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lie to you, lash out at you, brush you off and pretend nothing serious is going on, or become even more secretive and withdrawn.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.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Ten Signs Someone You Know is Being Scammed

by Soraya Grant

Scams of the Heart welcomes victims of online romance scams based in Nigeria, Ghana, the former U.S.S.R., Malaysia, the United States, Canada, or anywhere else a romance scam may originate. We also welcome those who are unsure if their situation is a real relationship or friendship or if it is a scam, and anyone who is concerned about a family member, housemate, coworker, or friend.

While it is often difficult to tell when someone else is involved with a scammer, there are ten major warning signs to watch out for.

#1: Your friend's internet habits have changed to a noticeable degree.

Increased internet usage is probably the first thing that springs to mind. If your friend was never that interested in spending large amounts of time online before, but is now spending hours logged in, they may be getting sucked in by a scammer, but that is not the only detail to watch out for. Look for changes in the way the person behaves online. If they used to spend hours chatting on Facebook to friends they know offline, but now seem to never have time to answer messages, or if they've always been heavy internet researchers or shoppers, but are now only ever connected to their messenger account, that is also a warning sign. Decreased internet use may also be a red flag for a scam situation. Many scammers snare their victims on a dating site, chat room, health care web site, or Facebook, but immediately want to move the communication to texting and instant messaging. Your friend could appear absent from the internet because he has created a new messenger account and/or taken to spending entire days texting from his phone.

Scammers are present on almost every site that allows communication between new people. Take note any time your friend seems to have become unusually devoted to a certain site, whether that be an explicit, adult oriented site, a clean chat room, a dating web site, or a forum for people suffering from certain disorders. There may be other reasons for their focus on this certain site, but they may also be using to communicate with a scammer.

#2: He or she seems especially happy for no apparent reason.

This is not to suggest that everybody in a good mood is the victim of an online romance scammer, but watch out for sudden, unexplained improvements in the mood of someone who has been lonely, isolated, depressed, or simply bored with their current circumstances, especially if that person has taken up online dating or begun communicating with new people online in any way. The dramatically improved mood could be stemming from the belief that they have met the man or woman of their dreams. In many cases, the dream man or woman will turn out to be a character crafted by a scammer or group of scammers.

#3: The person has gotten uncharacteristically secretive about his or her online friends, phone calls, or texts.

Romance scammers often manipulate their victims into social isolation by pretending to be people who want secrecy in the relationship. One American chat room scammer demanded that "his girlfriend" not tell anyone the two of them were a couple in any form. He insisted that this was because he was a very private person, and because he wanted his mother to be the first person in his life to know about his new love. The women who believed themselves to be his girlfriends were to tell others in the chat room that the two of them were just friends, and to avoid mentioning him at all to anyone they knew offline. Further scammer tactics include insisting that the family, group of friends, or other staff members at work would try to sabotage the relationship out of jealousy, or allowing the victim to tell one person, but keep things a secret from all of the rest of their friends and family. Any of these things can leave the person you care about with an oddly jumpy, secretive attitude about their online or phone activity. If he used to brag about all the women who flirt with him in the chat room he uses in the evenings, but now says 'nobody' when you ask about it, or if she used to forward you pictures of everything from cute guys she met on dating sites to the car she's planning to buy, and suddenly stopped, your friend may be in a secret online "relationship" with a scammer.

#4: He or she suddenly loses one large or several small amounts of money or begins talking or behaving as though he or she is having financial problems.

You may notice that your mom keeps saying "I hope you kids weren't counting on a big inheritance" when you know she's got savings accounts set up for each child. Or maybe your coworker used to love to go shopping and out to drinks every Friday evening, but now claims she "can't afford it." Maybe your friend alludes to "not having much in the bank these days" when you ask her how the apartment hunt is progressing. There are several ways a person can fall into sudden financial difficulty, but falling prey to a scammer is certainly one of them. The money needn't even be completely gone to cause concern. One scam victim had money, but suddenly insisted she couldn't spend it on the project she had told her family and friends about. Many of them later learned she had placed it into what she thought was a 'special first date' account for her and what turned out to be the scammer. She discovered the scam right before she wrote a check for his travel, but many scam victims do not get such a moment of luck.

#5: Your friend has developed an interest in new places.

This is an especially strong warning signal if the place they are suddenly interested in is Nigeria, Ghana, a nation in the former Soviet Union, Malaysia, or any other country that is a hotbed for organized rings of romance scammers. This new interest could stem from the belief that the love of their life is working, visiting family, or doing missionary work there. A romance scam victim may also develop what appears to be a sudden fascination with the state or city the scammer pretends to live in, or in the case of many domestic scammers, actually does live in.

#6: Daily and weekly routines and activities have changed.

Scammers alter their victims' eating habits, sleeping patterns, and other daily activities in order to make them more susceptible to brainwashing. The scammer may be insisting on a late night chat via text every night, leaving your coworker tired, unable to focus, and craving sugary breakfast foods in the morning. Or the scammer might have decided to mess with your brother's body chemistry and test his willingness to do what they ask by pressuring him to give up his morning run in order to chat with them via IM instead. Your roommate may shower at two in the morning because he's been up all night talking to a "girlfriend" or you may notice that his normally spotless room is now musty and cluttered thanks to an overflowing laundry hamper and dirty bedding he forgot to wash because he was chatting online for entire afternoons. Pay special attention to someone who suddenly seems to be going to the bank much more than normal, or needing an excessive amount of shipping supplies. They may have been tricked into sending money, making purchases, or unknowingly reshipping stolen or other illegal materials for a scammer.

#7: The person has begun to pull away or isolate from friends and family members both online and offline.

As the scam progresses, the victim's lack of presence in the lives of others goes beyond the initial excited focus on what they think is their new love. Scammers demand chats at odd hours, give their victims little tests and projects to see if they are compliant, and drill it into them that their family and friends would be jealous or against their relationship until the scammer's voice is the only one the person hears. This may cause the target of the scam to stop confiding in or even checking in with friends and family members, avoiding offline social situations, and even neglecting to post updates on social web pages where family and friends can see them and know they are okay.

#8: Subtle changes in values, tastes, and interests can be seen.

Scammers create characters designed to snare each victim by working to match or compliment the characters' values, tastes, and interests to the specific targets. Your friend will not likely switch their basic values, religious affiliation, or career because of the scammer, as the scammer probably pretended to either have similar views and goals in those areas, or pretended to be someone who suited your friend well in those areas. One scammer studied a victim's chat dialogue and learned that she normally voted Democrat and had volunteered on Democratic campaigns, but had also recently had her heart broken by a Republican man who once enjoyed lighthearted verbal teasing over their political differences. The scammer presented himself as a nicer version of that real man, claiming he was a die hard conservative Republican, but his beloved late wife had been a Democrat. At the same time, scammers will give their victims little tests designed to gauge how willing they are to do what the scammer wants. This often involves prodding the person to change small details about themselves. You might notice your friend suddenly favoring a certain type of food, taking up a new form of exercise, or adding or removing certain items, such as pillows, candles, or end tables, from his home.

#9: The person seems to be wrapped up in a new, and slightly odd research project.

You've never known your cousin to be interested in earning a college degree online before, but now she seems to spend hours researching online schools and advancement options in her career. Or maybe you notice her Pinterest page is full of home planning and decorating ideas, when she lives in a tiny furnished economy apartment that doesn't allow much beyond throws and figurines in the way of changes to the decor. Many scammers will urge their victims in to taking up little projects related to the life they are pretending the two of them are going to live together. This is a mind control tactic that serves three purposes. One, it makes the situation seem even more real to the victim. Two, it keeps the victim focused on the scammer, and cuts into their time for anyone else. Three, it keeps the victim's mind occupied, giving them little to no time to ponder the situation and see the red flags that may be present.

#10: You may notice changes in your friend's clothing style and appearance.

Scam related appearance changes may seem positive on the surface. Your friend might start choosing especially flattering colors when buying new shirts, visit a salon for a special beauty treatment, get new makeup or aftershave, or buy a dress or jacket that is clearly intended for a night out or a special date. In any other situation this would be absolutely harmless, but if the person is enmeshed with a scammer, they might be preparing for a special date or vacation that is never going to happen and fixing themselves up to look their best for a person who does not really exist.

Some of these warning signs may seem repetitive. That is because none of them will occur alone. Watch for a variety of these red flags happening within a span of weeks or several months. Anyone who thinks they see a number of these details in the life of a someone they care about is invited to discuss the situation with us on our yahoo groups board or in our chatroom.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Creating a Three Step Online Safety Plan to Guard Against Romance Scammers

by Soraya Grant

Reading and printing out the main red flags of an online romance scammer is always a good safety precaution. Sometimes just having them next to you as a reminder can help you see them in online communications. Here are three more steps you can take as part of an online safety plan.

Establish a "no secrets" pact with someone you can trust

Team up with someone you know well and know offline. Make a promise that you will not keep any online friendships or relationships a secret from each other. When you meet someone new, make a note of where you met them, their screen name, and the age, gender, location, real name, career, picture or appearance details, and other basic information they give you. Text or email this information to your trusted confidant. As the online relationship progresses, keep your trusted offline person posted. This does not mean you need to email or text them every time you log on to the site or talk to your online friend, but you do need to tell them what type of relationship you are having with this person, how often you communicate with them, and any red flags or other suspicious details that may come up. The person you choose can be family member, close friend, roommate, or coworker, but it is absolutely vital that you choose someone you can be completely open and honest with about the nature of your online communications. If there is nobody in your life who you feel you can trust this way, talk about the issue with a therapist or other mental health professional and promise yourself you will tell them about any online relationships you may form. Although we are not people you know offline, Scams of the Heart members are also willing to listen to anyone who needs to talk about online friendships and share any concerns they may have.

Making sure you are open and honest with at least one other person helps combat the social isolation scammers often use to manipulate their victims. It can also be helpful to hear the views of someone who is not emotionally involved in the situation. They may be able to clearly see red flags you are not allowing yourself to see.

Make it an absolute rule that you will never send money, send items, do chores or errands involving money, or accept and/or reship packages from ANYONE you have not met offline and gotten to know well in at least one offline setting.

That's it. There are NO exceptions to this rule. It doesn't matter if you think this person may be your dream man or woman, if the two of you have shared secrets, or if the two of you have swapped explicit messages or photos. This rule is never broken. Anyone who really is a genuine and decent person will not ask for or hint for this type of favor from someone they only know online and anyone who does drop hints or makes outright requests for this type of favor is definitely a scammer. It doesn't matter if everything else the person tells you turns out to be completely true; if they are online pretending to date you, fall in love with you, become your best friend, or even have a crush on you when what they really want out of you is money, material goods, or favors, the situation is a scam.

Make a list of your own vulnerabilities.

This will be a journaling exercise. Open up a free online journal account or a new document on your computer desktop or buy a notebook if you prefer to write on paper. Those who are more visually oriented might want to make an offline collage or use a secret board on Pinterest or a photo album on Facebook set so that only they can see it. Whatever form you choose, it is important to be honest and balanced. This is neither a self-esteem building exercise where you only list or post your good qualities, nor is it a self improvement session where you write down your every flaw. Scammers prey on strengths, neutral details, and weaknesses.

Is there an issue you always want to help out with, such as children in need, domestic violence, or animal welfare? That is a wonderful trait, but it is also something a scammer could easily learn about you and attempt to exploit to get you to do their bidding. Do you have a crush on one or more celebrities or a specific physical type? There is nothing wrong with this, just make a note of it in case you find yourself tempted to overlook red flags because the person is "your dream guy/girl." Are you struggling with something right now? Do you have trouble seeing yourself as smart, fun, physically attractive, interesting, or kind?

Every human being has weaknesses and every scammer practices finding those weaknesses and using them to manipulate their victims. Keep your list of traits a scammer might exploit in mind as you talk to your online friend. If you notice them repeatedly touching on one or more of these areas, chances are they have learned this information about you through your online chats or social pages and are using it as part of a scam.

Anyone who sees the red flags of a romance scam, has an offline friend who expresses alarm about their online relationship, or feels that someone they talk to online is gathering and exploiting aspects of their personality is encouraged to join us in our Yahoo group and/or chat room.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Five Myths About the Victims of Romance Scams

By Soraya Grant
Sometimes, the healing process is slowed down because we believe one or more of the myths about people who are victimized by romance scammers. This can lead to giving yourself a mental beat down you wouldn't inflict on your worst enemy. See how many of the following false statements you find popping into your head.

Myth 1: These types of scams only happen to naive people. You must be the type that believes everybody about everything if you fell for a romance scam.

Reality: Romance scams do happen to naive people. They also happen to cynical people and to people with a perfectly balanced sense of faith in others. Scammers study profiles, chat room dialogue, emails, and social networking pages to form a profile for each of their victims. If someone does seem to be naive, the scammer will certainly use that, but scammers also know how to manipulate a cynical person into believing their story is real.

Myth 2: Romance scam victims spend their entire life communicating with people they only know online. If you would just make some friends you could spend time with in person you wouldn't wind up talking to romance scammers.

Reality: People have been targetted by romance scammers during their first tries on dating sites or their first experience in a chatroom. Scammers who are out for money or for a general sense of revenge on the world go after anyone and everyone who communicates with them once. Scammers who target individuals for personal revenge use online environments because they are easier to hide in than offline environments. Some romance scam victims are people who live online, some mix online and offline communities, and some barely touch their computers outside of work.

Myth 3: Posting sexy photos online, flirting with everyone who is (or seems to be) attractive, and telling a lot of dirty jokes or talking about dating and intimate activity a lot draws scammers. If you were a little more humble and didn't spend so much time trying to show everybody how hot you are, they wouldn't have noticed you.

Reality: Scammers who are working for money or for a general sense of revenge fish for victims at random. It may seem like they "chose" you, but that is only because once you began communicating with them, they began tailoring the scam to you. There is nothing on your profile, chat dialogue, or social networking site that "made" the scammer notice you or pick you. If someone you know offline, or have had previous encounters with online, targeted you for a scam for personal revenge, that shows them to be a cruel and immature person who deals with their negative feelings by harming others. It says nothing about your character.

Myth 4: Romance scam victims have a general sense of low self worth, or at least struggle with believing men or women find them physically attractive. If you would just be more confident, these scammers wouldn't be able to manipulate you.

Reality: Romance scammers are happy to use self image struggles to manipulate their victims. They are also ready, willing, and able to scam people whose self image is inflated in one or more areas, and those with balanced and realistic views of themselves. Scammers are skilled at learning both their victims' weak and strong points and manipulating them to brainwash the person into believing they have really entered into a romantic relationship with someone online.

Myth 5: People who say they have been " online romance scammed" or "catfished" are just being dramatic. Everybody dates and/or befriends people they later realize are up to no good, both online and offline. It really isn't any big deal.

Reality: Romance scammers go far beyond the run of the mill jerk or creepy person that seemed nice at first. These scams involve brainwashing and humiliation, and in many cases, severe financial losses. Some scam victims even face legal problems. Being the victim of an online romance scam does not have to ruin your life. There is hope, and there is healing, and there is more out there for you than being the target of a romance scam. But it is serious and something that will take time to cope with.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Researching the Red Flags

by Soraya Grant

Memorizing a list of the seven main red flags of a romance scam is helpful, but many people have a hard time believing their online love is not who they say they are until they have done some independent research.

Red Flag 1: The person makes a declaration of love, asks you to date them, or even declares you their best friend after knowing you for a short time and only online.

Look deeper into this situation by stating flat out that you consider everyone you only know online and via the phone a friend and will not make any romantic promises or include anyone in your family or inner circle until you have gotten to know them in a variety of situations, at least one of which absolutely must be offline, off the phone, and in person. You needn't be harsh. A simple, "I am very flattered you're flirting with me, but I never date anyone until we've gotten to know each other offline and off the phone" should get the point across. A person who acts upset, insulted, or continues talking of love and devotion is a scammer.

Red Flag 2: Your online friend asks for money, asks for a laptop, cell phone, or other gifts, or wants you to do banking related favors for them.

Never go along with this. It is never safe to send money or gifts to someone you have never met offline and in person. It is also unsafe to accept money or items from someone you only know online and over the phone for any reason, or to do any banking tasks for them. Asking or hinting for money is a sure sign of a scammer. If you still need to prove this to yourself, offer your friend your time and effort instead. If they've asked you to send cash because they are stuck in a foreign country and cannot access their American bank account, send them their bank's contact number for international transactions so they can speak to a customer service representative and get the situation resolved. Offer to send an online friend who says she cannot afford the new cell phone she needs the number for the Lifeline program in her area. Provide a list of soup kitchens, food banks, and the WIC, TANF, and EBT programs in their area to the person who tells you stories of struggling to feed children or pay bills. A genuine, honest person would use these resources and stop asking or hinting for things. Anyone who claims they got nowhere with all the information you sent, tried that already and couldn't get any help, acts confused, or keeps asking for or hinting for money, gifts, or financial favors is a scammer.

Red Flag 3: The man or woman you are talking to mentions an upcoming business trip or any other connection to Nigeria, Ghana, or another west African country or nation of the former U.S.S.R.

Like asking or hinting for money, this is a sure sign of a scammer.  You can also be a hundred per cent sure you are talking to an organized scam ring located in the country they mention. Anyone who remains reluctant to believe this is a scam need only to contact someone in their local community who does the same type of work the online friend describes. If your friend claims to be an American construction worker who is stuck in Nigeria after traveling there to build an apartment complex, call or email a construction company or someone you know who works in construction and ask them how many times they or a coworker have travelled to Nigeria to build apartment buildings. You will find the answer to be "never." Some may tell you they are going to Nigeria or another nation in that region or the former Soviet Union to visit family or friends. Research this by reading over the stories on "Scams of the Heart" and talking to group members in the chat room and the yahoo group board. Note the number of people who were scammed after talking to someone with a connection to Nigeria, Ghana, etc. What are the odds that this many people in online communities really have legitimate reasons to go to this part of the world?

Red Flag 4: The person talks in an unusual manner. He or she may have an unexpected accent over the phone, type using strikingly incorrect grammar, or seem to change tone of voice from one conversation to the next. You notice a lot of repeated lines.

Scammers typically have ready excuses for these things. They claim their grandparents or family friends were from another country and they picked up their speech patterns, insist the obviously cut and pasted paragraph was done intentionally as a joke, and say their repeated line is just something they like to say. It is also not uncommon for them to act offended that you would question them. Anyone tempted to believe these excuses need only to do some basic linguistics research. Compare their typed dialogue to those of known Nigerian or Russian scammers. Visit YouTube and search for some videos of people from those nations speaking English and compare their accents. If you have a Nigerian or Russian scammer, you will find shocking similarities. American scammers will be a little harder to spot with this red flag, as they will not have difficulties communicating in English. But American scammers do often use repeated lines and cut and paste dialogue. This helps them to set verbal bait and to talk to more than one person without admitting it. Look deeper into this by reading over some of your own emails and chat logs with other people and comparing them to the patterns in your online friend's dialogue. If the grammar and accent is as expected, but you see oddly repeated lines or repeated lines in strange situations, you have an American scammer. For example, one person encountered in a chat room devoted to health issues would say some version of "It has been a hard couple of years since my wife died, but I am ready to date again" any time a new female member joined the online community. While this would not be a red flag if spoken to a good friend over coffee, it is an odd thing to repeat, and an even odder thing to say to a new group member. This person was later discovered to be pretending that at least three online group members were the first person he fell in love with after the death of his wife.

Red Flag Five: An online love interest does not seem to be living the life they are presenting. Perhaps they look different from one photo to the next, seem unfamiliar with a place they claim to live, know little to nothing about a career or hobby they state they are involved in, or seem to have odd schedules, or too much or too little time to chat given the life they claim to lead. Changing pasts or suddenly changing values, tastes, and opinions should also be cause for concern.

Photos can be researched by using a reverse image search web site. Visit one of these sites, drop or copy the photos the person has shown you or sent you into the space according to instructions, and see if the photos have been posted to someone else's web page or account. You may also want to study scam fighting web sites and look over some of the known scammer photos in the albums. Beyond that, pretend you are your own friend, and use a journal or other private place to write to make a list of questions you would have about these details if this were someone else. These can be as simple as "If he's a lawyer, how come he couldn't explain that term I heard on a television show?" or "How is it possible to have trouble attracting women one day, but have been with more than he can count the next?" Once your list is complete, share it with someone besides the person you are questioning. Have a close friend, family member, therapist, or peer counselor discuss the list with you. If one or both of you see details that "don't add up" you have a scammer.

Red Flag Six: Your online boyfriend, girlfriend, or best friend reminds you of yourself or someone you have mentioned online a lot....a bit too much.

Your own web sites and online actions will provide the research material for this red flag. Examine or remember your conversations in the main room of a chat room, your talks with the person in question, and any chats you've had with someone else on the same site. Look over your Facebook, Google Circles, Twitter, and Pinterest pages, as well as any profile you have on any dating sites, health support groups, or hobby pages. Could the person have learned any of these details through any of these avenues? If so, there is a good chance they did, and adapted their online persona in order to pretend to be your ideal match. Remember they can be crafty about this. It is not always immediately obvious. One SOTH member couldn't believe her luck when she unexpectedly met a new online friend who reminded her of a former crush and friend who had broken her heart. They had the same politics, drove the same type of car, and both liked to crack raunchy jokes. She was even more delighted when this new friend appeared to be a kinder, more down to earth version of this former crush. She later realized that this "kinder, more down to earth person who reminded her of a former crush" was really a scammer. He, and possibly others who were in on the scam, had crafted the fake persona by noting all the things she missed about her former crush/friend and all the things that upset her about him, and planning their trap accordingly.

Red Flag Seven: The person appears to be trying make you focus exclusively on them. They might plan a big, romantic trip for the two of you, and encourage you to work overtime or get an extra job to save up for it rather than spending time with your family or friends. The person may encourage you to spend a lot of time researching houses for the two of you to live in or learning about a hobby or interest of theirs. Demanding that you constantly change your routine, give up plans with others, or pushing you to make changes in your appearance or habits to please them are more examples of this red flag, as is forbidding you to talk to certain people or acting upset when you do, or insisting the entire relationship be kept a secret for no clear reason.

Researching this red flag will take the form of reflection. Perfectly normal online and offline relationships of all levels have some of these elements. There is nothing odd or wrong about wanting someone to go on a trip with you, do some research for you, or calling or texting late. We have all had boyfriends/girlfriends or close friends who do this. It is also perfectly normal for friends and dating partners to keep secrets. Telling you you cannot talk to others, or manipulating you into not talking to friends or family is a form of emotional abuse and always wrong, but it doesn't guarantee a scammer. This is still a major red flag because it is also a mind control tactic scammers use to make you more susceptible to believing their lies, keep you too busy to question them, and keep you away from others who might point out something they don't want you to notice. Make note of any of these types of details as you examine the other red flags. If this behavior is present along with one or more of the other red flags, you have a scammer. Should these types of demands on your time become extreme, or if the person is trying to make you feel guilty or ashamed for having other friends or talking to certain people, insisting you change your tastes and appearance to please them, or pushing you to spend large amounts of your free time doing things for them, this is an emotionally abusive and dangerous person, even if they turn out to be completely genuine.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Am I Talking to a Scammer?

by Soraya Grant

Read the following short story, imagining yourself as the main character. Next, read each of the ten plot twists in bold font and ask yourself if it is a red flag or even a subtle warning sign that the person you are talking to is a scammer.

The story: You have decided to meet people online. You set up a profile on a few social networking sites, and join a chat room that seems to be mature but reasonably clean and free of fights. For the first couple months, you really enjoy your new online communities. You have a few people of the same gender you chat with regularly, and a couple opposite sex people are attractive to you, but of course they are just crushes for now.

One evening, after a particularly trying day, you meet "Chatone A" in the chat room. "A" sends you photos of a very attractive man/woman and says you are good looking too. The two of you get to know each other over the next couple of months, and exchange social networking site information in order to friend/follow each other. As you and "A" communicate, your new friend:

1. Talks about financial difficulties and asks for or hints for money:

Yes. There is no financial difficulty that can most efficiently be solved by having someone you know online send you money. Anyone who does this is attempting to set you up for a scam.

2. Tells you they have more than a crush on you. They've fallen in love:

Yes. It is possible to form some pretty strong friendships online, but it is not possible to know someone well enough to be sure you love them. Anyone who does this is attempting to scam you.

3. Always wants to talk about music, bands, and singers:

No. This is not a warning sign of a scam. It is a perfectly ordinary topic of conversation between friends.

4. Brags about their extensive collection of comic books:
Are you talking to a scammer?

No. Bragging is not pleasant, but it doesn't indicate a scammer. Some people are simply full of themselves. Others get nervous talking to new people and start chattering in a way that can come across as bragging.

5. Wants to engage in "sexting" or "cybersex:"

Maybe. Many scammers do try to get their victims to believe they are engaging in cybersex with an online love or crush. The scammer does this to make the victim believe the relationship is intimate, and because they think they can threaten to make it public and scare the victim into giving them more money later. On the other hand, a lot of completely real, genuine people go online for cyber "hookups." Proceed with caution, and never do anything sexual you do not want to do, with anyone.

6. Mentions an upcoming trip to Nigeria:

Yes. Any mention of Nigeria, Ghana, or any other nation known to have a high concentration of rings of scammers is a sure sign of a romance scam.

7. Expects you to change your daily schedule, cancel plans with offline friends, give up chats with online friends you've known longer, and miss out on work, hobbies, or necessary activities like errands and chores, to chat with them:

Probably. This isn't a guarantee that you are talking to a scammer, but scammers do work to disrupt their victims' eating and sleeping patterns and other daily routines. This is a common mind control tactic. It would be a good idea to back off from this person anyway. Even if they turn out to be genuine, attempting to control your life is a sign of an abusive individual.

8. Tells you they are a single parent of a twelve year old and a seven year old, but only has to leave your chat for an "emergency" once, and never has to ask you to hold on while they help with homework, prepare meals, enforce household rules, check on somebody playing upstairs or outside, or address a kid who is interrupting the chat. Chatone A also seems oddly unfamiliar with parenting issues you bring up:

Yes. A person who describes one life to you but appears to be leading a very different life is displaying a strong red flag of a scammer. Your new friend probably does not even have children, and if they do, they are probably not raising them alone. You can expect these children to feature in an upcoming story about health problems, money problems, or other "favors" your friend will ask you to solve.

9. Repeatedly says "I am the type of person who will never hurt you. You can trust me with anything:"

Yes. Repeated lines in a chat are a solid red flag. You may be talking to a Nigerian or other foreign scammer who does not really speak English and is cutting and pasting their dialogue from other web sites or other peoples' profiles. Both foreign and American scammers also use repeated lines to buy time when too many victims log on at once and they are having trouble keeping up.

10. Tells you all your opposite sex friends just want to sleep with you and are jealous of you and Chatone A, cuts down all your same sex friends, and tells you your family would never understand how special your relationship is:

Probably. Scammers use social isolation because it is a very easy mind control tactic. Once their voice is the only one you hear, they have no trouble getting you to believe everything they say. Completely genuine people who abuse their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and friends emotionally also use isolation. If someone is doing this to you, cut off all ties with them. Even if they turn out to be genuine, this is someone you do not want to be close to.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

When To Seek Professional Help

By Soraya Grant

Anyone who has been scammed, or who believes they may be in a relationship with, or even just talking to someone they suspect of being a scammer is more than welcome to use the resources listed here at Scams of the Heart. We also warmly welcome those who were not scammed themselves, but are concerned about a family member, housemate, or friend. We also encourage our readers to seek support in their offline communities. In some cases, that may mean professional counseling or other mental health help.

We urge you to seek help if:

You are thinking of harming yourself

It does not matter what you did before, during, or after the scam. You do not deserve to die for it. If you are thinking of killing yourself, or seriously harming yourself in any way, we urge you to please visit your nearest hospital or mental health clinic, speak to your pastor, rabbi, or other clergyperson or spiritual advisor right away, or call or log on to a suicide hotline immediately.

You have the urge to harm other people or pets

Violence toward yourself or anyone else is never a productive way to deal with any part of the scam. If you fear you may hurt a family member, friend, or pet, please speak to someone at a hospital, clinic, religious or spiritual organization, or a crisis hotline right away. The only people who deserve anything bad to happen to them after a scam are the scammers, and the only way to punish them is to educate people to avoid becoming involved with them, thereby cutting off their supply of victims. Never act on any urge to harm another person or a pet, no matter how angry, despondent, or fed up you may be feeling. There is always a better way of handing the situation.

You are unable to return your eating, sleeping, work, or other daily patterns to normal.

Some disruption in your life is to be expected during and after the scam. It may take a while to sleep and eat normally, and you may need to take some time off work. But if nothing you do to try to get back to normal works, you haven't been able to sleep or eat well for months, and your livelihood is in jeopardy, it may be time to call the health professional of your choice and schedule an appointment.

Your fear of the scammer prevents you from leaving your home.

Even though it is not in the scammer's own interest to do more than send you some creepy messages, it is still normal to fear them for a bit. Most scam victims can remember those days when everyone and everything made them jump. But if you cannot leave your home for an extended period of time due to fear of the scammer, you may want to speak to a professional about the situation.

You aren't violent, but you do find yourself "taking it out" on other people

Nobody is in a great place right after they realize they've been the victim of an online romance scam. You are probably not going to be in the mood to hear about your sister's absolutely real kids when you just found out the child you were planning to be a stepparent to doesn't exist, or hear your friend's financial difficulties when you just gave large chunks of your savings to a someone who turned out to be a scammer. You certainly won't feel like hearing about someone's boyfriend or girlfriend or their romantic dates or how many people were attracted to them at the party last night. Pulling away from people at first is normal. Flying into verbal rages, becoming seriously angry over minor slights or rude moments, and refusing to speak to anyone for long periods unless you absolutely have to are not. Reach out for professional help any time you notice yourself treating people poorly, losing friends, or avoiding all human contact for long periods of time.

Some behavior of yours feels out of control to you or is frightening or distressing to others

Substance abuse may be the first thing that comes to mind, and if you find yourself drinking excessively, abusing other drugs, or using substances that are against the law to cope with the scam, it is certainly a good idea to seek help. But this applies to any and all behaviors, including gambling, overeating, shopping, and even excessive cleaning or personal hygiene practices, such as spending your entire eight hour day disinfecting your home or taking a series of showers in a short period of time. Anything that is causing a major disruption to your life, is upsetting someone else, or is scaring you may be a cause for concern.

Your focus on the scam and the scammer intensifies over time rather than lessens

When the pain of the scam is fresh, focusing on it is to be expected. Anyone who learned they had been scammed would need to know what happened to them and why. But in most cases, gaps begin to appear, and then increase over time. You may think of nothing but the scammer for two weeks, then realize you spent two hours playing with your grandkids without a scammer related thought. Over the next few days, you may cook a meal or write a work email without thinking of the scammer as well. In time, you only think of the scam when you dredge it up on purpose to help someone else. The timing will be different for everyone, but gaps should begin to appear and they should increase. If you find that you cannot stop thinking of the scam and the scammer for even brief periods of time, or if you find yourself becoming increasingly interested in things you only associate with the scam, it may be time to seek professional counseling.

Finding Help

The best place to look for mental health care is in your hometown or neighborhood. Look online or in the print phone directory for mental health therapists in private practice, or look for something called a "mental health center" or "behavorial health" clinic or center. The first thing you need to make sure of is that the practioner you choose is licensed. Anyone who presents him or herself as a Psychiatrist, Psychologist, Marriage and Family Therapist, Social Worker, or Licenced Professional Counselor must be licensed to practice in the state where they reside. You have the right to check up on any mental health care professional's credentials by asking them for their license number and the name of the professional body that licenses them. If you encounter someone who acts insulted, angry, hurt, or irritated when you ask for this information, or refuses to give it to you, do not use their service.

Licensing is the minimum professional qualification. A mental health professional provides a service just like any other professional, and just like any other professional, some provide excellent service, some mediocre, and some poor. If you notice that the therapist appears to be distracted, hostile, or simply uncaring and focused on their own agenda rather than your healing, you have the right to seek help from a different licensed professional. Remember that your therapist is there to provide you with the service of helping you learn to cope with the difficulties in your life. You may need to tell them information you would normally only tell a close friend in order for them to do that, but the therapist is still a professional providing a service. Report the situation to the therapist's licensing body and any supervisors they may have any time a mental health professional asks you for personal favors, flirts, makes suggestive jokes or comments, or asks you for a date, or in any situation where the person encourages you to do anything you know to be illegal, harmful to others, or dangerous.

As of this writing, there are no known mental health practioners trained specifically to deal with online romance scams and we do not know of any mental health professional who makes this the focus of his or her practice. However, you have the right to expect any professional mental health care provider to take the scam seriously. Return to your research and find another professional in your area if the therapist makes light of the scam, minimizes the pain caused by the scam, or refers to the scammer as your "ex" and behaves as though it were a real relationship.

Monday, August 5, 2013

When You Realize You Have Been Scammed

By Soraya Grant

The period right after learning you have been scammed can bring some special challenges. You are probably going through the process of grieving for the person you believed you loved, getting your eating, sleeping, and other daily routines back on track, and redisvovering your interests and tastes right now. You may also experience some unfamiliar and unsettling attitudes.

You See The Scammer Everywhere

Every time you use a new web site, anybody whose screen name is at all similar to the scammer's name or the name the scammer used with you must be the scammer. If they used their real appearance, everyone of the same gender with the same hair color makes you jump. Victims of foreign scam rings "know" the scammer is after them every time they hear someone with an accent from the country their scam originated speak. American scammers' victims are sure the scammer is following them every time they see a car with a license plate from the scammer's actual or even pretend home state.

Coping With This:

Remember that the scammer is not going to come after you. They may send you a series of threatening emails, IMs, or texts, but sending a nasty message only takes a few seconds and they can do it while they're working other victims. Taking the time to come after you would disrupt their work.

Nigerian and other foreign scam rings scam as a business. It is their primary source of income, and they'd have to spend a huge chunk of their profits on travel and take time off from "work" to come after you. They're not going to do this when it would be better for the ring's bottom line for them to just work the victims who haven't discovered the scam yet a little harder and fish for some new ones.

American money scammers run their scams as second jobs, the way you would write a monetized blog, try direct sales, or get temp jobs to pay unexpected bills, have things you want but can't afford on your normal income, or have some extra spending money. Like the Nigerian scammer, they would have to spend more money to come after you than they would make if they spent that same time period working their active scams and fishing for new ones.

Scammers who work their scams strictly for revenge are also going to stay away from their victims offline. If the scam was run by someone who chose victims at random, that person gets their thrill from manipulating and conning people. It's going to be more enjoyable for them to target someone new than it would be to come after someone who realized they were a scammer.

Even personal revenge scammers, those scammers who target a specific person in retaliation for something, will find it in their own best interest to stay away from you. The scam was cruel, but it wasn't a crime. Stalking or attacking you would be crimes. The person already got away with hurting you in a way that can't lead to any real punishment for them. They aren't going to risk getting arrested to repeat the process.

You See Somebody Else Trying to Scam, Use, or Hurt You Everywhere

Scamming is cruel, and having something cruel done to you can make you expect more cruelty. You may attempt to make new friends online and off but find yourself thinking everyone is just spending time with you to work up to asking for illegal favors or money, or is just manipulating you for their own ego. If you run into someone you've known for a while, then you assume they're only your friend because you'll give them rides or help them with their yard work or watch their kids. You're pretty sure everybody at church, political or social cause meetings, work, or school is just going to turn out to be a big jerk if you let them get close.

Coping With This:

Take a step back and evaluate every situation on a "case by case" basis. Is the new person you are talking to online displaying any red flags of being a scammer? Are they claiming a connection or love early on, hinting for money, mentioning Nigeria or Ghana, appearing to live a life that doesn't match the one they describe, using repeated lines? If they exhibit none of these signs, there is a good chance that person isn't a scammer. Is the new person you met at work showing signs they may be using you? Do they only want to spend time with you when they need favors? Are they making a big deal about finding you attractive in front of their spouse or dating partner, as though they are trying to make them jealous? Do they seem to be hiding you from all their other friends? If the answer to these are all "no," the person probably isn't using you and really wants to be your friend.

You Become Too Trusting

You still know the red flags online, but as soon as you don't see them, or as soon as you meet someone offline and are sure they're not hiding their entire life, you are so happy to meet someone genuine, you leap into a friendship or dating relationship with them. It's just so nice to be talking to someone who isn't a scammer.

Coping With This:

Evaluate situations that feel good on a case by case basis just as you would evaluate situations that make you suspicious on a case by case basis. The world is not neatly divided into scammers and wonderful people. There are plenty of people out there, online and offline, that may not be playing fake people or fake versions of themselves to lure you into fake relationships for money or revenge, but still don't have your best interests at heart. Unmoderated "clean chat" chat rooms may have been set up for friendship, but many of them are full of people who only want to talk to you until they can work the conversation around to finding out if you're someone they find physically attractive so they can hit on you for cybersex or an offline affair. Every gathering place, online or offline, will contain good people, and people who may scam, use, or otherwise harm you. Practice those safety guidelines you've been hearing forever. Spend time in a public place with anyone you don't know well. Don't give out too much personal information to anyone you are not close to. Avoid being too open with people until you are confident you can trust them with the information.

You Have the Urge to "Treat Yourself" In a Big Way

After all you've been through, you deserve your favorite television series or movie collection on DVD or instant video.....or a new wardrobe....brand new furniture for the patio...twenty new books...a whole new toolbox....dinner out every night. Many scam victims lose money to the scammer and figure they might as well just blow everything that's left. Others were about to send money and feel like they have extra since they almost lost it. Some just feel they deserve a big treat after all they've been through.

Coping With This:

You do deserve a treat, but be careful. Sit down and go over your finances carefully to determine how much money you can spare at this time. If it is a much smaller amount than the treat you really want, try a smaller version of that treat. You could buy yourself one season of a television show on instant video or DVD, a single new outfit, book, or tool, or go out for one nice dinner. Never punish yourself for being scammed, as it was in no way your fault. Just don't give yourself the added stress of ruined or further ruined finances on top of dealing with the scam.

You Experience Moments of Confusion Over What is Real and What Was Part of the Scammer's Story

Things are going pretty well. In fact, just today you were making an online pin board about baseball, a sport you always used to follow closely before the scammer began taking up all your time. One of the items you added to your board reminded you of a chat you had with a friend about the city that hosts your favorite team. Who was that? Was it your coworker? The vendor that was at work yesterday? The girl who was building your porch? Or was a chat with the scammer.

Coping With This:

First, take comfort in the fact that this will fade away in time. You will gradually start talking to more and more people about the things that interest you, and the mention of specific subjects will remind you of that conversation instead of scammer conversations. You're thinking about the scammer's conversations right now because that's who you've been talking to almost exclusively for a period of time. Until it fades, it may help to have a small distraction technique. Pinpoint some behavior that has absolutely no connection to the scammer. It doesn't have to be anything dramatic. Drive or walk to a restaurant or store you never visited before and have a drink, snack, or meal if you can afford it. Take a walk around a block you normally don't visit. Put in an old movie you haven't thought to watch in years. Do a web search on the first city that comes to mind that has no connection to the scam. This doesn't have to take all day. Just eat, walk, watch, or read long enough to concentrate your mind on something with no link to the scam for a bit.

Friday, August 2, 2013

What Should You Do? (Part 1)

by Soraya Grant

The following five scenarios are fictional, but they represent situations that may occur. Any resemblance to any actual person is purely coincidental. As you read, imagine that you are in this situation and ask yourself: What should I do?

Situation 1: Your New Crush
You meet Sam online through a social networking site. The photos on his/her page show a very attractive man/woman. The two of you have been enjoying regular chats for a few weeks now, and you've got a crush on him/her. To your surprise, Sam tells you he/she has more than a crush on you. It's love. You admit you are interested in Sam, but add that you don't really want to make any promises and commitments beyond friendship before meeting offline a few times. Sam is deeply hurt. He/She talks about the connection the two of you have, repeats the line "I really love you" and says he/she wants you to be his/hers and wants to hear you say you are before his/her business trip to Ghana in two weeks.
What should you do?
End all communication with Sam, and use all the delete, block, and ignore functions on every social site you are on, including your email, to make sure Sam can't reach you again. This is a Nigerian/Ghanian scam. Professing love within a few weeks of meeting you online without ever meeting you offline, pressing for a commitment after this profession, and using repeated lines are red flags for all types of scams. The mention of Ghana is a sure sign you are communicating with a foreign scam ring.

Situation 2: School Supplies for Amber
You have been dating Taylor Smith for three months, though you only know him/her online and via the phone. He/she asked you for your "devotion" two weeks after you met in a chat room for "clean adult chat." You normally wouldn't make such a commitment, but you've done your research and know that Taylor really lives where he/she says and works where he/she says. You even found the phone number for the business, called there unexpectedly, and talked to Taylor. There really is a Taylor Smith right where he/she is supposed to be. As you chat, you notice that Taylor seems increasingly distraught over finances. You guys were talking about meeting in a city halfway between your homes for your first date, but Taylor doesn't seem prepared to make the trip. He/she speaks of increasingly severe health problems for him/her, and financial difficulties so severe that he/she cannot even afford school supplies for his/her niece Amber, who he/she is helping to raise. You feel obligated to send Taylor the money for medical care and school supplies.
What should you do?
Do NOT send this person any money or supplies. Leave the chatroom and delete, block, and ignore Taylor from all social sites you are on, including your email. You do not have a Nigerian/Ghanian or other foreign scammer, but you do have a scammer. Anybody, from anywhere in the world, who meets you online, starts a relationship with you, and then asks for or hints for money is a scammer. Taylor also displayed the "claims to fall in love with you early in the relationship" red flag.

Situation 3: I Know What You Did

You thought you were dating Kelly Jones, but it is now pretty clear that it was all a scam. Kelly told you he/she loved you after chatting for only a month, started dropping pretty strong hints for money after the second month, and always claims to be too "swamped" or too "broke" to meet you. He/she had recently begun telling you tales of extreme difficulties at work and suggesting that he/she might lose his/her job. You also started to notice that Kelly repeats the line "I don't lie to people" a lot and doesn't seem to live the life he/she claims to live. He/she is supposedly a lawyer, but when you asked a basic legal question, the answer seemed like a cut and pasted paragraph from another site. Now that you think about it, most of Kelly's courtroom stories sound an awful lot like plotlines from old "Law and Order" episodes. You deleted and blocked all communication from Kelly, but you feel like sending one last email letting him/her know exactly what you figured out
What should you do?
Resist the urge to tell a scammer why you know the relationship is a scam. They will not be afraid that everybody will see these warning signs and quit running scams. They will not be afraid of you telling others in the online community about the warning signs and quit running scams. All any scammer is going to do with this information is take notes so that they can craft a stronger scam next time. Nigerian/Ghanian scammers run their scams as a business. American money scammers run their scams as a second job. Revenge scammers put as much into their scams as you or I would put into a serious hobby. Never write to or call/text a scammer and tell them you know all about what they did. That only helps them scam somebody else. If you need to write it all out, use a private journal and write it all out for yourself.

Situation 4: Me and My Big Bed

You've been in bed for a week following the scam. There was the occasional shower and changing of pajamas, and you did stagger out to the kitchen to pick at the cartons of Chinese food you had delivered and demolish that bag of pretzels that was supposed to be your evening snack for the whole week, but the majority of the time was spent rolled up in your comforter, thinking about the relationship you thought you had, the scam, and the $1,000 you spent on a laptop to send to this person who wasn't even real. This morning you woke up with the urge to make coffee, shower, put on the clothes you normally wear during the day, and take a walk around the park where you used to meet your friends for lunch.
What should you do?
Make the coffee. Take the shower and get dressed. Go to the park. The urge to return to your normal routine and do things you liked doing before you ever met the scammer are signs of healing.

Situation 5: Carrie
You and your friend Carrie have both started going to the same church or social organization's meeting. During break time, Carrie confides in you that she has been the victim of an online romance scam. You call her afterward and hear the rest of the story. As you talk, you learn that Carrie bought two purple tee shirts, a pair of purple jeans, a purple purse, and some purple dishes because she thought she was going to marry a guy who loved purple and wanted to please him when they finally were together offline. Now that she knows it wasn't real, she wants to take all the items to the local thrift store, even though the dishes and jeans are brand new and the tee shirts and purse have only been worn/used once.
What should you do?
Support Carrie. Help her pack up all the purple stuff and take it to the thrift store. If she doesn't have enough dishes to make it through the day or enough clothes to make it through a week or two after getting rid of them, offer to go shopping for replacement items with her if she wants company. In most situations you would want to talk someone out of getting rid of and replacing perfectly good clothing, bags and household items, but after a scam it is best to get rid of as much scam related stuff as possible. Keeping items that were only purchased because of the scammer only keeps reminders of the relationship the victim thought they had around.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Stop Blaming Yourself For the Scam

by Soraya Grant

The only people who are at fault during a scam are the people who are involved in running the scam, but you would never know that if you listened to the inner voice of many scam victims. As soon as we learned we have been scammed, most of us let loose with a verbal beating that we would not give to our worst enemy.

"How could I have missed the horrible word usage and grammar?"
Victims of Nigerian and other foreign scams often look back and realize the person they thought they were communicating with was actually somebody who struggled to speak English or seemed to speak in long uninterrupted paragraphs that, now that they look closely at them, were clearly cut and pasted from somebody else's chat log or web page. You begin wondering how anyone, including you, didn't pick up on this right away. When this happens, remember that context and situations play a huge part in the way all human beings perceive things.

The television show "Would You Fall For That?" is a new series about lighthearted hoaxes designed to reveal psychological quirks that all people share. In one experiment, the show's hosts had a child who had never painted before randomly throw some paint on canvas. The results were then presented as an art show by an art prodigy. Many people were filmed talking about the work, and even art experts believed that they were looking at real paintings. They saw the splashes of paint, but instead of interpreting them as randomly splashed paint, they interpreted them through the lens of looking at the work of an art prodigy at an art show. Dark splashes were anger. Swirls were confusion. Why? Because the situation was set up for them to believe they were looking at real art at an art show and that's what they would think if they were interpreting art.

The same thing happened to you when you encountered the foreign scammer's odd way of speaking. You saw it, but instead of interpreting it as somebody struggling with the language or cutting and pasting, you interpreted it through the lens of truly dating a real person you met online. Poor English became bad typing skills and cutting and pasting became a long winded person. Why? Because the situation was set up so that you would believe you were talking to real person in a real relationship with you, and that's what you...or anyone..would think if you were speaking to a real person online who typed this way.

This detail mainly applies to victims of Nigerian and other foreign scams, but victims of all types of scammers, including Americans, may be beating themselves up over repeated lines or words scammers use to save time. Again, you were not stupid. You did what any human being would interpreted what was happening in accordance with the situation you believed yourself to be in.

"How could I have been naive enough to tell this person I loved them and make a commitment to them?"
You weren't naive. You were set up. The scammer may have told you they loved you very early on in the relationship, but before that, they carefully crafted a perfect person for you. It already looked like a miracle or a special blessing or burst of good fortune that you even met somebody so well suited to you. When that person fell in love with you right away, you didn't see it for the red flag you now know it to be. You saw it as an extension of the miracle or run of good fortune that had already begun when you met them.

The scammer set you up to expect miracles in your dating life by making you believe you had already met the greatest man or woman you would ever meet, so when they said "I love you" or "I feel a connection between us" or "I think I've found the one" you saw what you had been set up to see.

"How could I be so stupid as to send them money/offer them money/reship packages/do banking for this person?"
Most people would do this for someone dealing with the impossible hardship and suffering the scammers describe. The problem isn't that you were willing to do such generous things, the problem is that the scammer was not who they said they were and the situation they described didn't actually exist. The scammer used your feelings for the character they created, and strengths such as generosity and empathy, to manipulate you into believing the situations did exist. It had nothing to do with being stupid.

"They must have picked me because they could tell I have no self confidence in..."
The vast majority of scammers pick their victims at random. While they will certainly use low self confidence about your intelligence, appearance, or anything else you may not feel good about to mentally manipulate you, they did not choose you because of anything you project. Nigerian scammers and American money scammers communicate with anybody they think they can brainwash into sending them money...and that would be anybody who speaks to them. American revenge scammers go for anybody they think they can mess with, which again, is anybody who speaks to them. Even if your scammer was somebody who knows you and targeted you personally, it still isn't because you brought it on. It's because they chose to deal with whatever inspired them to run the scam by doing something devious and cruel instead of dealing with it in a normal way.

"It's my fault. If I didn't flirt with everybody I found attractive or post so many shirtless/swimsuit/glamour photos on my web pages, this wouldn't happen."
Notice that this is the exact opposite of the section above it. Scam victims tend to blame their own character flaws or quirks for the scam, no matter what they are. But it is never the fault of the victim. A scammer will certainly use high self-confidence in their manipulation tactics, but they would also use any other trait a victim had. And it does not matter if you flirted with the person. Does every person you have ever seen flirt with anyone get scammed by that person? Flirting does not cause scamming. Neither does having a perfectly chaste conversation, or speaking in short sentences, or speaking in long sentences. Scamming is never a punishment for anything you did or said.

"If I weren't so needy, I would have picked up on the red flags a lot sooner."
The desire to believe someone loves you is not "needy." Human beings are social creatures. It is the way we are designed. Numerous health problems have been linked to loneliness and social isolation. While it is true that we often don't see the red flags because we work to convince ourselves that there is a reasonable explanation behind them, that does not mean you are "needy." It means you are a perfectly normal human being.

"It's my own fault for not telling a family member or friend and keeping secrets."
Scammers socially isolate their victims by giving them projects, messing up their schedules, and demanding secrecy in the relationship as a loyalty test. If you do manage to tell someone, and the person points out the suspicious details of the story, the scammer is ready to convince you that the person is just jealous. It is a good idea to tell someone you already know well and trust about any online relationship you enter into, no matter how casual. There is a better chance they will notice odd details that you won't, since you are being worked on by the scammer and they are not. But you did not cause the scam by keeping the relationship secret.