am sorry" often works wonders. You may want to tell them a bit about the scam, but who you tell and how much is always for you to decide on a case by case basis. Someone who has been your best friend for years may be able to handle hearing the entire story in detail, while that person you always see around your hangout but don't know as well might only need to be told "I am sorry I snapped at you/brought up such a touchy subject/got upset over nothing. I was going through some things and I took it out on you. I apologize." Once you have made amends, make yourself a mental note to step back and think about the impact of your words on the other person before you say them from now on. Nobody is perfect at this. We all blurt, lose our tempers, or get snippy when we're stressed, but sometimes pausing for a few seconds can save a few months or years of hurt.


Reason #2: The scammer kept you glued to the computer and involved in their projects for so long, you feel like the world went on without you for the weeks, months, or years you spent talking to them.

The sensation of the world moving past you can be disorienting. The diner where you used to get your coffee every morning before work got new booths. Your friend you used to always see when you stopped to get gas or buy your bus pass works across town now. The summer festival that used to always be your favorite local event has come and gone for this year, and you barely took note of it. Nobody can get time back, but there are ways to catch up and reconnect with the world around you. Sometimes people will be happy to literally meet up and catch up with you. Friends and old colleagues may have been wondering where you've been, and might welcome the chance to have coffee or lunch or go for a walk and tell you what you've missed. If you are no longer that close to anyone, then take advantage of those times when you run in to people and ask them how they and any mutual friends you may have are doing. As you slowly begin reconnecting with people, you will find your overall sense of belonging in your community will strengthen as well. One scam victim found that pushing herself just a tiny bit helped tremendously. She was never much of a "community spirit" or "hometown pride" type, but after the scam she nudged herself to go out and attend a single community fair. On the surface it didn't look like much, but it represented the first time the victim allowed herself to focus on something that was not a part of the false world created by the scammer.


Reason # 3: Being scammed embarrasses you. It feels like everyone would laugh at you or blame you for the situation if they found out you have been scammed.

We can't promise that everyone you know will be understanding and supportive, but you don't have to tell everyone you know. Deciding who to confide in is always a delicate decision to make. The Scams of the Heart chat room is available for anyone who feels they don't have anyone to confide in about the scam, or for those who are contemplating telling someone in their life, and are not sure if or how to go through with it. No matter what you decide, remember that the scam was not your fault and is nothing to feel ashamed about, regardless of what anybody who hears about it might think. Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone has been in a situation they find embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about. You are not alone in that, nor are you alone in having been scammed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

SOTH Stepping Stones: Reclaiming Control of Finances

by Soraya

Scam victims are often left with their finances is disarray. Most scams are run for money, and many scam victims send large amounts of money before realizing the situation is a scam. Scam victims also tend to neglect their work or school for the scammer, risking jobs, client bases, or academic scholarships. It is also common for scam victims to spend money on their appearance, home, travel, or other things in preparation for the life they think they will soon lead. This may mean that finances need to be completely overhauled and a brand new personal budget might need to be made. Keep in mind that this is just a basic outline. We fully understand that things are not always so simple following a scam, and that often, people lose their entire savings accounts or retirement funds, sometimes even their homes. The following steps are intended only as the beginning of a process of reclaiming your control over your money, and starting to rebuild your funds if at all possible.


Step 1: Write down the amount of money you can count on coming in each month.

This can be heartening or it can be depressing, but it is important to focus in on this amount. No matter what it is, write it down. Even if it's only fifty dollars from the two photos you sell to a web page each month, write that down.


Step 2: Make a list of all the things that absolutely MUST be paid out of this money.

Sometimes this step is the hardest one of all. We often come to think of things we want and like a lot as things that must be paid for, but the basic expenses are:

#1: Rent, mortgage or other housing payment

#2: Electric bill (add a third for gas bill if necessary)

#3: Water bill

#4: Groceries

#5: Transportation costs (bus pass or car upkeep)

#6: Medical expenses

#7: Internet (as a lifeline for many)

#8: Phone (one phone, landline or cell..if only to keep for emergencies)

#9: Television (if free channels do not come in well in your area. This isn't an absolute necessity, but it is an important window on the outside world for many)

#10: Children or elderly parents' additional expenses, if applicable (school supplies, medical supplies not covered by benefits or insurace, etc)

#11: Your other necessary expenses, such as existing credit card debt or loan payments.

Write this list out and note the maximum amount you must spend for each of these items on the sheet. If you have this area paid for outside of the income you can count on, note that next to the item. For example, if you get $300 a month, but you have moved in with your son or daughter and they only ask you to contribute $100 toward the groceries each month, write an x or the work "ok" next to the rest of the household expenses and then write $100 next to the groceries.
As you write this out, you will either notice things falling into place, with your income being more than your expenses, or you will notice gaps. Write down ideas for filling in the gaps, note them with a mark on the paper, and then write them down on a separate list. For example, suppose you know that your food budget is a bit short. You might want to write down "EBT Card?" and then add "EBT Card Application" to your list. If you have credit card bills you absolutely cannot pay, you may want to look into filing bankruptcy.


Step #3: Make your new budget

Write your income on the top of the page, list your individual necessary expenses, noting areas where you may need to fill in gaps, then subtract the amounts. The money left over is your "extra" money.


Step #4: Decide how to manage your extra money

Many people use all or part of this money to begin the process of replenishing their savings account. Others use it to treat themselves. Make another list like the one above, only instead of those bills and expenses that must be paid, write out what you would like to do with your money. It might look like this:

#1: Books

#2: Music:

#3: Movies

#4: Rebuild savings account at Bank of America

#5: Save for trip to Spain

Once this list is written out, allot portions of the extra money to each category. For this step, it might be helpful to find ways to get certain things for free. If you need to read several books each month, you may want to write $0.00 in the slot, and make a rule that you will visit your local library and book exchanges for reading material. Many people also find points programs such as "swagbucks" a good way to get small items such as songs, movies, or a book or two for free. You can even make it a rule that you will ask for bookstore, music service, and/or movie rental gift cards for your holiday gifts from family and friends and use those for these purchases.


Step # 5: Look over your budget as a whole.

This might be heartening, as you realize you can pare down expenses and make it on a limited income. Or it might be terrifying as you realize you have several gaps and most of your "ok" sections are only "ok" because someone else is now paying for them. This does not mean you failed or that you are doomed to always have this as your budget or your life. It is just a portrait of where your finances are right now. Writing it out in a simplified manner is a first step in making the needed changes. It is also a way to regain control. No matter how bad it looks now, you are the one making the decisions about where your money goes once again.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

More Frequently Asked Questions About Romance Scams

By Soraya

1. Why doesn't posting the name of a Nigerian scammer make a difference?

Names mean nothing when it comes to Nigerian scams because Nigerian scammers use made up names and change them in an instant when they stop having success with them. It is okay to post them, because it does alert others that this particular name is currently being used on a fake profile, but it doesn't do anything to stop the scam ring.


2. Why is it okay to post the names if I discover it's been a Nigerian scam all along, but not okay to post the person's name if I find out someone in the United States has been scamming me? Isn't an American scammer just as much a scammer as one from any other country?

Yes, they are. We do not ask you to avoid posting the real names of Americans in blog comments or in the chat room in order to protect or coddle them. That rule is in place to protect the SOTH web sites from liability. To talk about an American scammer in public, simply change their real name and all identifying details to a name you make up, and place an * next to it so we know that's a detail you inserted. For example, if you were scammed by a woman whose real name is AB Smith and she lives in San Diego, California, write it out like this: "I learned her real name was CD Doe* and she lived in Sacramento* California." If you need to share an email address or other information with a moderator in order to have an American scammer blocked from our site, email one of the moderators.


3. Is there anyone who can help me replace the money I lost?

No. As of this writing, there are no non-profits that offer grants to individuals who have been tricked into sending money to scammers,  lost jobs,  or spent money they could not spare because of a scam. You may be able to find resources that fit your unique situation...for example...if you are a college student who sent the scammer your student loan money, you may want to speak to your school's financial aid office about the possibility of grants, scholarships, and work study...or if you lost your job you may qualify for unemployment...but there is no way to simply put the money back.


4. Why would anyone send me flowers, candy, a teddy bear, a box of chocolate covered strawberries, or a piece of jewelry if they were planning to scam me?

Many scammers send gifts. This is done for one or more of the following three reasons: 1. They are setting you up to ask you to accept and reship packages for them and want to verify your address. 2. Tangible objects make the situation feel more real and 3. It creates a sense of obligation in the recipient. (If I drop hints that I don't have the $75 I need to pay my electric bill this month, you're going to feel obligated to "help" me if I sent you a bunch of nice gifts the month before)


5. I went into a clean chat only chat room and tried to warn people about scammers, and they started making fun of me and asking me what was wrong with me for falling for it. Why were they so cruel?

There could be a few reasons. Some people might truly not understand what a romance scam is and what it means to be scammed, and may not realize that they are being insensitive. Other people are simply unconcerned with the feelings of those around them. The people might also be drunk or high and unable to understand that you are not setting them up for a joke. In any case, don't take it personally. If they acted like that when you mentioned it, they would start acting like that when any one of the thousands of people who have been scammed mentioned it too. If you need to chat about the scam in real time, our chat room is available, and everyone here will take your scam seriously.


6. Is there anywhere I can go to heal from this?

We wish. A retreat center designed around the needs of scam victims would be wonderful. Sadly, there are none currently operating. But don't give up. There are many things you can do to heal in your own home and community.


7.   Will a therapist or counselor help me heal from the scam?

Anyone who feels they may need counseling to heal from their scam is encouraged to look into resources available in their community. As of the time of this writing, there are no mental health counselors who focus specifically on scam victims, but any licensed professional should respond to your scam story in a professional and helpful way. If you find a mental health professional who brushes you off, tells you they don't know what to do about that, or makes light of the scam, it is your right as a consumer of their service and as a person with mental health care needs to seek help elsewhere.


8. When will I be over this?

Nobody expects you or anyone else to "get over" a scam as you would a cold. But you will heal from the scam. The process and the time it takes are a bit different for everyone, but healing will happen for you.


9.  If I know the pictures were stolen from random people who had nothing to do with this, what's the harm in keeping them?

If you keep the photos, or anything else the scammer gave you, it will only keep you emotionally linked to the character the scammer played. First get rid of anything the scammer gave you; pictures, gifts, web page addresses, recipes, poems, stories. Then get rid of all unnecessary things you bought because of the scam, such as perfume, lingerie, going out clothes, decorations, or gifts or supplies for the person you thought was coming to stay with you. Finally, replace any necessary items you bought with the one who turned out to be a scammer in mind as you can afford to do so.


10. I can tell my relative (or friend or coworker) is being scammed. Why won't they listen to me?

They are refusing to listen for the same reason cult members don't just get up and go back home when someone tells them they're in a cult, and domestic violence victims don't just pack up their stuff and leave when someone points out their spouse or partner is abusive; they are brainwashed. Scammers use many of the same brainwashing techniques as abusers and cult leaders. Keep talking to the person you are concerned about and keep letting them know you care.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Sex and Scams

by Soraya


The following article contains adult content and is intended for our readers aged 18 and older

The scam's impact on our sexuality is one of the most uncomfortable parts of the scam to talk about or even admit to ourselves, but it can also be one of the scariest and most painful ways a scam causes damage. Each person is different, but in general there are three ways a scam can wreck havoc on that part of our lives.

You Believe You Had Cybersex with the Scammer

The issue of cybersex during a scam is discussed in detail in the July 6, 2013 article "Cybersex During a Scam." This article is located on our blog under its publication date.  You may access it quickly by clicking on the "cyber sex" label under this article. When you click on this label, the article you are reading now, and the detailed article about cybersex will appear on the screen.

The most important thing to remember about cybersex, or even intense flirting or playful, joking banter, flashing, or sending suggestive links, is that any type of sexual teasing, seemingly sexy flirting, or cybersex engaged in during the scam was not a form of online sex or flirting, but a form of online sexual assault or harassment. You never consented to the sexual talk or activity because you never consented to that type of talk or activity with the person you were actually talking to. Tricking someone into sexual talk or activity they would not want is a form of sexual abuse. The scammer did not seduce you, they abused you. This may be difficult to remember, but it is important to keep in mind when embarrassment, guilt, or fear creeps into your mind.


You Find Yourself Still Daydreaming About the Person in the Photos The Scammer Claimed Were of Them and/or the Explicit Stories They Told or Tricked You Into Sharing

First, try to determine the source of the detail you keep thinking about.

In many cases, you will realize the detail was stolen from a complete stranger . (If the detail is a photo, video, or appearance description, it was almost always stolen at random from a web site, book, television show, or a previous victim.) When you find your mind drifting back to these, remember that you are not thinking about the person you thought you were talking to or about the scammer. You are thinking about a random person's appearance or writings. It is no different than if you came across these descriptions or pictures during an intentional web search for adult materials, on accident, from a non explicit television show or book, or any other way a person can find images or stories. While you can't just command yourself to stop finding someone attractive, or a scenario appealing, it is important to get rid of all photos, stories, and other tangible things the scammer sent you. This should be done as part of a complete purging of ALL things from the scammer, sexual or otherwise.

Avoid trying to find the real person in the photos or videos, or the real writer of the explicit scene with the goal of hooking up with that person. Most stolen stories, pictures, and videos come from sites run by online strippers known as "web cam girls," erotic story web sites, pornography sites, or boudoir photography web sites. People who perform on or write for explicit web sites are not interested in finding a girlfriend or boyfriend through the site. It's a job or a hobby for them and they likely already have a completely separate offline life. You may find the materials are from someone who simply didn't set their privacy settings high enough on a Facebook page or Google plus album, or who did nothing more than submit a story to an erotica writing contest or allow their boudoir pictures to serve as samples. These people are also not going to welcome a flirtatious note from you. They also have their own lives and had absolutely nothing to do with the scam. It is no more reasonable to think they would want to start dating you or hook up with you than it would be reasonable to assume the owner of a stolen wallet that you found thrown on the sidewalk is going to want you to ask them out.

When these things start to upset you, try visualizing a big stamp that reads "random image" or "submitted story" and picture a big hand stamping those words over all of the photo or the scene.

As you look back over this part of the scam, you will realize that other details were parroted from you. As the scammer tricked you into sharing these immensely personal details by pretending to be someone else, they were taking note of them and weaving them in to their scam. The way to heal from guilt and shame over these types of details is to take them back from the scammer. Ask yourself who was in these fantasy scenarios before the fake persona the scammer put in your head and put that person back in there. You never have to tell anyone else who it is or worry about whether or not it is appropriate or realistic. It is all happening in your own mind. Whenever you find your fantasies drifting to something from the scam, gently bring them back to your real wishes. Let's look at the PG rated portion of a fantasy as an example. Suppose you find your mind drifting back to a scene of you and the scammer walking along the beach on a romantic date. You have sat back and thought about this picture, and realized the scammer parrotted that back at you. It was originally your dream date with Adam Levine or Katy Perry. Stop associating it with the scammer by taking a deep breath and saying, either in your thoughts alone or out loud if you are in private "That's my dream date with Adam Levine/Katy Perry" and mentally cut the scammer image out, putting Adam/Katy (or whoever it was really about for you) back in.


Your Sexual Behavior Following the Scam Upsets or Scares You or Someone Close to You

Some people go wild after the discovery of a scam. They want to go out more than ever, love nothing more than being hit on, hook up with as many people as possible, and flirt with absolutely everyone they find physically attractive. They may be "playing the field" or they might be in a hurry to find a real boyfriend or girlfriend, or both. Regardless of the specifics of the behavior, the underlying goal seems to be to prove that there are real men or women out there who will truly find them attractive. There is nothing wrong with being wild if that's who you really are, but if this is out of character for you or you find yourself using other people or making your friends think you're going to go off with a serial killer, it may be time to take a step back. Take a moment and ask yourself if what you are about to do is safe. Then ask yourself if what you are about to do would cause physical or emotional harm to the other person. Getting into a car and going off alone with a stranger you just picked up at a bar might sound fun, but it is also very unsafe. Telling someone you want to date them when you really only want a purely sexual relationship and are planning to dump them soon might feel clever, but it could hurt that person emotionally. Adults are permitted to do anything they want as long as everyone else involved is a consenting adult, and your choices are your own to make. Just stop, step back, and take a moment to think things through anytime you are in doubt.

Other people turn away from anything sexual following a scam. They don't want to date, hook up, or even flirt. Some do not even want to keep up their appearance or have same sex friends compliment them and tell them they wish they had their hair or figure or ability to attract women (or men). It is perfectly okay to back away from this part of life for a while if you need to. This is one reason we remind those who join our web site as chatters, yahoo group members, or both that the "Scams of the Heart" web sites are not there to serve as an online dating service or hook up lounge. Some people have to return gradually to that part of life, and have the right to do so at their own pace. If you feel ready to restore that part of you, it might be a good idea to take small steps. Begin watching television shows or movies with your celebrity crushes in them, take a day and fix up your appearance if you've been neglecting it, or just take a walk around the park or mall and start noticing people again.




The Red Flags Across the Different Types of Scams


By Soraya


Many people once believed that all scams came from Nigeria or a country in that region or from the former U.S.S.R. The television show "Catfish" features scams run entirely by Americans. Reality is right down the middle; most internet romance scams do originate in countries with large scammer rings, but there are plenty of Americans, and citizens of other nations, who are perfectly willing and able to scam people in their own, or a nearby country. All scams are basically the same: someone, either individually or in a group, pretends to be a different person online with the goal of tricking those they meet into believing they are in a romantic relationship with them for the scammer's own purposes. Most of the time the real goal is money, but scammers also work to trick people into doing illegal errands for them and for revenge. But while the same thing happens to the victims, the red flags may look slightly different for each type of scam.

#1: The online crush or friend says "I love you," says they feel a connection, or wants to be your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/fiancee after only knowing you for a few days, weeks, or a month or two online and over the phone.

When this happens, you can be almost a hundred per cent sure you are talking to a scammer. It looks virtually identical across all types of scams; someone you only know well enough to call a casual friend is telling you they are in love with you and want to be with you. The first time it happens to you, it feels like a miracle, or at least immensely flattering. Sadly, everyone who has ever been scammed has heard some version of it. It is nothing more than a line from the standard scammer script.


#2: Your online love mentions an upcoming or current trip to Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, or a country in the former U.S.S.R.

This is the one red flag that is completely unique to Nigerian scammers. The minute someone online mentions some type of travel to Nigeria or any other country known to have large organized scam rings, you can be sure you are being targeted for the Nigerian scam. It may seem strange that they would even admit to really being in Nigeria, but remember, Nigerian scams operate to make money, and Nigeria (or the country they talk about) is where they want you to send the money. That said, American, or other "domestic" scammers DO have a version of this. A scammer from your own country who is after money may give you his or her real name, and a few real details they know you could easily look up online under that name. Like the Nigerian scammer, this type of scammer wants to make it as easy as he or she can to get your money, and in the U.S., having you send them a personal check made out to the name on their account would be the easiest way to do that. Scammers from your own country who are just out for revenge may not display this red flag simply because they are not trying to get you to send them anything.


#3: The person drops hints that they could really use some money or is in need of an expensive item they can't afford, or asks you outright to send them money or gifts.

Nigerian scammers typically do this in the form of an elaborate story unfolding around difficulty getting home from a business trip to Nigeria, Ghana, etc. Scammers are always willing to tailor their stories to each victim, but claiming that the employer they came to Nigeria to work for is withholding their pay, or that there is some type of banking mixup is common. They will then ask you or hint they would like you to send them the money for a hotel for a few days, some food, and a ticket home to you. Another common storyline revolves around children, family, and health. In these scenarios, the scammer might hint or ask for money for medical bills, school expenses for their child, help in caring for an ill parent or grandparent, and money for food or other basic expenses for their house. The more money or gifts you send, the more tragedies befall the person, each with your money or purchase being the one thing that will save them. American money scammers may also weave elaborate tales, but they tend to be a bit more subtle in their hints. They will often complain about being broke or needing things right after talking about how much they love you, want to be with you, or can't wait to see you, or bring up the subject of their financial problems in the middle of talking about your first offline meeting. Regardless of the details of the story, at its core, the person will be telling you that they want to meet up with you and be with you offline, but some type of issue that could be solved by an expensive gift or some money is standing in the way. This is done to make the victim feel they owe it to the person and to their own future happiness to send the online love the things they need, including money. Note: This is the ONE red flag that will be absent if you are being scammed by someone in your own country for revenge. Their goal is not to get anything from you, but to cause emotional pain, so they will not ask or hint for things. They will, however, borrow a page from the Nigerian scam "playbook" and invent a series of tragedies to avoid meeting you offline.


#4: The person appears to have language difficulties. You pass it off as bad typing or social awkwardness, but you can't help noticing it.

Nigerian scammers often barely speak English. You will notice very poor grammar and grasp of the language, such as "i love yoos" or "i wish for us to be as one together" or "I want relationship but with someone like you because you are nice person." This is often interspersed with long, perfectly typed paragraphs that vary in tone. The well written words will have been copied and pasted from other web sites. Repeated lines are common. American and other domestic scammers will have no trouble speaking English, but they will rely on repeated lines and phrases. This is done to buy them time while they think of the next thing to say to reel their victims in. If the American scammer is after money or a general sense of revenge on people, they will be targeting multiple victims at once and may also need to pause with one target to focus on another.


#5: Your online partner does not appear to be living the life he or she describes.

This red flag often appears in a variety of forms, among all types of scammers. Nigerian/Ghanan scammers may make more glaring errors than American scammers. They might seem confused when you mention a famous landmark or not realize the President was on television last night the morning after a state of the union address, despite claiming to be from the United States and interested in politics. Nigerian scammers always use stolen photos, and they sometimes make errors in their selections. They might send you a photo they claim is "me and my sister on our trip to New York last year" that seems real until you notice the Canadian flag on the pole in the background.
American scammers will typically know better than to make these types of mistakes, but they will often give other clues that they are living a different life than the one they describe, such as claiming they are at work in a law office every evening, but always knowing the details of what was on television and seeming very well rested for a person who was working so late or claiming to be a psychologist but having no insight into mental health questions beyond what you could have gotten yourself by reading articles online. Scammers of all types often use fake versions of their real children, or completely invented children, as an excuse to seek money, and as a way to manipulate their targets' emotions further. You might notice that children they claim to be raising alone never or almost never interrupt the chat or phone call, or that a child who is supposedly too sick to get out of bed much is running around in the background all the time.


#6: The person reminds you a lot of yourself and/ or of someone you have mentioned in emails, chat, or on your web site profile.

Regardless of where they operate from or what their true goal is, scammers are going to try to brainwash you into believing you have found your ideal match. This one can be difficult to see, because we always look for people who are a good match for us as both partners and friends. Most of us wouldn't keep up a friendship with someone we couldn't relate to in any way. But it becomes a red flag when the match is a little too perfect, or when it appears to be based entirely on details they could easily gleen from the web site where you met and your pages they can see. You talk about having an innocent crush on a married friend who is the opposite political party from you and loves Italian food and knowing another attractive man or woman who is from Seattle and used to be in a band, and your new online friend wants to engage in friendly banter about politics, says your first date is going to be at the Olive Garden, and wants to have long discussions about 90's grunge rock. You met them on Facebook and when they describe their ideal home and it sounds exactly like the one you have on your connected Pinterest page. You talk about wishing you had a large amount of money because you love travel and designer clothing, and they have a sister who works at Barney's and know how to get the best deals on luxury hotels. This will play out in a similar manner across the different types of scams. Any time you find yourself amazed at a similarity or charmed by a detail, step back and ask yourself "Is this something they could have learned I like from our chats, our emails, my profile, my Facebook or Pinterest page, or my dialogue in the main room of a chatroom?" If your answer is "yes" or "probably" then it is a red flag.


#7: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend seems to want to isolate you and/or keep you occupied.

Isolating a partner and keeping the person entirely focused on doing what the other person wants is a form of emotional abuse. Even if none of the other red flags are present, if you have begun dating someone, online or off, who demands that you spend all your time doing their chores or errands, tells you who you can and cannot be friends with or talk to (or throws a fit/pretends to be distraught in order to control your behavior), and monitors and spies on you, you have met an abuser and need to get away from this person as quickly as possible. If you see other red flags along with this one, then you are dealing with a scammer who is trying to isolate you and keep you occupied as a way to prevent the scam from being discovered and test your compliance to future demands. This is another red flag that will look pretty much the same across the different types of scams. The scammer does this to keep your mind focused on them and occupied so that you do not discuss the red flags with others or have time to sit and think about the situation and notice the red flags for yourself. Whether the scammer is from a Nigerian or other foreign scam ring, an American or resident of your country who decided to copycat the Nigerian scam, or an American scammer out for revenge, they do not want to be discovered as a scammer. They do want to make sure you will believe what they say and do as they wish. Scammers may persuade you to research jobs in their real or invented hometown, get you involved in reading or researching something for the two of you to discuss, lead you to plan a wedding, choose and design a home for the "two of you" to live in, or look into educational programs online so you can have a new career.





Tuesday, February 18, 2014

When You Find Yourself Missing The One You Thought You Loved



by Soraya

Missing the person you thought you were talking to is one of the most upsetting features of the aftermath of a scam, but there are ways to cope with these feelings.

Never Start Talking to the People Behind the Account or Screen Name Again

Many scam victims feel the urge to look the scammer's account up again after they have blocked and deleted them. Some victims reason that the scammer might be sorry for what they did, and willing to be friends. Others fear they might have hurt the scammer's feelings and want to exchange apologies in the hope that the two of them will politely drift apart. A few people think they might be able to reform the scammers if they offer friendship or try to help them get what they need without scamming. None of these things have ever happened. Scammers are fully aware of what they are doing and the impact it has on their victims; if it made them feel bad, they wouldn't be doing it. Nigerian and other scammers that operate in large, organized rings see what they are doing as a business. Americans who copycat them are working this as a side job to catch up on expenses or have a little extra money for themselves. Revenge scammers get a thrill out of hurting people. None of these are going to sit around contemplating what they've done to you and wish the two of you could be friends. Nobody hurts the scammer's feelings by cutting them off because scammers do not have genuine feelings for their victims. Money scammers are only sorry to see a source or potential source dry up. Revenge scammers are sad that what they see as their game or project is over. They don't miss the people they hurt. Don't be fooled into thinking the scammer might fall in love with you or grow to love you as a friend and mend their ways. This makes a charming ending for several episodes of "Catfish," but the scammers on the show are fully aware that their answers and claims are going to be on the show. It doesn't mean they are telling the truth about how they now think and behave. "Your love (or friendship) reformed me" is a common line scammers throw out as a method of luring their victims back in for another scam. Anytime you are temtped to give the scammers "a chance" to reform and be your friend, remember that scammers count on this very urge to lure their victims back in to the scam.

Think of the Person You Thought You Knew As You Would a Character from a Novel, Television Show, or Movie

The person you thought you loved was not real, and is never going to be real. They were a character created and portrayed by the scammer or scammers. It doesn't matter if you were scammed by an American who used their real name and a few real details about their lives. American scammers often work alone or in pairs or very small groups. Using a real name saves them the trouble of having to remember fake names and/or explain why they can't take a check made out to a certain name. Once you examine the additional real details, you will realize that those details had to be used because the scam would be discovered if they were faked. The person's life stories that cannot be traced, their personality, their values, and their reason for being in the online environment are still completely invented. The same holds true if the scammer didn't lie about being in Nigeria or Ghana. The only reason they told you they were in one of those countries is because that's where they want the money or illegal shipments sent. Absolutely everything else they told you was made up. Once you begin to see the person you were talking to as the fictional character they were, it will be a bit easier to emotionally untangle yourself from them. You may still have periods of wishing they were real, but you will eventually be able to stop believing they were real, and missing them.

This is not as easy as writing about it is making it sound. You may have to literally stop and remind yourself that the person is not real out loud for a while. Find a private moment whereever you are, and do this for yourself. Go into the bathroom if you have to, lock the door, turn the water on, and say "The person I knew as John A is not real. He was a character played by members of a group of young men in Nigeria" or "The John A I knew was not real. He was playing a fictional character he based on himself to make scamming women online easier for him and whatever friends he had involved." You will feel weird at first, but keep doing it. Eventually the thought will pop into your head any time you begin to miss the person you thought you knew and loved.

Have a Few Little Distractions Ready

Memories and ideas sometimes come flooding back unbidden. You have resisted the urge to talk to the scammer account again, reminding yourself that nobody using it wants anything to do with you as a person. The reminder about the person being a fictional character has been recited several times. Yet you remain stuck on the image of that little bed and breakfast the two of you talked about visiting for your first weekend away and that academic program the scammer was urging you to spend your time researching doesn't look so bad. Maybe they had a point and you should enroll in classes there.

Interrupt this process with one of your distractions. Make a list of little things you can do that are as unrelated to the scam as possible in each situation you might find yourself in. If you never discussed cleaning the employee bathroom, catching up on your filing, or responding to press inquiries at work with the scammer, those tasks might be on your list under "At Work." If you are at home, your list might include watching an episode of a television show you enjoyed before or after the scam, reading a brand new magazine, or picking up a new type of coffee or juice drink at the grocery store and enjoying a cup at the kitchen table or on the porch. Games, Pinterest boards, and web searches can also serve as quick distractions. Just make sure you don't select or zone in on something you associate with the scammer. This may feel like being lazy or doing "busywork," but it serves the purpose of making your mind focus on something that isn't likely to immediately circle back to the scammer and how much you wish you could talk to the character they played. As time passes, you will find yourself needing these little distractions less and less.

Avoid Putting Too Much Trust in New People Online or Offline

Sometimes the distraction we choose is a new bar, new bookstore, or new dating site or chatroom. Our members are adults and are allowed to spend their time wherever they choose. Wherever you go, do everything you can to keep yourself safe there. Keep the warning signs of a scammer in mind as you chat with new people online, and give yourself time to get to know new people online and offline before placing all your trust in them. There is always time to have the deep conversations you used to feel like you were having with the scammer.

Chat with Us

The Scams of the Heart chat room is a great place to come and talk to people who understand what you are going through. The topic immediately switches to "scams and scammers" when someone needs to talk about something related to their scam, but if everyone in the room wants to talk about other things, hanging out is more than welcome. Sometimes the reason the scammer's fictional persona is so deeply missed is because they are the only "person" the victim has been talking to for months or even a year or more. In these situations, simply having someone else to talk to can help ease the feelings of missing the person you thought you loved.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Ten Frequently Asked Questions About Romance Scams

by Soraya  (formerly credited as Soraya Grant)


1. What is a romance scam?

A romance scam is a situation in which any person or group of people creates a character and plays that character online with the goal of tricking others into falling in love with that person who does not truly exist.

2. Why do people run romance scams?

Most romance scams are run to manipulate the victims into giving the scammer money. Romance scams are also run to manipulate the victims into performing illegal acts for the scammer, for personal revenge, or for a general sense of revenge on the world or a type of person.

3. Who runs romance scams?

The majority of romance scams are run by organized criminal rings in Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, or the former Soviet Union, but scammers can and do operate in all countries, including the United States. The MTV show "Catfish" offers several examples of American romance scams.

4. How can I stop romance scams?

The only way to stop romance scammers is to cut off their supply of victims. Know the red flags and share the information with anyone you know who communicates with people online.

5. I checked to make sure the emails and phone calls I am getting weren't from Nigeria or any other country with a high concentration of romance scammers. Doesn't that mean I'm safe?

It's a good first step, but not a guarantee that the person you are talking to is not a scammer. Many scam rings in those areas have learned how to mask ip address and cell phone numbers. It is also possible that the scammer was from the place they claimed to be from. Scammers exist in all countries, including the United States.


6. I do all my research. I check names, workplaces, and towns where they person says they live and make sure somebody by that name exists where they say they do. Doesn't that mean I'm safe?

Again, not necessarily. At least one member of SOTH was scammed by an American man who gave her his real name, hometown, workplace, employment history, and a true story about a deceased second wife. The victim later realized that he used his real name to make it easier to ask for and cash checks sent by his victims, and added the additional real details because he would be busted immediately if he lied about those. Everything else he told his victims turned out to be false.


7. How can I tell if someone is a scammer?

The main red flags of a scammer are described in detail in several articles on this web site, but the two biggest ones are asking or dropping hints for money, gifts, or favors involving shipping or banking, and claiming to fall in love with or feel a connection with you in the first days, weeks, or months of meeting you online.


8. How can I get money I sent to a scammer back?

You can't. In the years that we have been dealing with romance scams, we have only seen one or two instances where the scammer was even caught and prosecuted, and as of the time of this writing, nobody has gotten their money refunded.

9. Are they going to use the pictures, chat dialogue, or other information I gave them to get revenge on me or to scam others?

We can't promise anything, but scammers almost never make good on threats to post revealing photos or dialogue to porn sites, send them to employers, etc. This would draw unwanted attention to the scammer and cut into the time they want to devote to gathering and working on new victims. Scammers are in it for their own goals. Scammers do collect photos and other materials to use in future scams, and some of that does come from past victims. However, with all the sources for pictures, dialogue, and other details available around the internet, the odds are very slim that your materials are the ones that are going to be selected.


10. Don't you have to be pretty naïve to fall for a romance scam?

Scammers will certainly use a naïve person's eagerness to trust others against them, but they are also ready and willing to exploit cynicism, paranoia, and any other negative or positive trait they can manipulate to get their way.




 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

In the Moments After the Discovery of a Scam

by Soraya Grant

You just learned you have been scammed. It happens in a variety of ways. Sometimes the victim realizes that there is something wrong with the stories their online love has been telling, does some research, and reads stories that are too close to theirs for anything else to be going on. Other times someone at the bank or Post Office recognizes the telltale signs of a reshipping or money scam and points them out. Other victims meet fellow members of the online community where they met the person, learn that others also believe themselves to be dating the person, and trade stories only to find that "their boyfriend/girlfriend" has been pretending to be different versions of the same person, or different people entirely, and getting money, favors, or gifts from several people. No matter what type of scam it was, or how you found out, it probably feels like your world is crashing down around you right now. There are several things you will want to do at this time. Some of them will help you heal. Others will only lead to more difficulties.



Things to Do:


Spend some time learning more about online romance scams.


The web site you are reading right now features over seventy articles and other posts about romance scams. Take an afternoon or evening and read as many of them as you need to. If you would like to talk to someone, Scams of the Heart also has a chat room and a yahoo group available. An Amazon search for "romance scams" will also generate a list of books you might want to purchase or find at your local library. MTV's show Catfish also illustrates many warning signs of scams and can provide comfort to those going through a scam.



Take some time for yourself as much as possible


In the best case scenario, you will be able to call in sick to work for a few days, or arrange with your professors to miss classes for a few days, arrange for children to spend a few days with an aunt, uncle, or grandparents, and give yourself time to heal from a very real trauma. At the same time, we understand that everybody does not have a job with paid leave available, professors that will allow them to miss class without penalty, or friends and family who can care for children. You may need to struggle through your daily life, and steal some time when you can, but please do so, even if it's only the two hours while a young child is in preschool, the time between your last class and dinner in the cafeteria, or the drive or ride home from work, let cleaning, extra work, and any errands that aren't absolutely necessary slide for a bit and take some time to process what happened to you.



Delete, block, and otherwise get rid of everything related to the scammer


Delete all their emails and empty your trash can. Erase any photos they sent you. Block them from contacting you on every web site you used to communicate with them, including your email and messenger accounts. Throw any flowers or uneaten food gifts away. If the scammer sent you any jewelry, scarves, teddy bears, or other small objects, donate them to the thrift store or a local non profit. Erase any web pages you were saving related to the relationship you now know to be a scam. If you bought anything for yourself or your home, because of the scammer make plans to replace it as soon as possible.




Things to AVOID:


Never give in to any urges to physically harm yourself or others


The only people who are at fault during a scam are the people who planned and ran the scam. You, your friends, your family members, your pets, and your coworkers did not do anything wrong and none of you deserve any type of harm to come to you. If you feel the urge to hurt yourself or anyone else, go to the nearest hospital, call a suicide or crisis line, or visit the crisis chat web site as soon as possible.



Never confront the scammer


Most of us who have been scammed wanted nothing more than to sit down and write the scammer a long letter detailing exactly how we figured out they were a scammer and what we think of them and their scams. If you must do this, write it out in your journal and keep it for yourself. Do NOT send it to the scammer.


The person you were talking to is very different from the person you believed you were talking to. No matter how sweet the character they portrayed seemed, the real person or people on the other side of that internet connection are not going to be sorry. One of two things will happen; the scammer will either pretend to be sorry, promise to reform, and lure you into a second phase of the scam, or they will lash out at you. Either way, the scammer or scammers will use your letter as a tutorial to help them run more successful scams in the future. This is one aspect of coping with a scam where SOTH does not support the actions of the hosts of Catfish. That show does a wonderful service, but it is still a reality show, and all reality shows fudge the truth of the situation a bit to make for more entertaining television. Never confront a scammer...online or offline.

 

Don't pour your heart out to random people online


Scams of the Heart members would be more than happy to sit and listen to the story of your scam. If nobody is in the chat room, join our yahoo group, and post a message to arrange to meet someone in the room as soon as they can get there for you. If you have any difficulties navigating the chat room or yahoo groups page, or think nobody has seen your post, the email addresses of the moderators are available on our site. Someone who understands what you have been through will be there for you. Joining a random chat room or forum may make the situation more stressful. Many people do not understand what an online romance scam is, and may brush your situation off out of sheer lack of knowledge. Others have joined an unmoderated chat room looking for an online hookup or fight, and are going to push for that with anyone they talk to rather than listening to what the person wants to discuss.


Now is not the time to make any major life decisions or changes


The moments, hours, and first few days following the discovery of a scam are going to be confusing, painful, and scary. You are not in your best frame of mind right now. Do not drop out of school, quit your job, or spend large sums of money right now.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Five Common Misconceptions About Talking to Scammers

by Soraya Grant
 

Misconception 1: "I was able to verify that my online friend has nothing to do with Nigeria or any other country with a lot of organized scam rings. I went on the web site of the place they told me they worked, found a contact number, and called and talked to them there unexpectedly. That means this person is not a scammer."


Reality: Scams of the Heart has at least one member who was scammed after doing this very thing. It turned out to be an American, and possibly some friends of his, running a copycat of the Nigerian scam. Checking email headers and cutting off all contact if the messages are found to be coming from Nigeria, Ghana, or another country with a lot of organized scam rings is an important first step, as most scams are run by these rings. But remember that "most" does not mean the same thing as "all."



Misconception 2: "My online friend hasn't said anything about money, shipping, gifts, or banking. They didn't even hint around about it, so this is definitely not a scam."


Reality: While the vast majority of online romance scams are designed for financial gain and/or to trick someone else into taking the fall for illegal activity, there are scammers who run scams simply to hurt people. The MTV television show Catfish features many scammers who designed and implemented an online romance scam in order to get a general sense of revenge on the world, or to punish an individual they knew for doing something the scammer didn't like. A scam occurs any time a person or group of people goes online as a fake person, including a fake version of themselves, and then uses that created persona to manipulate anyone else into a false relationship with them.



Misconception 3: "People are making a big deal out of nothing. Everybody meets jerks online. If I meet a scammer I'll just quit talking to them."


Reality: Being scammed goes far beyond "meeting a jerk." We aren't talking about people who do things like set up online health support pages on Facebook just to form a little clique and get mean with people they don't find interesting, or pretend they want to make a friend and then start talking about explicit things out of the blue, or who start out nice and then start picking random fights. We are talking about people who use carefully planned brainwashing methods to manipulate others for their own personal gain. That goes a bit beyond your ordinary online "jerk" or "troll." It is possible to just quit talking to someone who you realize is a scammer right away, or very early in what you believe to be the relationship, but once you have been lead to believe that this is a person who loves you and who you love in return, it is not going to be so easy to just let it go. Scammers do a great deal of emotional and psychological damage.



Misconception 4: "I am seeing a lot of red flags for an online romance scam, but the situation could be real this time."


Reality: If you are seeing a lot of signs of a scam, then it's a scam. Pretend you hired me to housesit this Saturday afternoon through Sunday afternoon. I promised you that I would keep the house empty and calm, and spend the time reading and watching TV, only talking to friends via my cell phone and personal laptop. When I arrive to set myself up in your guest room, you notice that in addition to a change of clothes and my hygiene items, I have also brought a cocktail dress, heels, and makeup. When you look in the grocery bags I brought "so I wouldn't eat up all your food" you find an assortment of drinks, several bags of chips, and a flyer with a special price on large orders from the local pizza place. Would you assume that I am the one housesitter who eats several times more than the average person during a weekend and likes to get dressed up to sit and watch movies alone? Or would you see all the signs of someone about to have a party in your house, and tell me you won't be needing me after all before I trash your place? Apply this same logic to your online contact's behavior. Scammers count on their targets refusing to accept the red flags that indicate a scam.



Misconception 5: "I'm not worried. If anyone scams me, I will go after them. They do it on Catfish all the time"
Reality: Catfish does a great service. It brings romance scams to the public's attention. Most of what the show teaches is a good way to handle online relationships; look for red flags, ask a lot of questions, research the person and any places they claim a connection to, refuse to make any promises before you know the person well. However, there are two features of the show Catfish that make great reality tv, but do not reflect the true reality of most scams.


The first is that they treat the scammer as though they are just socially awkward or struggling with mental health issues and need some help to function in the world. When you see a scammer respond positively to this type of treatment on the show, remember that this person knows they are on camera in front of millions of people during the confrontation and the followup. Anyone would say they have health problems, quit scamming people, took down their fake profile, and are working on getting help and improving their lives in that situation. Nobody watching that show knows what this individual is doing when they're not on a video chat with Nev and Max. They could have taken down the fake profile they got caught with and made fifteen more.


The second feature of Catfish that is not reflective of the reality of scammers is the confrontation. It is never safe to go to anyone's house when meeting them offline for the first time, and it is mever safe to confront someone you have realized is a scammer. The show may make it look like Max, Nev, and the client just show up while you watch, but the show is researched, filmed, and edited ahead of time by a very large crew. They are not truly walking into an unknown situation alone or in a small group as you or you and your friends or family members would be doing. If you are not seeing the warning signs of a scammer, arrange the first several meetings in a public place, and stay in public with the person. If you are seeing the warning signs of a scammer, do not confront them online or offline. Cut off all contact immediately.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Understanding Scams: Three Ways a Victim May Lose Money

By Soraya Grant

A person does not have to lose any money for the situation to be defined as a scam. An internet romance scam occurs any time anyone first pretends to be a different person, or a different version of him or herself online, and then uses that created persona to enter into a fake romantic relationship or even close friendship, with someone else online. Sometimes internet romance scams are run for a general sense of revenge on the world or certain segments of the population. Other times they are run to get revenge on a known individual. Tricking a victim into doing illegal errands involving reshipping or banking are very common as well. However, the vast majority of scammers operate with the goal of getting their victims to send them money and/or buy things for them, and the upheaval caused by the scam can cause a victim to make uncharacteristically poor work and money decisions or to spend their money in ways they ordinarily would not. There are three ways a victim of an internet romance scam may lose money.

Direct Loss of Financial Resources

Flat out losing your money and ruining your credit is the first type of monetary loss that most people think of, and for good reason. It is typically the most devastating form of financial loss. This type of loss occurs when the scammer, posing as the created persona, either asks the victim directly for money, or tells increasingly touching tales of problems with work, health, family, friends, or travel until the victim offers to send it to them. In some cases, the scammer also asks for or hints for expensive items such as iphones, laptops, or plane tickets.

The amount of money lost in this manner varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars, but regardless of the amount of money lost, the scammer still had no right to that money or the items that money bought, and if the victim had known who they were really talking to, they would never have given it to them. It is also important to remember that each victim will feel the impact of their financial loss differently depending on their individual life circumstances. A man who sent his scammer $5,000 and a woman who sent her scammer $500,000 are both going to be completely financially devastated if those amounts were all the money each had. Direct financial loss can also be the most embarrassing for a victim, as they often brerate themselves for sending money or purchasing expensive gifts for a person who doesn't even truly exist.

Friends and family members of a romance scam victim who suffered direct monetary losses will understandably be shocked, but it is important not to dwell on the amount of money lost or to add to the person's shame and embarrassment for sending it or buying things and sending those to the scammer. It will be far more helpful to simply listen to the victim, and when they are ready to reorganize their finances, help them find accountants or financial consultants, craft a new budget, or make other changes in their financial habits as needed for their unique situation.

Job, Business, or Academic Loss Due to Involvement with the Scammer

Scammers know that messing with a person's daily routine is the quickest route to altering their thinking. Pushing for late night and early morning conversations, making requests to 'take naps together' in what is the middle of the day for the victim, and arranging for phone calls or IM chats during what would normally be dinner time are common tactics. These changes make the victim hungry and tired at odd times, and can cause them to have trouble focusing during their working hours. The added stress of believing that a loved one is going through the horrible stories the scammer tells can also impair their ability to function well at work. This can result in the loss of a job or business clients for the scam victim. Students may neglect homework assignments, forget to study for tests, or finish projects hurriedly because they have begun spending their study time devoted to the scammer.

Finding out that a friend has been demoted or fired, seen a large number of clients go elsewhere, or has dropped out of school because of a scammer will be a shock. Your urge will probably be to yell out "how could you brush off your real job/degree for some person that didn't even exist?" or "well what are you going to do for money/your academic credits now?" Channel this urge into something productive. Ask the person what you can do to help, and then do what they need you to do. Two hours spent helping the person update their resume, talk to their professors, sign up for an employment service, or go job hunting is going to be much more productive than five hours of glaring at them and lecturing them on how foolish they were.

Money Spent to Please the Scammer

Many of the little projects scammers push their victims into cost money. The victim may have begun taking lessons or classes, purchased new household items or clothing, or gone in for pricey cosmetic treatments at the urging of the scammer. Victims may also purchase items or participate in activities that make them feel closer to the person they believe they have fallen in love with online.

Never trivialize this type of money loss, or argue with the person that what they got out of it was really very useful or nice. It may seem senseless to get rid of a perfectly good set of cookbooks, DVDs, or golf clubs, or odd that a person would want to give away clothes that have garnered them compliments at work, but keeping these things around will only keep them tied to the scam emotionally. Help your friend gather up everything they bought to please the scammer and donate it to the nearest thrift store. Don't argue with them if they need to cancel gym memberships, drop out of activities, or quit getting beauty treatments or other services they seemed to enjoy. It is a necessary part of their psychological healing.








Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unique Experiences In the Healing Process for Romance Scams

by Soraya Grant


Healing from a scam can be a different experience than healing from other forms of emotional trauma. While they share many similarities, there are a few experiences that seem to be fairly unique to those who are recovering from an online romance scam.


Attachment to Photos, Web Pages, and Other Places or Objects

Scammers craft elaborate backstories for the characters they play during the course of their scams. They may steal photos or claim to look like famous people, send addresses or titles of web pages for fake, or occasionally real, workplaces, and talk extensively about a place they live or are pretending to live. Many scammers send small gifts to their victims in order to make the character seem real, and as a way to verify the victim's address. As they weave you deeper into their web, the scammer will keep you in place with elaborate plans for vacations, future homes, weddings, or other life events that may lead you to do a great deal of research and planning. Once the scam is uncovered, of course you know that the person you were really talking to does not live in San Diego, or look like an attractive celebrity or model. You also know that there never were any plans for a romantic vacation, wedding, or new career and home for you.

Despite knowing that the relationship, the plans, and the majority of the stories the scammer told you were not real, you may find yourself clinging to the gifts, photos, web sites, or other tangible items or places you associate with the scam. If you were lead to believe you and your beloved had a song, you may not be able to stop listening to it. One victim of an American scammer kept visiting the web site of the scammer's hometown, even though she knew she never had a boyfriend who lived there and would never visit, never mind move to, this town.

This behavior is not healthy, but it is normal. Do everything you can to get rid of all of the things you are clinging to. Remove any gifts from your home immediately. Delete all photos, emails, and internet bookmarks. You may need to leave the web site where you met the scammer, at least for a period of time. Your longing for these locations and things will lessen as your healing progresses.




Moments or Periods of Confusion Over Whether the Scammer is Real

This can range in intensity from spending days worrying that you made a horrible mistake in thinking the person was a scammer and lost the love of your life, to occasionally catching yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The best way to move through this is to set mental reminders for yourself any time the thoughts pop up. When you begin to doubt that it was a scam, you might want to say, "This person pretended to love me in order to get my money (or assistance in illegal reshipping or banking or to hurt me for revenge). Even if everything else they told me was real, that alone makes it a scam." Or sit down and privately list all of the red flags that made you realize it was a scam and tell yourself, "this person displayed all of these red flags. Any situation with this many signs of a scam is definitely a scam." If you find yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex, or even as a friend, take a moment and gently correct yourself. The thought "my ex girlfriend Carrie used to love red velvet cake too" would become "the scammer found out I loved red velvet cake and used that detail to make the situation seem real." Note the use of the word "gently." The goal here is to guide your mind back to reality, not beat yourself up.




Confusion Over What Is You and What is the Result of the Scam
 

Scammers tend to craft a character that is perfect or nearly perfect for each victim, so it is unlikely that you would have changed your religious beliefs, political opinions or affiliations (or lack thereof), general field of work, or lifestyle for the scammer. At the same time, scammers do give their victims little challenges and projects that serve as both tests to see how compliant the victim is, and as tactics to keep the victim enmeshed in the story the scammer has woven. They may convince you to look for a new house for the two of you to live in and encourage you to plan to decorate it any way you want it, train or go back to school for a slightly different job in your field so that you can have a fresh start or a higher salary when the two of you are finally together, plan a dream wedding, research vacations, or learn a new hobby so that the two of you can participate in activities together. Scammers may also encourage you to make changes in your style of dress, eating habits, entertainment choices, appearance, or schedule. Once you realize the situation was a scam, you also realize there was never a woman who wanted you to learn more about opera so the two of you could go together and encouraged you to get that promotion at work instead of going back to school to qualify to teach like you planned....or a man who thought you would look gorgeous with red highlights and kept encouraging you to take up morning yoga and enroll in online business classes. But now you're not sure which of those things really are enjoyable to you or something you might want to do, and which of those things you just convinced yourself you wanted under the mind control of the scammer.

Fight this confusion by starting with the most trivial detail the scammer altered and adding more elements to the process after you have examined and resolved each one. Suppose you have slowly begun to realize that the scammer talked you into coloring your hair and buying a new aftershave (or makeup set) as a test of compliance, convinced you to redecorate your living room to further test your willingness to do what they wished, and pushed you to enroll in an online degree program in order to keep you wrapped up in their story and too busy to question them. Decide whether or not you like the cosmetic items first, then examine the changes you made to your home, and then re-examine your career goals. Tackling a tiny challenge successfully will give you a little glimmer of hope that you can take charge of your life again. Use that energy to work your way up to the bigger ones.








Monday, December 30, 2013

Reaching Out When You Believe a Friend is Being Scammed

by Soraya Grant


Noticing a pattern of warning signs that indicate a friend may be in a scammer's grip is scary. This isn't some everyday problem. You can't just walk up to the person and say, "hey it looks like you have a scammer" the way you'd tell them their keys were about to fall out of their pocket. But there are a few things you can do to guide them to discovering the truth and seeking help.



#1: Speak to them using ordinary words and tone.
We are not here to offer you preset phrases and settings for bringing up the subject with your friend. Just make sure it's a normal conversation. Scolding another adult as though he or she were a child is not appropriate, and talking in "psychobabble" is off putting. No matter what you decide to say, talk to the person as you would talk to them about any other serious subject.



#2: If you truly cannot bring yourself to talk about their situation, try talking about romance scams in more general terms.

Sometimes we know a friend or family member needs to face something, but we can also tell they just aren't going to do so until they come to the decision on their own. Mention our site by telling them it was something you came across doing research for someone they don't know, or that it's a site you just happened to stumble upon while looking into online dating, internet safety, relationship articles, or a general blog tour and beging a general discussion about online romance scams. Encourage your friend to read our blog and squidoo page.



#3: Educate yourself on internet romance scams
Before helping someone else with a problem, it helps to know what you are dealing with. Read over some of our articles on here and on our squidoo page to learn the major warning signs, types of scams, and some of the issues scam victims deal with.



#4: Expect your friend to react negatively at first
Scammers brainwash their victims. Unless it is very early in what they believe to be a relationship (but is actually a scam) your friend is not going to be entirely himself. Even if this person has always been open and honest with you, or is the type to listen anytime someone presents a good argument, they may lie to you, lash out at you, brush you off and pretend nothing serious is going on, or become even more secretive and withdrawn. Keep being there for them and checking in on them. The person is not acting this way because they truly wish you'd disappear. The scammer has them convinced that friends and family will be jealous or won't be able to understand the deep bond the two of them share.



#5: Do everything you can to stop your friend from sending money, buying and sending gifts, doing banking errands for the scammer, or agreeing to accept and ship anything for them.

We still cannot promise the person won't do it, but if your friend is to the point where she is doing anything related to purchasing and finances or reshipping packages for someone online, it is a definite scam. Your friend will lose any money or items she sends to this person, and if she accepts and reships packages that turn out to be illegal, or deposits funds into bank accounts linked to illegal activity, she may face arrest and problems with the law herself.



#6: Forgive your friend for any scam related bad treatment
This may be difficult. Scammers use mind control techniques to make their victims believe some pretty outlandish things, and the victims will of course behave as though these things are true. It may be hard to not just yell back and storm off at someone who just responded to your concern by accusing you of being against their happiness. It may also be hard to keep inviting someone out who keeps turning you down, or texing or calling someone who never writes back or picks up. But remember that your friend or family member is in the grips of people who practice mind control techniques on a daily basis. This doesn't mean your friend gets to be cruel to you, and you're supposed to just smile and take it. There is nothing wrong with backing away for a bit, or telling them you will not take that kind of treatment from them. But once things calm down, don't hold their past behavior against them. Make the first move toward patching things up.



#7: Never attempt to confront or stop the scammer. We repeat....NEVER attempt to stop or confront the scammer.
The television show "Catfish" does an absolutely wonderful service to the world by bringing attention to online dating scams and making them easier for people to talk about, and much of what they teach on the show is a good idea to follow. You absolutely should look for red flags, run photos through reverse search engines, and find out as much about the online "love" as possible. But there are two points where "Catfish" gets it wrong. One is acting as though most scammers had real feelings for their victims and just didn't realize how much harm they were causing. The other is making it seem as though it is safe to confront the scammer. Those details make a great television show with a happy or at least bittersweet. ending, but they do not reflect the circumstances of ordinary people. The hosts of "Catfish" are surrounded by a camera crew sent by an internationally famous television network. You and your friends are not. The scammers also know they are being filmed both during the confrontation and during the followup. Neither you nor your friend has any idea who the person behind the scam really is. If it is a Nigerian scam, it could be any number of members of any organized criminal gang. If it is a domestic scam, the real person playing the online part of your friend's love could be someone willing to commit any number of violent crimes. Your friend's scammer could harm you or your friend before either of you had time to film them and upload it to a site where anyone could see it and step in.