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