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.