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lie to you, lash out at you, brush you off and pretend nothing serious is going on, or become even more secretive and withdrawn.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