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.


Thursday, July 25, 2013

Is It Me?: A Journaling Exercise to Counter The Scammer's Manipulation

by Soraya Grant

Scammers may begin their crafted persona with details from other victims, random stories they heard, television shows, and bits of their own life, but they soon focus intensely on learning about you and incorporating parts of your personality, tastes, and quirks into the fake person they've created. The scammer realizes you love fancy restaurants so they pretend to come up with the idea of taking you to a place you've only seen on television before. Or they notice your dating site or social networking site page has a lot about football, so they spin tales of the Sundays you're going to spend watching the game together.

As they work on this, the scammer will also add some differences. This is done to make the character more realistic and to give you little projects that keep you too busy to focus on their suspicious behaviors. The scammer might present himself as an avid photographer and encourage you to start learning to take pictures so the two of you can go on nature walk photo shoots someday. Or they might try to get you interested in a genre of music you've never really thought about before.

This manipulation tactic is carried out in such subtle and sneaky ways, you never realize you're being brainwashed. It just feels like you're growing and learning from the relationship the way you would with many friendships or romantic relationships.

Once you discover that the entire situation was a scam, it becomes clear that the scammer had ulterior motives for encouraging you to spend your evenings researching and planning a trip to Italy or learning the history of Jazz music.

What may not be so clear immediately following a scam is what is truly you and needs to be embraced once again and what is the result of the scammer's mind control tactics and should be removed from your life.

It may feel confusing at first, but you are not doomed to spend your life worrying if every new idea is something from the scam. Journaling exercises can help clear up some of the confusion, and may even generate some ideas so new you have no doubt they belong to you.

Begin By Focusing On One Area Of Your Life At A Time
One woman's scammer realized she was considering a second career. He used this to his advantage by talking her into applying to and planning to enroll at the online campus of a school located near the area where the two of them were supposedly going to make a home together. He didn't truly care where she went to school or if she liked her jobs, he just wanted her to spend so much time and energy planning for school she didn't have time to sit back and ask why he was hinting that he needed money instead of applying for a second job himself, or where he was when he disappeared from the chat for long periods of time. Once the scam ended, she was left picking over these plans, struggling to differentiate which parts reflected her real interests and which parts were planted in her mind by the scammer. Her first topic for journaling was "Academic and Career Plans." Yours does not need to be similar. Choose anything that is causing you confusion or weighing on your mind. Don't worry about what anyone else would think about your topic. If you can't eat comfortably in a restaurant anymore because you're struggling to get scammer conversations about recipes and food out of your head, make your first journal project "Favorite Foods."

Create a Pin Board About Your Topic
This board can take any form you want. You might want to purchase an inexpensive cork board and a box of thumb tacks from a store and collect magazines or web page printouts to use for images. If you would like to use your computer instead, the web site "Pinterest" allows users to create online pin boards. Just remember that unless you create a secret board on this site, your board will be visible to other people, so keep public boards to things you wouldn't mind other people seeing. If you would like to use words instead of pictures, make your offline pin board a single dry erase board or sheet of poster-board pinned to the wall (or taped to the table or floor) or use an online journal site.

Begin With a Brainstorm
The first step is to add almost anything you can think of that fits with your topic to your pinboard. Don't add anything that you are certain is from the scammer, but go ahead and include anything you are unsure of. If your board is "Places I'd Like to Go" and you know you're only thinking "Texas" because that's where the scammer lives (or pretended to live) avoid pinning anything Texas related to the board. But if you're doing a "Favorite Foods" board and you remember talking about red velvet cake with the scammer, but also remember loving red velvet cake back in college, go ahead and pin it.

Sit Back and Examine Your Board
Once you grow tired of your brainstorm, sit back and look at what you have. Which words or images bring back positive memories from your life before the scam? Does anything have a particularly strong positive emotional pull? These are going to be the items that reflect the real you. Keep them as a guide. Is there anything on the board that only reminds you of the scammer? For example, suppose you are doing an online visual board called "What I Want In My House" and you see you have selected several beach themed guest bedroom photos. When you look at these photos, you cannot remember a single instance before the scam when you wanted any room in your house decorated in a beach theme, and are only reminded of scammer conversations about beach vacations. Delete these immediately. Repeat this process until everything on your board comes from your life before the scam. Don't worry if you also discussed it with the scammer. Remember, scammers take a lot of your real details and use them to manipulate you. As long as you have some association with the item that has nothing to do with the scam, it is coming from your real life.

Replace The Deleted, Unpinned, or Erased Items By Asking Yourself Further Questions or Looking Around
Suppose you started a board called "Hobbies" but as soon as you sat back and tried to think of memories and associations with each activity you chose, all you could think of were scammer chats about everything you put up. Don't panic. Your real interests are still around. Take some time and explore a few things you remember having fleeting interest in or are just curious about. Read web pages or magazines about these topics. When you find some activities that hold your interest, add them to your board.

Repeat The Process For Other Areas Of Your Life As Needed
Once you have your first collection of images or words that you know are from you, repeat the process with other areas of your life that feel "taken over" by the scammer. There is no time limit on this journaling exercise. You may finish it an afternoon or two or you can work on it for a few minutes a day for an entire month. If you decide to use Pinterest for this journaling exercise, you can even work on several boards at once.




Wednesday, July 24, 2013

SOTH Stepping Stones: Restoring Your Normal Eating Patterns

by Soraya Grant

Scammers thrive on messing up their victim's daily routine. You may have found yourself skipping meals to talk to the scammer, eating at odd times to match their schedule, or eating convenience foods in front of the computer. The emotional upheaval following a scam can lead some people to lose their appetite. Others may attempt to comfort themselves by binging. This is to be expected in the short term, but starving, bingeing, and eating junk food or sweets all day can lead to serious health problems if they become permanent eating patterns. Reclaiming your food intake can also help psychologically, as it can be a major part of taking control over your life back from the scammer.

Start With a Food Journal

Take out a paper notebook or create a document on your desktop or online. Divide the paper into morning, afternoon, and evening. Write down what you ate at each of these times before you ever met the scammer online. If you always got up at seven and had a cup of herbal tea, write "7 am, herbal tea." If dinner used to always be at five-thirty, note that under "evening." Once you have an outline of your normal eating habits written down, go back over it and make a note of all the differences in your current eating patterns. This will give you an idea of what changed during and immediately after the scam.

Return to Your Old Ways of Eating Gradually

Plan each change, and make sure it is something you can handle. Suppose your food journal revealed that you used to have eggs and fruit for breakfast, a salad and a sandwich for lunch, whatever your roommate made for dinner at six, and some trail mix as a snack in the evening. Following the scam, you still eat dinner, but you had given up your breakfast and your evening snack to chat with the scammer and taken to eating junk from the vending machine at work on your lunch hour so you wouldn't have to leave your computer. You might want to write "Week 1: walk to the grocery store and buy a salad and sandwich to eat in the break room at lunch" as your first goal. Once you are used to having your old lunch again, your next goal might be to restore your old habit of sitting down to breakfast. Repeat the process until you are eating for yourself and your life once again.

Consider Making Healthy Changes If Needed

Some people might be a little startled by their old eating patterns. Maybe you didn't realize just how many salty snacks you ate during the day until you wrote it out, or perhaps your old habit of eating fast food sandwich, fries, and a soda every day after work isn't something you really need to pick up again. You might have taken a look at your journal and realized you need to eat a lot more food, or that you never did drink enough water. Start ordering salads, snacking on vegetables or fruit, adding a smoothie to your daily routine, or carrying a water bottle or glass with you.

Make an Appointment With Your Doctor for Serious Food Related Issues

This article is only meant as a form of peer guidance. Talk to your Doctor if you think you need to completely overhaul your diet, gain or lose weight, or if you suspect a diet related health problem or food allergy. Compulsive food purchasing or binge eating, purging food, self starvation, or ritualistic eating behavior are also symptoms of serious health problems that need to be addressed with a health professional.

Bring Back Food Related Traditions You Gave Up During or Immediately Following the Scam

Scammers monopolize your time and energy as a means of controling you. This often causes you to drop out of activities, including traditions involving food. Right after you discover you have been scammed, you may stay away due to emotional exhaustion or fear that people will find out about the scam and judge you. While you do not have to tell anyone about the scam unless you want them to know about it and feel you can trust them, do make an effort to rejoin activities. If you used to have Sunday dinner with your son and daughter in law twice a month, it might be time to accept at least some of their invitations again. If Sunday afternoon was always set aside for weekly grocery shopping, make your list and head to the store. Don't add to your stress or try to do too much at once. Going to the potluck of every organization you once belonged to, hosting huge family dinners, and walking to the nearby diner for your breakfast every morning might be too much to take back all at once, especially if you've isolated yourself for some time. Add the easiest thing back first, then slowly begin doing more.

Get Rid of Any Food Related Habit You Adopted Just For the Relationship That Turned Out to Be a Scam

It doesn't matter if the scammer got you drinking large bottles of soda to help you stay up to chat with them or if you started going to a restaurant because it reminded you of the type of place he talked about taking you on your first date. If you started eating or drinking anything, going to a certain restaurant, or making a certain recipe because of the scam, drop that detail from your life. This may feel like a punishment if its something you really grew to like, but the loss of a recipe, drink, food, or hangout is a small price to pay for peace of mind. Clinging to it will only keep you mentally connected to the scam.

Monday, July 22, 2013

SOTH Stepping Stones: Restoring A Healthy Sleep Pattern

by Soraya Grant

Scammers manipulate their victims' sleep patterns as a means of psychological manipulation. One of the first stepping stones on the road to recovery is getting a decent amount of sleep once again. Sleep is vital to overall mental and physical health. Restoring a healthy sleep pattern will make it easier to cope with the scam and heal.

Remove Traces of the Scam from Your Home With Special Attention to Your Bedroom

Immediately following the discovery of the scam, you deleted, ignored, and/or blocked all the scammer's accounts from all of your accounts. Repeat the process with every other web site or document that reminds you of the scam. Get rid of pictures they sent, web pages you visited because of them, lists you made because of them, even statuses from your social networking sites that are related to them. Once the computer is cleaned of all things scammer related, go over the rest of your living area,paying special attention to your sleeping area. Any teddy bears or other plush toys they sent you should be taken to the thrift store or local charity of your choice, as should any little symbols you purchased to represent the relationship that turned out to be a scam such as perfumes, night lights, statues, or posters. Include sleepwear. If you bought fancy silk pajamas to wear the first time your boyfriend or girlfriend spent the night, dig your old pajamas out of the drawer or donation box and donate the silk set. Do everything you can to remove all traces of the scam, but don't add to your own stress. Do the best you can. If you bought a whole new bed and bedroom set, it may not be possible to just haul it to the thrift store and buy a new one right now. Just make sure that anything that is kept stays behind only because you cannot afford to replace it right now, and not because you are attached to it.

Reclaim Your Evening Routine

Your body clock was reset by the scammer. You always watched a movie on DVD before bed, then crawled in and drifted off. Once the scammer began manipulating you, your routine changed to spending three hours chatting with them and going to bed an hour later. Dive back in to your DVD collection. If you still cannot sleep, do something you find relaxing with that extra time. Make sure it is something you truly find relaxing. The traditional hot bath, clean pajamas, and a cup of chamomile tea works for some people. Other people would rather play with pets, write out their schedule for the next day, or clean out a drawer. The only rule is that nothing you do can be related to the scammer; don't log on to the site where you met them, watch the television show the two of you talked about, or look at recipes you were planning to cook when you thought someone would be visiting you. Try to gradually cut back on the extra time spent awake until the evening routine you had before you ever met the scammer feels natural to you again.

Repeat the Process with Your Morning Routine

The scammer may have insisted you get up early to chat. Or maybe you got up early to get ahead on work so you could log on to chat with them in the evenings. Get up at the time you used to get up before you ever met the scammer. Resist the urge to get out of bed if you wake up at the earlier time. Even if you need to get up to use the bathroom, go back to your bed and lay back down until your normal waking time. Having a book to read, a television channel to watch, or some music to listen to as a way to keep you occupied if you do not fall back to sleep might be beneficial. Once it is time to get up, revert to the morning routine you had before you met the scammer.

Give Yourself a Relaxing Gift

Consider giving yourself a gift designed to help you sleep. If you have absolutely no money to spare, take an hour online and build yourself a folder full of relaxing images that can be saved and viewed as a slideshow on your computer. If you can spare up to five dollars, you might like a few new songs for your playlist, a scented room spray, a night light, a flameless candle, or a glass or cup in your favorite color for your nightstand. New pajamas, a new blanket or body pillow, a plush toy of your favorite animal or a teddy bear, a new sheet set, a new comforter and pillow shams, or a soothing sounds machine might be good for someone who can afford to spend a little more. Tailor this step to your own tastes. If playing video games, reading, or knitting relaxes you, get a new game, book, or materials for a project. The idea is to add something to your evening that prompts you to go to sleep.

Seek Professional Help If Needed

These steps are simple because they are ideas that proved effective for the author of this article. They are not medical or therapeutic advice from a professional. Anyone who feels they may need medication to help them sleep, experiences frightening or deeply upsetting nightmares, or simply cannot get a decent night's sleep despite taking steps to relax and restore their normal sleep pattern should visit a licensed mental health and/or medical professional.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Letting Go of Those Things We Cling to Following a Scam

By Soraya Grant

After a romance scam, people often find themselves clinging to parts of the scam. It can begin to feel like you will never truly be able to let go and live a life free of the influence of the scammer. But the mental and emotional hold will lessen, and there are some things to keep in mind to help move the process along.
Photos the Scammer Sent
The best way to avoid clinging to photos the scammer sent is to immediately delete every picture from every device you’ve saved them on and then empty your trash files so that you can’t restore them. Tear up any photos you printed out and throw them in an offline trash can. Any time you find yourself hesitating to part with a photo, remember that the vast majority of scammers fake their appearance and steal photos. In these cases, the pictures you are looking at do not belong to anyone you have ever met, online or offline. It is no different than looking at random photos of attractive people you stumble across on modeling sites, boudoir photography sites, or public photo albums. When you look at them, you are looking at a total stranger who has no idea you even exist. While it is rare, some scammers do use their real appearance. It is still a good idea to get rid of all of their photos. No matter how good-looking you find the person, every time you look at them, you are looking at someone who pretended to have a personality, past history, current life, and relationship with you that did not exist. This person did all of this just to get your money, trick you into doing something illegal for them, or hurt you just to cause emotional pain. This is not someone who deserves to have their photo saved in any of your albums.

Plans You Made
Scammers love getting you involved in planning things. It serves as a good test to see if you are willing to do what they want. If you’re willing to give up your afternoons on the tennis court to switch to golf for them, they see this as a sign that you’re willing to do other things they are planning to ask you to do too; like send them money or gifts, reship items for them, or just perform a bunch of random acts they can enjoy knowing they made you do. Becoming engrossed in planning something also messes with your daily rhythms and removes you from contact with friends and family, making you susceptible to brainwashing. Sadly, these plans can also be exciting. Even after you have come to realize the whole situation was a scam, you may find yourself wishing you could attend the school or retreat, stay in the hotel, or go on the adventure. When you find yourself longing for these things, remember that these plans were not made with a loved one who had your best interests at heart. You were goaded into making them by someone who only wanted you to do this so they could mentally manipulate and control you. Cancel all of these plans, and delete and block any messages from contacts or other places connected to them. If you are afraid of being rude to a real person, such as a travel agent or school admissions officer, send a short, polite note explaining that you will not be carrying out these plans for personal reasons.

Because scammers use details they get from talking to you to further their stories, you may find that the plans are very similar to something you actually want to do. If the scammer manipulated you into planning an elaborate trip to Toronto, this may be because they learned you really wanted to visit Canada someday. The scammer that had you researching resorts in the Rocky Mountains probably got the idea when they learned you like luxury hotels.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up this part of your personality, just reclaim it from the scammer by creating fresh, new plans for something that is all yours. Avoid incorporating anything from the scammer inspired plans in your real plans.
Real Details

This is an especially strong trap for victims of American scammers. Scammers from the United States typically work alone or in very small rings. Mixing in a few real details from their life makes it easier for them to manage all their made up stories. It also saves them from coming up with a reason why they can't take a personal check if they want your money. Adding some real details also serves as a shield in case the victim researches the scammer's name. Once the victim realizes these few real details were all that was real, they may be tempted to cling to them. If your scammer was American, you might find yourself repeatedly reading the official web page of the state where they live, researching their company, or fixated on landmarks in their city.

Some people are able to just make a conscious decision to stop visiting these pages. If the pull is still too strong for you, consider blocking these sites from your computer using the same programs parents use to block adult oriented material from their children. You will still know the password, but the effort of having the block pop up will make it harder to just “check out” the sites. As time goes on, these web sites will lose their appeal.

The Stories They Told
It can be particularly difficult to let go of the person you thought you knew online if they told you interesting stories. Many scam victims have the experience of doing just fine until a song, movie, television show, or overheard conversation brings up something the scammer told. Any time one of these stories pops into your mind, remind yourself that the vast majority of scammer stories are stolen. The person may have really had coffee this morning or like to wear blue shirts, but if they told you an elaborate tale of the road trip they took with their college friends, there is about a 99% chance they got the story from a past victim, a television show, a movie, or someone else they know. One scammer told a victim elaborate stories about his long career as a nurse. He may or may not have actually worked as a nurse for some time, but it is certain that he did not have the nursing career he described. No one person could ever have this many adventures in one lifetime, and the stories seemed oddly familiar. The victim would later hear the same stories again....while watching reruns of a famous medical drama that had gone off the air. The scammer had taken plotlines involving several characters from the show and woven them into stories to keep his victims engrossed in chats with him.
Items Purchased For the Relationship You Believed to be Real
In many cases, the victim makes purchases because of the relationship they believed was real. You may have purchased clothes to wear on the first date, household items for the home you planed to share with your new love, books or sports equipment for the interests the scammer pushed you into, or a new cell phone to communicate with the person. The best way to free yourself from these items is to throw them away or donate them as soon as possible. Do not use them as gifts or pack them away. Get rid of them. You may not be able to do all of this right away, but do the best you can and work through everything as quickly as you can. If you donated your whole wardrobe to a thrift store and bought all new clothes to please what you thought was your new girlfriend or boyfriend, you may not be able to just haul these away and buy new outfits in your old style right away. But you can begin making a shopping list, putting as much money as you can aside, and slowly getting rid of a few items you don't absolutely need in order to get dressed in the morning.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Support Chat Room Available at Scams of the Heart

By Soraya Grant
Where do you go when you have just begun to realize the person you fell in love with online was really a scammer or group of scammers? Talking to family and friends about it may be difficult, especially at first. General purpose chat rooms are often a bit rough; many that were set up for "clean" chat are populated by people who are looking for online (and sometimes offline) hookups and affairs, people looking for an online fight, and scammers. Even quality support sites for related issues such as loneliness or anxiety might simply not have the knowledge to help you cope with your scam. The people there may mean well, they just don't fully understand what you're talking about or know what to say.
Scams of the Heart hosts an online support chat room for anyone who has been scammed, fears they may be talking to a scammer, or is concerned that a family member or friend is or has been the victim of an online romance scam.

Our Promises To Anyone Who Uses the Chat Room

If You Need to Talk About an Online Romance Scam, We Will Listen

We have no problem with general, off topic conversations, but if someone comes in needing to talk about online romance scams, the topic of the room immediately switches to online romance scams and stays on topic as long as the person needs to talk. It does not matter if you discovered you or someone in your life was being scammed today, three weeks ago, or four years ago. If something has come up and you need to talk about the scam, you will not be ignored, interrupted with off topic chatter, or pushed to change the subject. We will be here for you.
Your Scam Will Be Taken Seriously
Scams of the Heart members understand that an online romance scam is not a bad relationship, a cheater, or a crush that turned out to be a jerk. We understand the emotional, psychological, and often financial devastation that happens during romance scams. You will not be dismissed with "get over it" or "oh well you're better off without him" type comments here.
We Will Do Our Best to Keep the Common Chat Room Problems Away
Each chatter's ip address and location is visible to the moderators. They have already blocked ips from areas with high concentrations of scammers, such as Nigeria and Ghana, from the room, and have no problem blocking individual ip addresses from any Americans or people from other nations who enter the room and attempt to run a scam. It is further noted in several places on Scams of the Heart's main page, Squidoo page, and this site that we are not an online hookup or dating site. People who join are made aware that this is not the place to come if they are looking for someone to flirt with, hook up with, date, or marry. We also make it clear on the main page that this is not the place to come looking for a fight over religion, politics, social issues, or anything else people like to go into chat rooms and pick fights about. The atmosphere in the chat room is one of respect for other people.

We Encourage and Support Healing and Recovery
Joining the Scams of the Heart chat room does not doom you to be a scam victim and nothing more. You will find that you, and other members, will need to focus on the scam at different times, but we are not here to force you to forever dwell on what happened during and immediately after the scam. You will find support and encouragement as you learn to re-establish trust in yourself and other people, strengthen old offline friendships and make new friends, begin dating again, go back to work, go back to school, or dive into a hobby or interest.
Scams of the Heart Chat Has a "Here When You Need Us" Policy
There have been some very strong friendships formed in the chat room, and we have several members who come in to chat as a regular part of their week or day. At the same time, we encourage members to have additional social circles and other interests. There is no set amount of time you are required to devote to the chat room to be "accepted" and we hope you don't give up the things you love or brush off your family members or offline friends in order to come in and chat. We will not be offended if you need to come in and discuss scams and scam recovery for a while but are not interested in making new lifelong friends. Whether you spend your entire day logged into the chat room, just come in once to ask about some scam related issues, or anything in between, you will be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else. Friendships may form, but this is not anyone's online clique. We are here for anyone who needs us.

We Have a Confidentiality Rule

As with any quality support group, what is said in the room or learned about someone in the room stays in the room. We will not reveal the details of your scam to anyone else on any other web site, over the phone, or in any other form of communication. Each person owns what happened to them and it is entirely up to them to decide who else needs to know about it.

There Is No Hierarchy of Scams Here

At Scams of the Heart, we do not play any "I was scammed worse than you" games. Most online romance scams are based in Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, or a country from the former USSR. This makes them the most common, not the worst or the most important. Some online romance scams are carried out by Americans. This makes them rarer, not worse or more important. Regardless of where your scam originated, you will not be treated as less important than someone who lost more money to the scammer, spent more time believing they were in a relationship with the scammer, or spent more money on clothes, airfare, or other things to please what they believed to be their boyfriend or girlfriend than you. It does not matter if you were scammed by a Nigerian ring who tricked you into sending thousands of dollars, scammers from across your own country who tried to get you to send them new electronics as "presents," somebody across town because they just get a kick out of manipulating and hurting people online, or any other combination of details. We are all equal here.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How Do Scammers Manipulate Their Victims?

by Soraya Grant

Online romance scam victims are often left wondering how the scammer managed to make them think they were in a real relationship. Sadly, many let loose with a barrage of mental insults about themselves that they would never dream of heaping upon anyone else. This is unfair. Scammers use a variety of mind control tactics to trap and keep their victims, most of which fall into one of five categories.

They Mess Up Sleep Patterns
Altering a person's sleep pattern is a common and very effective mind control technique. This is why so many cult leaders keep their followers up all night, wake them suddenly, or make them get up at extremely early hours. Scammers do this by insisting on "romantic" late night online chats or phone calls, telling their victims their work schedule is busy or odd so that the victim is willing to get up early to chat or call, or texting in the middle of the night. One scammer began complaining about health problems that caused exhaustion and asking at least one victim to "take a nap with him" even though the victim felt fine and it was early in the afternoon where the victim lived. It seemed like a sweet romantic gesture at the time, but it was really just a convenient way to buy time to concentrate on another victim and a way to disrupt the first victim's sleep patterns and make her thinking too foggy to question the scammer.

They Mess Up Other Daily or Weekly Rhythms

People have different needs when it comes to structure in a day or week, but most of us do not think as clearly or function at our best level when our schedule is thrown completely out of whack. We've all seen this happen during the course of our ordinary lives. How many times have you felt out of sorts, or even lost track of what time or what day it was because your schedule got messed up by something as simple as a missed lesson, cancelled class, or unexpectedly hectic or slow week at work? Scammers use this to their advantage. They might insist on chatting or send emails or texts to the victim's phone when they know the person needs to be taking a lunch break or doing a job or the scammer may promise to call in order to make the victim sit by the phone and miss evening activities or meals. Many scammers will talk their victims into big projects, such as applying to academic programs, planning to redecorate or remodel a house they promise the two of them will share, or planning a vacation for the two of them. This persuasion serves as both a test to see how willing the victim is to do as the scammer wishes, and as a way to keep the person physically and/or mentally "running around."

They Prey On The Person's Strengths
Scammers subtly change their created persona to be the perfect boyfriend or girlfriend for each victim. People who have a deep faith and spiritual life are soon presented with a persona who shares their commitment and beliefs and challenges them to grow. Wild and crazy guys and girls meet the perfect one to have fun with, or that person who provides a calm center. If a scammer realizes a victim is especially devoted to those in her life, that scammer will become someone who needs a lot of attention and care. People high in empathy will hear all about the difficulties faced by the character the scammer is playing and all his (made up) friends' problems too. Even a healthy dose of skepticism, the one trait many people think should protect them from being scammed, will get used by the scammer. The one who prides himself on being skeptical and questioning everything will find that his "girlfriend" loves to talk about how phony celebrities and people at work can be and how dangerous it is to be naive.

They Prey On The Person's Weaknesses

This is not to imply that only the weak get scammed. Every human being has both strengths and weaknesses in their personality. Scammers target both the victim's strengths and their weaknesses. The classic example is someone who struggles to see him or herself as physically attractive to the opposite sex. A scammer who picks up on this weakness will lavish the victim with flirting and compliments about how "pretty" or "hot" the person is. The victim who sees himself as less intelligent than his friends or siblings will hear all about what a genius he is. And lack of confidence isn't the only weakness a scammer is willing to exploit. The scammer will be rich for the person who reveals himself to be a bit too materialistic and live a simple life for the girl who tends to be a bit too cheap for her own good. The scammer will provide stories for the person who is much too quiet and pretend to be a sounding board for the chatterbox. No matter what issue the victim struggles with, the scammer plays a character who can make it all better.

They Use Social Isolation

Scammers isolate their victims. This may sound impossible at first. The majority of scammers are in Nigeria, Ghana, or a country in the former USSR, while the majority of victims are in the United States, Canada, or Europe. American scammers who go after people at random target people from all the way across the country. Even those scammers who go after a specific person for revenge aren't going to be able to keep the person physically trapped; while the scam is going on, the victim isn't in the building with them and has no idea who the scammer really is. Scammers might not be able to physically block the door, turn off the water so the victim can't shower, or hide the car keys like a real abusive partner, but they can and do manipulate the victim into isolating him or herself.

Many of the tactics used to mess up life rhythyms also serve to keep the victim's focus on the scammer; making them wait by the phone or computer for calls and chats that sometimes happen and sometimes don't, insisting on long chats or email exchanges, getting the victim deeply involved in plans. Scammers also use any negativity between friends or family members to their advantage. They may insist upon keeping the relationship secret, claiming that family members would be jealous and try to ruin the relationship, or claim that the victim shouldn't tell his friends about their chats because they wouldn't understand true love. Once the person begins to believe that it is them and their online love against the world, they start pulling away from others in their life. In some cases, the scammer becomes the only "person" they have true conversations with.

When It Happens To You
The above paragraphs were written in an impersonal tone, making it easier to see the mind control tactics the scammers use. Sadly, when it happens to you, each of these tactics is used in such a subtle way, it is often very difficult to spot.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

What Not to Say When a Friend Has Been Scammed

By Soraya Grant

Learning a friend has been the victim of an online romance scam is a shock. While you and your friend are both adults and perfectly capable of choosing your own words and monitoring your own behavior, there are times that the shock of learning a friend or family member has been scammed causes a person to misunderstand, blurt, or panic. Continue to speak to the person as you always have, but remember that there are some things it is important not to say to a scam victim.

1...."How could you be so naive? Couldn't you tell this was fake?"

Why This Hurts: Scammers of all types devote a great deal of time and effort to convincing their targets that the online persona and the relationship is real. Much of this time and effort is channeled into the same type of mind control techniques used by cult leaders and domestic and dating violence perpetrators. Scam victims span the range of personality types, and even the most cynical can fall victim to an online romance scam.

2...."You made a commitment to somebody online? What were you thinking?"

Why This Hurts: The scammer used the same brainwashing techniques described above to convince your friend that this relationship was special and unique. If your friend was unfamiliar with scams before their own scam, they saw the early and intense declarations of love as something magical that happened to them, rather than as the common red flag they are.

3....."Well this was bound to happen. You flirt with every guy (or girl) who puts up a hot picture of themself on Facebook."

Why This Hurts: No matter what type of scam it was, how long it went on, or what the person lost in the scam, it was not their fault. The only people who are at fault during a scam are the people who are running the scam. Being scammed is not punishment for flirting or any other dating or social behavior.

4..."My ex boyfriend/girlfriend/former crush turned out to be a real jerk too."

Why This Hurts: No matter what happened during your last relationship or the last time you were interested in somebody, it was not the same thing as being scammed. Being scammed is a different experience from real dating and real relationships.

5..."Let's work on setting boundaries and establishing supports.."

Why This Hurts: Now is not the time to play therapist and speak in psychobabble. That is unhelpful and off putting to a lot of people at any time, but your friend especially needs real-life, down to earth, ordinary friendship right now. Speak to them in your normal voice using everyday words.

6..."Sit down. First we're going to make you a new budget. Then we're going to go through your stuff and throw out everything you bought during the scam, then we'll have dinner and come back and .."

Why This Hurts: The scammer has had control over your friend for the duration of the scam. Your friend needs to take back control over his or her own life. Do urge your friend to take safety precautions; delete, block, and ignore every piece of communication from the scammer, cancel any credit or debit cards they've given out to them, refuse any packages the scammers sends...but beyond that, your friend needs to be allowed to make their own decisions again.

7..."That's too bad. Let's go have one of our fun Friday nights and forget all about it."

Why This Hurts: It sounds like you think being the victim of an online romance scam isn't anything more than a bad day. If your friend is the type who really would be helped by doing something fun right now, make sure you let them know you understand how serious the scam is first, and ask them if they would like to have a Friday night like you guys used to rather than brushing things off.

8..."Well no wonder they went for you. You're hot!"

Why This Hurts: Complimenting a friend is sweet, but remember that many scam victims want nothing to do with any form of flirting, dating, or attractiveness for a while. This type of statement also shows a serious misunderstanding of scammers. Nigerian scammers, American money scammers, and American revenge scammers who target random people do not even form opinions of what the victim looks like. They pick anybody who will serve their purpose and say anything they need to say to get their way. If the scam was carried out by an American who targetted your friend for personal revenge and that revenge did have something to do with them being attractive, the scammer certainly wasn't acting because they were charmed by that observation. Scamming, no matter what the goal, is a cruel thing to do to someone. It isn't a form of flattery.

9...."Well it's over now. Just drop it and move on."

Why This Hurts: Phrases like "get over it," "move on," and "just drop it" tend to have the same result as "don't look down." They make the person want to do the exact opposite. Yes, your friend will need to move on from the pain of the scam, but you can't make it happen by commanding them to do it.

10..."How are you going to get your money back?"

Why This Hurts: If your friend was the victim of a money scam that lasted long enough for them to be persuaded to send money, that money is gone. It doesn't matter if it was a Nigerian scam or an American money scam. Any money they sent is gone. Your friend is also not going to get back any gifts they sent.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


by Soraya Grant

You have studied the Scams of the Heart squidoo page, main page, and blog, and know that you have been scammed. It was tempting to lash out at the scammer by listing all the red flags that lead to that realization, but you know all a scammer would do with that information is take notes in order to craft a better scam next time, so you wisely said nothing more than "I know this situation wasn't real and I don't wish to communicate with you anymore." You also know confronting a scammer directly is a dangerous idea, so you simply began deleting all their correspondence and blocking their accounts from yours.
But receive a message through one of the accounts you haven't gotten around to blocking yet. It may even be from a new account the scammer has created. You were expecting some nasty, angry threats, but this is startling. It's a confession and an apology.
Things have been going so horribly for you lately, you may be tempted to believe a miracle has occurred. The idea that your love and influence has broken through and reformed a scammer is a beautiful idea. Sadly, that is not what is going on here. The scammer is only trying to re-scam you.

Nigerian Scammers

What Happens:
The message is from a young person in Nigeria, Ghana, or another nation in west Africa or the former USSR. They admit that they were part of an organized scam ring, and confess that they only wanted to steal your money and/or trick you into receiving and reshipping illegal packages for them. The person apologizes, promises their contact with that ring has ended, and tells you that they grew to love you during the scam. They may say they fell in love with you, or they might tell you they grew to love you as a close or best friend. The person may promise they can get your money back. They hope you will forgive them and start a whole new friendship with the real person behind the now deleted character.
What Is Really Going On:
This is nothing more than another page in the scammer's script. It does not matter how sweet or sorry the scammer sounds, they do not mean it. It is likely they barely know what it says, and it is entirely possible that some person you haven't even spoken with before sent you that message.
If you accept this gesture of attraction or friendship, the person will eventually begin asking you for little favors again. They may want you to accept and reship packages again, "promising" that it is just souvenirs for a family member. The person might hint or ask for more money, this time for school supplies or other items for their real children or other family members. They may also ask you for information about romance scams groups, claiming they want to educate other scammers about the harm they are causing.

The scammer may be using somebody's real identity and personality now, but they are still running a scam. The packages will still be illegal. The money is still for their scamming business. Any cell phones or laptops you send will only be used to run new scams. The information they ask for is not to reform other scammers, but to help their own scam ring craft scams that are harder to detect.
What To Do:
Delete any messages, photos or other correspondence you get from this person and block any new accounts they create from your accounts, just as you did the first time. Ignore them completely. Do not give in to this, no matter what the person says. Do not argue with them or challenge them. This is just another play in the Nigerian scammer playbook.
American Money Scammers
What Happens:
The message is from the American or Americans who scammed you and convinced you to send or offer to send money or do favors for them. They admit they were not the person they pretended to be online, reveal several more real details, and apologize profusely for the scam. They may admit that they routinely run copycats of the Nigerian scam, or they might claim that all other scam victims you have talked to are lying and say they've never done anything like this before. Like the Nigerian scammer whose methods they've adopted, this person will tell you that your love reformed them. They might claim to have genuinely fallen in love with you while scamming you, or they might insist they grew to love you as a close friend during the course of the scam, think about you every day, and wonder how you are doing.
What Is Really Going On:
The American money scammer has studied the Nigerian scam well, and is borrowing their "Plan B" for when their scam gets discovered. They will eventually begin asking you for money, gifts, and favors again. It may be the same things as before, only with a "real" reason behind it. For example, a scammer who was hinting for money to enable him to travel to your first date might admit he's really a married man, but claim his wife is pregnant or sick or lost her job, and he needs your help as a friend to get by. It might be different requests, such as asking you for money before, but now needing you to accept packages and reship them to business clients while they are "on vacation." But they will want some form of money, gifts, or favors from you. Like the Nigerian scammer, they may want to know all about the ways you discovered it was a scam, and like the Nigerian scammer, they are not doing this because they admire your researching skills or want to tell anyone else who gets the idea to run a romance scam for money how horrible it is. They are looking for tips and tricks to make their scam harder for future victims to detect.
If you accept this gesture of love or friendship, you will only be scammed again in the future. You will also unwittingly help the scammers go after other people.
What To Do:
Delete any messages, photos or other correspondence you get from this person and block or ignore any new accounts they create from your accounts, just as you did the first time. Do not give in to this, no matter what the person says. Do not argue with them or challenge them. This is just another play in the American money scammer playbook. Notice that this paragraph is the same as the one above, with one word changed. That is because the scam is the same as the Nigerian scam, with one detail (where the scammers live) changed. It is dangerous to have any further contact with both Nigerian scammers and American money scammers.

American Revenge Scammers
What Happens:
The message is from the person who scammed you. The may claim they are deeply apologetic, or they may say "sorry" but tack on a flurry of excuses about having low self esteem, wanting to see what it's like to be someone else, or being afraid people would reject them if they knew the real person behind the scam. They swear they have stopped scamming people, and removed fake Facebook profiles, dating site accounts, etc to "prove" it. As with all other scammers, this person may claim they fell in love with you, or grew to love you as a close friend during the course of the scam.
What Is Really Going On:

This is a person who routinely lies to and manipulates other people online as a hobby the way most people play sports or read up on a favorite subject or garden. They are not sorry, and the shutting down of the fake account that you know about only means they have shut down that particular scam. This person may be playing the role of ten other people online and you would never know it. At this point, they are just hoping you will feel sorry enough for them to brush off what they did to you and avoid reporting them to the website or telling others in their online networks what they have been doing on there.
If you accept their offers of romance or friendship, you will be forever wondering if what they are telling you is true, or if it's just part of another scam. The person might even be using access to your photos or dialogue to run scams on other people.
What To Do:
Delete and block and ignore the person just as you would with any other scammer.

American Personal Revenge Scammers
What Happens:
The message is from the person who scammed you. They tell you who they really are and why they did what they did. Their tone may still be angry, but the person claims they have forgiven you and they are sorry for tricking you online. This type of scammer may not lay on the love and/or friendship talk, only because you already know who it is and what they think about you, though some scammers of this type claim they did it for your own good. They swear they will never do anything like that again, to you or anyone else. They might remove fake profiles or take the invented details or stolen photos out of their own profiles to "prove" their sincerity.
What Is Really Going On:
The scammer just doesn't want reported to the web site or to face any other consequences for what they did. No matter who you knew this person to be before, you have just learned that they are someone who would use brainwashing techniques just to get their own way in whatever situation inspired them to run a scam.
If you accept any excuses or take the blame for the situation, you are only telling that person that it is okay to handle disagreements or disappointments in a devious and cruel way.
What To Do:
Delete, block, and ignore this person everywhere they were ever able to get in touch with you, just as you would any other scammer.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Cybersex During a Scam

By Soraya Grant
The following article contains adult subject matter and is intended for our readers aged 18 and older.

Cybersex, also called "sexting" can include trading explicit written descriptions of sexual acts you would like to perform with the other person via text message, chat room conversation, IM, or email, sending or accepting nude or revealing photos or videos of the other person, or stripping and engaging in intimate acts via a webcam.

Many people engage in some or all of these acts during the course of their scam, and memories of these acts are often a source of embarrassment, worry, shame, and guilt. These feelings are often difficult to cope with, because they are so difficult to talk about, or even to think about or write out in your journal. Regardless of the amount of detail you decide to reveal to others or ponder in private, there are some things to keep in mind.

You Did Not Have Cybersex or "Sext" with Anyone
In order to have any type of sex, everyone involved in the sexual act must consent to the activity. If an individual did not consent, that person didn't have sex, that person was the victim of sexual assault. Unfortunately, unless you have absolute proof that the scammer was an adult and the victim was underage, a scammer cannot be prosecuted for online sexual coercion. But if you engaged in any type of online sexual activity with the scammer, what happened to you was not the online version of sex. It was the online version of sexual assault. During the acts, you believed you were engaging in sexual activity with the character the scammer created. In reality, someone else was sitting behind that computer screen. You never consented to any form of sexual activity with that person.

Consider the offline version of the scammer's behavior:

Suppose you are at a fairly wild weekend party, at which it is known that people slip off to private areas of the building to hook up. There is someone at the party you want to have sex with. At some point in the evening, you feel a bit worn down, and decide to use one of these areas to hide out by yourself for a bit. Someone else enters the room without turning on the light and initiates sexual activity. You believe it to be the man or woman you want to have sex with and the acts occur. You wake alone the next morning and overhear an entirely different person bragging about how they tricked you last night. Would you recognize this as sexual assault and not sex? Of course. What the scammer did was the same thing, just carried out online. Just as if it were offline, being tricked or forced into sexual activity you would not truly want is never your fault.

We Cannot Guarantee any Private Materials Won't Be Shared, but the Chance is Miniscule
Once the scammer realizes you know the situation is a scam, they might threaten to post any private materials they tricked you into sending them on to pornographic web sites as revenge. As hard as this may be to hear, this is a possibility. There are numerous pornographic web sites online, and not all of them are respectful enough to require signatures or other forms of consent from anyone featured in a video, photo, or dialogue. At the same time, the possibility is very remote. It is simply not in the scammer's best interest to share your intimate materials for revenge.  By doing so, they expose themselves, and they don't need the extra attention!
If your scam was a Nigerian scam or an American copycat of a Nigerian scam, the scammers are in it for the money. Time spent sorting out which explicit photo or video was taken from which victim, making an account on the site, and uploading the material is time taken away from manipulating other victims who are still willing to send money.

American scammers who are out to manipulate anyone they can for revenge over perceived past injustices are also not likely to bother sharing your intimate videos, photos, or dialogue. These people get their "payout" in the thrill of knowing they are making someone fall in love with a character they created and messing with the person's head. Like the money scammer, it is in their personal interest to move right along to the next target.

Personal revenge scammers, those who target a specific person for a scam in order to torment that individual, are not likely to post items on pornographic web sites because it increases their likelihood of getting into trouble. If you just found out the guy across town has been scamming you because he's jealous of you, and intimate videos you sent to a girlfriend that turned out to be a character created by him show up online, you're going to know he did it.

Many scam victims fear their private materials will be used in future scams. Again, nobody can promise you they won't, but regardless of the type of scam, the scammers are in it for the scammers, and they are going to use the easiest path possible. With all the pornographic web sites, nude and boudoir photography sites, lingerie modeling sites, etc out there, it is very unlikely that your materials will be selected.

You Did Not Give the Scammer or Scammers a Thrill
Scammers want "cybersex" materials because it makes the situation seem real, it make you think you've become close to their created character, and it serves as an easy thing to threaten you over, even if those threats are too much trouble for them to carry out. They aren't doing it for sexual gratification, and were likely watching porn during sexual chats or copying and pasting dialogue from written porn sites. The only pleasure they got was knowing they tricked you into doing it.

We Are Here for You

Scams of the Heart members will not judge you for any activity, sexual or otherwise, that you engaged in under the manipulation and control of the scammer.

Meet Soraya Grant

Soraya Grant (Soraya if you meet her in the chat room) is the online pen name of our volunteer staff writer and American romance scams peer support contact. Soraya has been verified by our moderators and is only using a pen name because her full, real name is used for a business she runs via the web. Soraya will be happy to use her real first name in private chats and in any email correspondences with other members. Soraya is not a therapist or mental health professional of any kind. She is just someone who wishes to help us help others.

Soraya was scammed by an American. She knows the real name and a few real details of someone who was either the only scammer, or the main scammer in the group, information that was verified when she independently researched this person, learned the business' phone numbers, and called his desk at his office.

Soraya learned that the relationship was a scam after she stumbled upon a marriage announcement for this man and another woman five months into what she believed was her own relationship with him. At first, Soraya still thought it was a real person and a real relationship. She thought her boyfriend had merely been cheating on her with someone from his hometown and decided to marry this other woman instead, while still carrying on an online affair with her. When she sadly confided this information to an online female friend from the same chat room, Soraya learned that he had been carrying on an identical relationship with this woman, who said she was only sixteen years old.

Because the girl was under eighteen, Soraya submitted all the real details she had been given to an online predator reporting group, and returned to the chat room, where she discovered a third woman who also believed herself to be this man's girlfriend. The third woman refused to accept that she had been scammed. Soraya no longer saw the nickname her scammer used, so she attempted to remain a member of the support chat, despite the fact that the moderators refused to believe that romance scammers had gotten into their room. A few weeks after she discovered she had been scammed, she spoke with another woman who told her that this same person was in fact still in the chat room, and had approached her in the same way he approached the other women. He had just taken to pretending to be much younger. The fourth woman was in her twenties and not underage, but Soraya still reported the situation to the moderators, and demanded something be done about a person running a romance scam in their support chat. She found herself harassed and then banned instead.

Soraya refers to her scam as a "copycat Nigerian scam" because other than the location of the scammer, they were nearly identical. Like all scammers, the man (and possibly friends he was working with) created characters and used them to trick women into believing they were in romantic relationships with him. The character he presented to Soraya was poor and hinted strongly for money. The character he presented to the younger girl was wealthy and told her he had already bought her real diamond earrings. That particular scam was discovered before he could send the package, but he was likely planning to send them to her as a test to see if she'd accept packages. That's the normal first step for a reshipping scam, in which the scammer uses the victim to accept and reship materials that turn out to be illegal.

Soraya is here to help all victims of romance scams and will be happy to offer support to everyone in the chat room. She just has a special place in her heart for those scammed by Americans and is extending a special invitation for victims of American scammers to reach out to her. She also hopes everyone finds her writing both informative and comforting.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

American Romance Scams

American Romance Scams
by Soraya Grant

Most romance scams are carried out by organized gangs of criminals located in Nigeria, Ghana, or other west African nations. Countries of the former Soviet Union are also common locations for rings of foreign scammers. Some who study or fight against romance scams believe that these are the only types of romance scams that exist, but reality shows such as "Catfish" and the "Tall Hot Blonde" case reveal that many romance scams are carried out by Americans.

Most of the details of an American romance scam are identical to those of a foreign romance scam. The scammer will start with a base character, then use details you reveal on an online dating profile, social networking page, forum, or chat room to tailor that character to you. They will claim to fall in love with you very quickly and without ever meeting you offline. Once they believe they have you hooked, they will string you along, pretending to be in a relationship with you, but generating excuses when you ask them to meet you in person. You may notice that the details of their life seems inconsistent with their online and phone behavior. For example, they may claim they are a police officer on night shift, yet never be too tired to chat during the day when a real officer on nights would be asleep, or talk about having a teenage son but act confused or vague when you mention coping with your own teen's parent-teacher meetings, fads, or daily schedule. Repeated lines are also common, as the scammer may be talking to several people at once while pretending to only talk to one person. Stolen photos and/or invented descriptions are commonly used. It is also not uncommon for more than one person to be involved in the scam. The American scammer may have some friends or relatives who were in on the scam from the start, or they may talk someone else in to pretending to be them on the phone to cover up the fact that their gender, accent, or age is different from the character they are playing in order to run their scam.

Like the Nigerian scammers, American scammers will invent health problems, travel difficulties, family problems, and financial difficulties as reasons to avoid meeting and/or persuade you to send them gifts or money or do favors for them.. As with the Nigerian scam, if you accept and reship packages of illegal materials, take phone calls or answer emails that turn out to be related to drug deals, or deposit money in an account for someone who is engaged in illegal activity, you may still be charged and convicted of a crime. It is also impossible to get back any money you sent to someone in America because they talked you into giving it to them. Attempting to confront an American romance scammer is just as dangerous as attempting to confront a foreign romance scammer.

Despite these similarities, there are a few details of an American romance scam that may be different from one based overseas.

More Real Details May Be Used

The only detail of a Nigerian scam that isn't invented is the point when the victim is told their "love" is in Nigeria or Ghana. American scammers may mix in some more small pieces of reality. They might use their real name, details from online articles that mention them, such as a former spouse's obituary or a child's engagement announcement, or reveal their real workplace. This does not mean the person you talk to or the relationship is real. It just means it's easier for the scammers that way. It saves them the trouble of making up a story about why they can't take a personal check made out to their name when they take your money. American scammers may also not be as experienced as Nigerian scammers, and it could be easier for them to play characters based on themselves. Using a real name, and some real details from their life is also a manipulation tactic. They plant these details knowing you will research them online, see that what they are telling you "checks out," and trust them. Anyone who discovers they have been scammed by an American using his or her real name must remember not to mention the scammer's full real name anywhere online or if quoted as a source for an article about romance scams. Nobody is trying to coddle or protect the scammer.. This is done to make sure the scammer cannot sue the web site, victim, or publication for slander or libel.

The "Poor Grammar" Red Flag Does Not Apply

This is one red flag that is unique to the Nigerian or other foreign scams. The person you are actually talking to may speak very little English and will often cut and paste dialogue from different web pages or muddle through the conversation with incorrect English, using the excuse that they can't type well or have a sticky keyboard to explain it away if challenged. American scammers ' dialogue and notes may be as flawlessly written as those from the real people you talk to online. The absence of muddled English, often called "scammer grammar" does not mean you are not being scammed. It merely means you are being scammed by someone who speaks fluent English.

Requests for Money Are Often More Subtle

American scammers don't have the "I'm trapped in Ghana" story with all the made up taxes, fees, currency issues, and other completely invented reasons they need you to send your money right now. Their stories often take place entirely in America, and they know their victims will be aware of other ways to deal with the situation they describe. For example, if a scammer tells his victim he just lost his job, traveled to a strange city to interview for a new one, learned the job was a hoax, and is now stranded all weekend without the hotel room and food money the company promised, the victim will know he could go to a soup kitchen, food bank, church, or other local service organization for help. Some American scammers do boldly ask for money, but others drop increasingly strong hints until the victim offers them the money. One member of "Scams of the Heart" had an American scammer who planned an elaborate first date that would require him to travel and then began regaling her with tales of medical problems for him and his family, complained of being in a low paying job, and talked at length about struggling and being under stress until the victim offered to send money for his travel and for some of his bills to enable them to be together. The scam was nothing more than a subtle, Americanized twist on the classic Nigerian "I can't get to you without your money" scam.

The Scam Might Not be a Money Scam

Some American scams are copycat Nigerian scams, but other American scammers' goals are not financial. Many American scammers act out of a desire for revenge. They may be angry over some experiences from their past and get a kick out of messing with people the way people have messed with them. A man who has been rejected by a lot of women might create a male character, scam women, and feel he has gotten back at the female population in general when he emotionally manipulates and deceives a woman online. Some Americans set out to scam people they know as a form of punishment for something the person has done to them. This does not make the situation any less of a scam. It just removes the "asks or hints for money" warning sign.

The Victim May Not be as Readily Believed

Scams of the Heart welcomes and cares for victims of all types of romance scams. If somebody pretended to be a completely fake person or invented a fake version of him or herself, used that character to manipulate you into thinking you had a boyfriend or girlfriend, and then used you to unknowingly perform illegal activity, conned you into sending them money, or humiliated you for revenge, you will find hope here. This is not true of all groups of people, whether they meet online or offline. Some people might brush your scammer off as an ordinary everyday jerk and chime in with their own "bad relationship" or "crush who turned out to be a loser" story. In some cases the person means no harm. They honestly don't understand that a scammer, no matter where they live, is different than a bad date or bad relationship or marriage. Direct them to this web site to learn more about scamming, and answer their questions as honestly as you can. In other instances, the person you are trying to tell the story to is flat out being a jerk. Avoid fighting with these people. If you have just discovered you've been scammed, you do not need any more stress. It is far better to just bow out of the group or conversation and find genuine support. (If you're reading this, you found it).

It May be Harder for the Victim to Accept that It's a Scam

The more reality the scammer mixes in with their fiction, the more it can seem like you were in a real relationship with an actual human being. It may be a struggle to fully accept it that you never did have a girlfriend named "Jane Doe38" when you're looking at the web page of a real business that does indeed list a "Jane Doe38" as manager. It is probably hard not to look back and wonder how her brother is doing when you read a graduation announcement for a real kid in their local paper online, even if you have come to realize that kid never had the health problems his sister detailed in order to get your money. Whenever you are tempted to think a selection of real details makes a situation real, think of historical fiction. TC Boyle is particularly skilled at taking real historical figures or events and using them in his novels. Both Harvey Kellog and Alfred Kinsey have appeared as characters in his work. However, neither man was ever in any of the exact situations Boyle describes, they never said the words he uses as their dialogue, and most of the other people they interact with were invented by the author. Boyle's work is still fiction. The same holds true for your scam. Mixing a few real details into a scam is like sprinkling bakery sprinkles on a ceramic cupcake. It may have a few pieces of a real dessert, but it is still not a real dessert.