Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A 4th step inventory

One of my co-volunteers on this site wrote about the stages of grieving last week.  She did a wonderful job of illustrating some of the signposts along the way from discovering you've been scammed to coming out the other side, healthier and smarter.  I want to talk about one way of healing today, the twelve step way.  I wrote about my experience with steps 1-3 about two weeks ago.  I've been thinking about how Step 4 applies to romance scams since then.  

"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."  My first take on this was "Really?  I didn't do anything wrong -- I merely got caught up in a scam because I have a big heart and believed the wrong person. . . why do I have to do all  this work?"  Well, you don't -- unless you want to try a proven method to "get over" the hate and anger you're likely to feel at some point after the scam.  

Inventory is really a lot easier than it sounds.  All it takes is a pen, paper, and willingness to look at your part in this whole ordeal.  In AA, we make a list of the harms, resentments, fear and sex conduct and how this affected our relationships with others and ourselves.  I believe strongly that the same approach will benefit scam victims, and help them move from victim to survivor.  So give this concept some thought, and if you decide that you'd rather be happy than right, then send me an email --, and I'll help you get started on your very own inventory.  /mw

Call Me A Pollyanna!

Call me a Pollyanna if you will, but I always try and look at the bright side of life, the positive side, I have never been one to give up, no matter how big the odds, or whatever the circumstances. I am beginning to believe that is what pulled me through the despair and heartache and back into the light. I looked at the positives in my life , I have a roof over my head, clothes on my back, and food in my mouth. I am relatively healthy and have a good mental outlook. I will not let this crime that was perpetrated on me  take control of my life and cripple me. I will survive and I will succeed at whatever I set my mind to. I will find love, joy, happiness, and peace again in my life. It feels good to say that and assert myself! Try it and you will see that it works! It feels good to be a Pollyanna!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

How Romance Scams Work--How Mind Control Works

I've been researching today to try to find a way to respond to the friends and family of the lady who is now in Ghana with the scammers.  It is very hard for those who have not experienced being caught up in a romance scam to understand that the scammers exert a kind of mind control or psychological manipulation over the victims to get them to do what they ordinarily would never do.  Victims caught in this web of deceit will find themselves doing anything from simply giving out personal information like phone numbers and addresses, to sending small or large sums of money, and on into illegal activities such as cashing fake checks or reshipping packages.  Some even end up so enchanted (if that is the word for it) that they will get on a plane and fly to Nigeria or Ghana to be with this person.  At this point often the scammer has confessed to being a scammer, but has truly fallen in love with the victim and has been changed into a good person.  Then it normally becomes a green card scam so that the couple will marry and the scammer now can move out of their country into a much wealthier country, IF they can get the visa approved.

But how does this all work?  How in the world do these scammers get control of us in the first place?  Each of us knows we are much smarter than that...right?  You'd have to be stupid or desperate to fall for some scam like that....right? WRONG!!!  Romance scam victims come from all walks of life, all educational groups, and all financial groups.  Doctors, lawyers, nurses, teachers, moms, dads, rich, poor alike have been lured by love into the darkness of this mind control.  

I don't claim to know how mind control works.  But we are all effected by it every day of our lives through the media, commercials, tv shows, movies, etc.  Romance scams start out very simply with the first contact and moving into a quick intimacy which leads the victim into believing they have found the true love of their lives.  When friends and relatives begin to see the truth and try to warn the victim, the scammer convinces the victim to pull away and lie and do other things the victim would not normally do.  But the victim, by that time, is hooked enough to be more afraid of losing their new love than of losing friends and family.  When the scammer sees this happening, they move on to the next phase of the mind control.  If we can't convince our loved one they are being scammed, or something in their mind doesn't catch on at some point, the risk grows greater that they will end up in Nigeria or Ghana trying to get a fiance visa or spousal visa for the scammer.

For those of you who may be interested, I have included some of the links I found today.  Maybe they will be helpful, maybe they won't.  cp 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Emmanuel Ekhator -- Nigerian Scammer

I received an "Offline Message" from a friend today about Emmanuel Ekhator.  He is a Nigerian con artist who was actually arrested and extradited to the US, according to the Washington Post, a pretty reputable news source. 

At first glance, this is really good news!  But reading further, i learned that "Prosecutors say the scam ring extorted more than $31 million dollars from more than 80 lawyers and law firms." Oh, so that's what it takes to get an alleged creep extradited: $31 million and a boat full of lawyers.  This leaves me feeling pretty ambivalent.

It's a good precedent, no doubt.  I hope it helps in the arrest and extradition of men who scam money for love.  I really do.  But does it help ordinary folks who have their life savings and self-esteem stolen by one of these creeps?  You tell me -- chime in here and give us your interpretation.  The original article is here:


Chat Room Upgrade

The chat room software upgraded last night and we have a whole new looking chat room!  Mair and Share have been enjoying adding some new sounds as well as some other nice effects including adding our butterfly logo to the actual chat room.  It's looking a whole lot more modern and user friendly now.  Also, for everyone who lost the ability to copy and paste due to the java updates, copy and paste is now working again with this new upgrade.  We are growing to as our numbers are continuing to climb slowly back to where they were in the old chat room.  We hope everyone returns to the family soon.  We miss everyone who is still not back.  cp

Friday, August 12, 2011

Life Does Go On

We are all saddened that we seem to have failed to save someone from the clutches of this scammer. However, we did everything we could to help this woman realize that she was being sucked in. Sometimes people are so lonely and so in need of love and affection, that they lose themselves. I am saying prayers for this soul and hoping that she does get home safely. 
We need to redouble our efforts to see that this does not happen to another woman. This is the best thing we can do for this unfortunate soul, We can continue to educate and help those that have been victims to heal, recover, and move on with their lives. It is so true that we can't save them all, You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped. It is a frustrating feeling when you just cannot make someone see that they are being taken advantage of. However, for us, here, life does go on. We must continue on and try our best to help those that really need our support, compassion and caring. That is the best tribute we can give to those that we have lost.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

"You Can't Save Them All"

Monday my daughter and I had Chinese food for supper.  My fortune cookie said, "If you don't fail now and again, it's a sign you're playing it safe."  I don't really know if that applies to what happened yesterday or not, but yesterday I felt like a failure.  I am not in this to play it safe, either.  I am in this because I want to try to help people recover from the devastation of a romance scam, especially because so many people don't even understand what is going on, let alone understand how to reach out to a friend or loved one who has been hurt this way.
When I opened the email yesterday I somehow knew it was going to be bad news.  I didn't want to read it.  Back in June of this year, I had decided to take a few days off from the chat room and take some time for myself that I needed.  That never happened because I got an email that day too.  A woman (I will call her Madeline) had found me on the Romance Scams email group site and contacted me to see if I could help a friend of hers.  Madeline had given up and was seeing me (me???) as one last chance to reach out to this friend of hers and get her out of her relationship with a scammer.  I was not and never had been a moderator of that site.  I don't know why she chose me.  Shortly after Madeline's email I received an email from the friend telling me that she needed my help to know if this man was a scammer or not.  She had included in her email various pages from the email group site that had posts of mine.  Let's call her Claire. Claire and I emailed awhile and then we moved to Yahoo Messenger to make it easier to communicate.  She was desperate she said.  
Right away I emailed Mair, who was a moderator at the email group at that time.  I also contacted another moderator who was online at the same time and got her involved with helping Claire.  It was not long before I realized that Claire's story had a different touch to it than I had heard before.   This one involved an old boyfriend from 20 years prior and a very special ring.  The ring made the story very convincing.  Apparently, Claire had received a friend request from someone who appeared to be an ex boyfriend she had lived with 20 years ago.  He had found her on MySpace and wanted to know if they could chat.  He told her many things she said only this man would know.  His pictures on his profile she thought looked like he would look 20 years older.  After some time chatting he mailed her a ring he had given her 20 years ago while they were still together...a ring she had returned when she broke up with him.  So, no problem to this point.  
The problems came when she said he was asking her to send money, and she did send him some.  Eventually more of the story came out as Madeline kept me updated about how Claire was telling all her friends different things and lying because they were all telling her this was a scammer and she did not believe them.  It turned out that not only was Claire sending this man money, but she had become involved in reshipping merchandise for him.  She had several boxes of items to be shipped in her house at the time she contacted me.  By this time I had gotten Claire into the old chat room where many of us got together to support victims through all the emotional and financial issues they deal with.  Once the information about the reshipping came about, more of the moderators got involved including the one moderator that is the "legal expert" of the group.   Between the moderators, the chat room people, Mair, and I, we got Claire to a place of realizing how serious all of this was and how she could end up going to jail over what she was doing if she did not stop now that she knew it was illegal.  She really believed she was helping merchandise get to an orphanage in Ghana.
Let me backtrack just one moment here.  The first night after long chats and emails back and forth with Claire and my two moderator friends, Claire messaged me that she could not deal with it anymore and that she was sorry for what she was about to do, and she went offline.  Of course that message scared me and I told the moderators what was going on.  Claire had given me her phone number earlier so I immediately tried to call her with no answer.  Mair had her home address and she called 911.  I kept trying to get Claire to answer the phone and she finally did.  She was sobbing and sounded very distraught.   The next 2-3 hours were some of the most emotional hours I ever spent in my life as I talked to Claire about how suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem and how her life was worth so much more than all of this.  I listened as she talked to the police who came to the house in response to the 911 call.  After the police left I continued to let Claire tell me how she felt so horribly lost and confused and destroyed.  Everything she had gone through for this man who she loved, thinking he was her former lover, had even led her to selling her home because he had her convinced he was in Ghana and wanted her there with him.
To make this long story as short as I can from here on, over the next week I spent a lot of time trying to help Claire keep focused on the immediate things she needed to do to take care of herself instead of falling to the floor in a heap of depression.  She was also talking to Mair at times and also the other moderator I had put her in contact with.  The other moderator was assuring me that she was also talking to Claire on the phone from time to time as well as online.
Because of the reshipping, the other moderator and I encouraged Claire to contact Fraud Aid and to follow whatever instructions they gave her. From this point on, other than supportive contact in the chat room and on Yahoo Messenger, I left Claire to the more experienced people.  This was how we were instructed to deal with these situations.  "Let the mods handle it."  
A few weeks ago I noticed Claire was showing more activity on her Yahoo Messenger and decided to check in with her by phone.  What she told me shocked me by telling me that as it turned out it really was her old boyfriend and that he was there with her, but out running errands.  Claire said he was there to prove he was real, and was not going back to Ghana.  She said they were going to move to his home in another state.  I let the one moderator know what she had told me and neither one of us really believed her.  
Yesterday I got the email from Madeline telling me that Claire was back with the scammer and was in Ghana.  The scammer had tried to befriend her on Facebook, and was using a photo of Claire and him together as his profile photo.  Needless to say I was shocked!  More than that, I was distressed, concerned, scared for Claire, and angry that the scammer had done this to her.  Mind you, Claire had told me her ex boyfriend's name and shown me his photos.  This man she was with in Ghana is definitely not the same person.  Her ex boyfriend is an older white man, and this scammer is a black man who couldn't be more than 25 years old, if that.  I shared the news with Mair and a couple others who had spoken directly with Claire over the past couple of months trying to help her come to terms with the truth that this was never her ex boyfriend and was in truth a scammer.   We were all in pain hearing the news.  Today I emailed the moderator who was dealing directly with Claire to let her know.  Last night, I shared it with another moderator who is also a friend and was reminded, "You can't save them all."  As painful as it is, this is true.  We can only do what we can.  It's up to the victim to make that break to be free of the scammer's hold over them.
This past two months while I knew Claire, I've also had a few other difficult situations with victims of romance scammers.  It's been almost a year now since I, myself, was scammed.  It didn't hit me so hard.  I was one of the lucky ones.  But once I found out about this crime, and what it does to people, I had to at least try to do something to help.  That's why I am here.  That's why I am writing this now.  This was a learning experience for me, realizing that some of them don't want our help.  At least not yet.  But for those who do want our help, we are here, and ready to support them through their recovery from victim to survivor.  It's not an easy road to travel, but breaking free is the prize at the end of the journey through the grief.  
If you, or someone you know, is involved with a romance scammer, or you are just wondering if maybe you are, please visit our website, and the links given here at the side of this blog.  Get help.  It doesn't matter if you prefer an email group over live chat, or if you prefer live chat over an email group.  Find help wherever it is offered.  Help is out there.  Don't end up like Claire.  We don't know what is happening to Claire now.  We don't know if she will ever return alive.  We suspect she will be expected to help this scammer get his green card to the US, but we don't know what she may be going through right now.  It is not the bed of roses the scammers promise.  Please don't be fooled.  Take that step to freedom today!  CP

Powerlessness, take two

I had a hard day yesterday.  Cindy heard that one of the people we really worked hard to help was most likely in Africa now.  This woman apparently didn't tell anyone, but felt she had nothing left to lose, so she left a note saying she didn't care what            happened to her things and not to try to reach her.  The photo we received, from the apparent scammer's FB account, depicted them laying on a bed, with his arm       pulling her toward him. There was a look of both pride and contempt written across his face.  The other photos in the album make it clear that he is in Ghana, not Texas as he claims to be.  She does not appear to be unhappy. 

To say this affected my day would be putting it mildly.  I've felt powerless before, and I have toyed with the idea of running away to a remote Mediterranean island, but can't relate to giving up and just moving to a third world country.  I know that we did the best we could to get through to her, and made her aware of the dangers that a woman could experience traveling alone in Ghana, but can't help but wonder what we else we could have done?

Sometimes we say that recovery isn't for those who need it, but rather for those who want it.  There will always be those who aren't ready to hear the message, for whatever reason, and that will leave us feeling powerless and ineffective.  Perhaps this is a reminder that we don't actually give the assistance to people, but are merely a conduit for the higher power.  I still don't know why some people "get it" and others don't, but I am grateful today for the reminder that I'm not in charge, and I'm just not that powerful.  /mw

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Interesting Article About Green Card Marriage Fraud

Just found this article that I thought might be helpful for anyone even considering a relationship with someone who is not already a permanent resident or citizen of the United States. Hello, I Love You, Won’t You Tell Me Your Name: Inside the Green Card Marriage Phenomenon

"I can't, he can, I think I'll let him. . . "

I woke up this morning thinking about the twelve steps as they apply to  Scams of the Heart. I've been working a program of recovery for almost two decades now, so it's kind of a natural extension of what I already do.  Sure wish I'd thought of this when I was devastated after my own scam experience, but better late than never, huh? 

To me, a program of recovery means more than just abstaining from alcohol or my other favorite -- dysfunctional relationships.  It means that I've worked all of the steps in order, work with others frequently, stay in service and keep in touch with my higher power on a regular basis.  I don't go to as many meetings as I used to, but when I get that edgy feeling, I do know where I belong.

Now honestly, I'm not here to push my God-concept on anyone.  Having seen these steps work for literally thousands of people in the past, I've learned that they work if one is willing to do the footwork.   I've seen them work for atheists as well as people who put their faith in the "spirit of the universe".  Whether you call your god he, she or it, no matter.  I'm using the pronoun "he" just for simplicity. 

The first step of AA says "Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and that our lives had be come unmanageable".  If we apply this to love scams, we get "admitted were were powerless over our feelings about the scam (and/or scammer), and that our lives had become unmanageable.  I surely did not understand how I could have fallen for this darn scammer.  I also didn't know how to get my life back to normal.  

Some people in another group told me I had to break free completely.  I get that, it's like not taking the first drink or taking my hands out of the fire.  My life was definitely unmanageable -- as evidenced by the money I let go of so easily or the job I lost partly because I was so engulfed in this fake relationship.  I was curled up in ball, my brain a total fog for the first week without a clue of what I was going to do next.  Unmanageable, check.  

Without consciously realizing it, I slowly began to trust that "a power greater than myself would restore me to sanity."  In the beginning, it was an email group of other people who had been through the same thing.  I began to have hope that I would also recover.  That, to me, is the essence of step two.  Having just had our trust shattered, it doesn't come easily at this stage.  It didn't happen over night for me.  My uncle once told me that if "It took you a  year to get into the woods, it's probably gonna take a little while to get back out".  In other words, if I was involved in the scam relationship for several months, I can't expect to heal in a couple of weeks.  But I can take baby steps, and start to trust other folks who have been through the same thing.

For those who are veterans of twelve step programs, you know what comes next.  Yep, its the God step or step three.  Again, I'm not invested in who your God is, or how you practice your belief.  My own belief is that God has many faces, many names, and that we all get just the smallest glimpse of his (or her) power.  If you don't believe in the same way, that's okay.  Just muster up whatever belief you have, dust it off, and be ready to do the rest of the steps.  That's all. 

For anyone who might want to take a stab at these first three steps, get out a note pad and a pencil (or pen).  Write all about this scam experience and how you feel now.  Be as angry or sad or disbelieving as you need to be.  Just get it out on paper. Every little bit.  If you're afraid someone else will find your thoughts, you can shred it later.  Don't worry about spelling or grammar -- there's no final grade for this assignment, just relief. 

Ok, that's all for now.  I'll keep writing, and hope you'll come back and read some more.  Good night :) 


Monday, August 8, 2011

New FaceBook Page!

We have a new Facebook page up! Please visit us and hit the like button!  ss

Miracle of the Chat Room

Something occurred to me as I was about to sleep.  Mair has always said that there is something about the chat room that is very special because healing takes place there.  She called it the "miracle of the chat room".  I've heard her say it over and over during the past 10 months I've known her.  Tonight as I contemplate our official "grand opening" it dawned on me that it is not the name on the door, or the URL, or where the chat room is located.  It's not the background, the graphics, or the text on the website.  So what is it that creates this miracle of the chat room?

It's the people who are there.  cp

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Logos, Butterflies, and Rebirth

"What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly," - Richard Bach.
For most of my adult life I've identified with the butterfly.  Mostly, I think, because butterflies are so beautiful, but they don't start out that way.  They start out as sometimes ugly crawly worms called caterpillars.  Some of those caterpillars are very colorful and maybe even can be called beautiful.  But to me, they were something I did not want to get too close to.  (Except wooly worms, which as a kid I thought were quite fun.)  The metamorphosis that takes place when a caterpillar makes and enters its cocoon or chrysalis and emerges as a beautiful moth or butterfly, to me is amazing.

There are many times in a person's life that we might think we have reached the end of our world.  Divorce, death, job losses, evictions, health crises, just to name a few.  But we live on.  Sometimes we wonder how we are ever going to get through it.  Romance scams can cause much devastation to a person's life in ways it is hard to understand unless you have gone through it yourself.  There is a point in the grieving process where you feel like your life is over, all hope is gone.  Yes it is the end of the world, in your heart anyway.

We've chosen the butterfly as part of our logo at least in part because we want people to know that, as bad as it all may feel right now, we are going through our own metamorphosis as we heal from the damage done by these scams.  There is new life out there on the other side of the grief.  And that new life is beautiful.  No matter what any of us has been through in our lives, we've somehow made it through to something new.  The healing that can take place through meeting others who understand because they have gone through it too is a rebirth.  It changes victims into survivors.

The loss of our chat room three weeks ago took many of us into our own new grieving process and creation of our temporary chrysalis or cocoon.  During that group metamorphosis came the birth of our new website and chat room.  We really hope we can continue here to do the work that we did before.  With all our hearts, we want to share our experience, strength, and hope with all who need us.  CP

My Thoughts

Well here we are! We have hatched from the cocoon and have turned into a beautiful butterfly, full of anticipation and promise! We have had a long journey to reach this point and a few minor potholes along the way, but we have made it. I am filled with so many thoughts, but all good ones. 

Above all, is the task ahead. For some it might be daunting, scary even, but for me it is a wonderful challenge! I look forward to being able to help someone climb out of that hole of despair and see the sunlight. to have them come out of the cocoon, dry their wings, and then to FLY! Oh what a wonderful picture in my mind! ss

The Launch Kerfuffle

Oh the excitement of it all!  

We had our first kerfuffle last night, which we were guided through by the traditions.  Our web guru had some preconceived thoughts about the launch of the site, which not everyone understood, and it ended up in a big, sticky mess.  But a few deep breaths, and some talk about anonymity being the foundation of all our traditions, and we were back on track and ready to move on.  Promotion is a tricky thing, and we will have to tread carefully -- attraction rather than. . .

That's the thing about using steps and traditions to guide our work --- there's always an answer.  Thousands of groups all over the world have used them to thrive for more than 60 years in the great tradition of AA.  I woke up this morning thinking YAY, we survived our fist challenge, and we are stronger and better than before.

Three weeks ago today our former leader pulled the plug on the chat portion of her site.   So many people found solace and healing there that it was hard to believe she would do that.  I had already decided to let go of my ego and let whatever happen there just play out.  But i have to admit I'm mighty happy that three weeks later, we're up and running and ready to help the next person who comes in a total wreck and needs person to person assistance in real time, as the chat format allows.  We have a good core group, and I'm ready for whatever the future has in store for us.