Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Understanding Scams: Three Ways a Victim May Lose Money

By Soraya Grant

A person does not have to lose any money for the situation to be defined as a scam. An internet romance scam occurs any time anyone first pretends to be a different person, or a different version of him or herself online, and then uses that created persona to enter into a fake romantic relationship or even close friendship, with someone else online. Sometimes internet romance scams are run for a general sense of revenge on the world or certain segments of the population. Other times they are run to get revenge on a known individual. Tricking a victim into doing illegal errands involving reshipping or banking are very common as well. However, the vast majority of scammers operate with the goal of getting their victims to send them money and/or buy things for them, and the upheaval caused by the scam can cause a victim to make uncharacteristically poor work and money decisions or to spend their money in ways they ordinarily would not. There are three ways a victim of an internet romance scam may lose money.

Direct Loss of Financial Resources

Flat out losing your money and ruining your credit is the first type of monetary loss that most people think of, and for good reason. It is typically the most devastating form of financial loss. This type of loss occurs when the scammer, posing as the created persona, either asks the victim directly for money, or tells increasingly touching tales of problems with work, health, family, friends, or travel until the victim offers to send it to them. In some cases, the scammer also asks for or hints for expensive items such as iphones, laptops, or plane tickets.

The amount of money lost in this manner varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars, but regardless of the amount of money lost, the scammer still had no right to that money or the items that money bought, and if the victim had known who they were really talking to, they would never have given it to them. It is also important to remember that each victim will feel the impact of their financial loss differently depending on their individual life circumstances. A man who sent his scammer $5,000 and a woman who sent her scammer $500,000 are both going to be completely financially devastated if those amounts were all the money each had. Direct financial loss can also be the most embarrassing for a victim, as they often brerate themselves for sending money or purchasing expensive gifts for a person who doesn't even truly exist.

Friends and family members of a romance scam victim who suffered direct monetary losses will understandably be shocked, but it is important not to dwell on the amount of money lost or to add to the person's shame and embarrassment for sending it or buying things and sending those to the scammer. It will be far more helpful to simply listen to the victim, and when they are ready to reorganize their finances, help them find accountants or financial consultants, craft a new budget, or make other changes in their financial habits as needed for their unique situation.

Job, Business, or Academic Loss Due to Involvement with the Scammer

Scammers know that messing with a person's daily routine is the quickest route to altering their thinking. Pushing for late night and early morning conversations, making requests to 'take naps together' in what is the middle of the day for the victim, and arranging for phone calls or IM chats during what would normally be dinner time are common tactics. These changes make the victim hungry and tired at odd times, and can cause them to have trouble focusing during their working hours. The added stress of believing that a loved one is going through the horrible stories the scammer tells can also impair their ability to function well at work. This can result in the loss of a job or business clients for the scam victim. Students may neglect homework assignments, forget to study for tests, or finish projects hurriedly because they have begun spending their study time devoted to the scammer.

Finding out that a friend has been demoted or fired, seen a large number of clients go elsewhere, or has dropped out of school because of a scammer will be a shock. Your urge will probably be to yell out "how could you brush off your real job/degree for some person that didn't even exist?" or "well what are you going to do for money/your academic credits now?" Channel this urge into something productive. Ask the person what you can do to help, and then do what they need you to do. Two hours spent helping the person update their resume, talk to their professors, sign up for an employment service, or go job hunting is going to be much more productive than five hours of glaring at them and lecturing them on how foolish they were.

Money Spent to Please the Scammer

Many of the little projects scammers push their victims into cost money. The victim may have begun taking lessons or classes, purchased new household items or clothing, or gone in for pricey cosmetic treatments at the urging of the scammer. Victims may also purchase items or participate in activities that make them feel closer to the person they believe they have fallen in love with online.

Never trivialize this type of money loss, or argue with the person that what they got out of it was really very useful or nice. It may seem senseless to get rid of a perfectly good set of cookbooks, DVDs, or golf clubs, or odd that a person would want to give away clothes that have garnered them compliments at work, but keeping these things around will only keep them tied to the scam emotionally. Help your friend gather up everything they bought to please the scammer and donate it to the nearest thrift store. Don't argue with them if they need to cancel gym memberships, drop out of activities, or quit getting beauty treatments or other services they seemed to enjoy. It is a necessary part of their psychological healing.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Unique Experiences In the Healing Process for Romance Scams

by Soraya Grant

Healing from a scam can be a different experience than healing from other forms of emotional trauma. While they share many similarities, there are a few experiences that seem to be fairly unique to those who are recovering from an online romance scam.

Attachment to Photos, Web Pages, and Other Places or Objects

Scammers craft elaborate backstories for the characters they play during the course of their scams. They may steal photos or claim to look like famous people, send addresses or titles of web pages for fake, or occasionally real, workplaces, and talk extensively about a place they live or are pretending to live. Many scammers send small gifts to their victims in order to make the character seem real, and as a way to verify the victim's address. As they weave you deeper into their web, the scammer will keep you in place with elaborate plans for vacations, future homes, weddings, or other life events that may lead you to do a great deal of research and planning. Once the scam is uncovered, of course you know that the person you were really talking to does not live in San Diego, or look like an attractive celebrity or model. You also know that there never were any plans for a romantic vacation, wedding, or new career and home for you.

Despite knowing that the relationship, the plans, and the majority of the stories the scammer told you were not real, you may find yourself clinging to the gifts, photos, web sites, or other tangible items or places you associate with the scam. If you were lead to believe you and your beloved had a song, you may not be able to stop listening to it. One victim of an American scammer kept visiting the web site of the scammer's hometown, even though she knew she never had a boyfriend who lived there and would never visit, never mind move to, this town.

This behavior is not healthy, but it is normal. Do everything you can to get rid of all of the things you are clinging to. Remove any gifts from your home immediately. Delete all photos, emails, and internet bookmarks. You may need to leave the web site where you met the scammer, at least for a period of time. Your longing for these locations and things will lessen as your healing progresses.

Moments or Periods of Confusion Over Whether the Scammer is Real

This can range in intensity from spending days worrying that you made a horrible mistake in thinking the person was a scammer and lost the love of your life, to occasionally catching yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex-girlfriend or boyfriend. The best way to move through this is to set mental reminders for yourself any time the thoughts pop up. When you begin to doubt that it was a scam, you might want to say, "This person pretended to love me in order to get my money (or assistance in illegal reshipping or banking or to hurt me for revenge). Even if everything else they told me was real, that alone makes it a scam." Or sit down and privately list all of the red flags that made you realize it was a scam and tell yourself, "this person displayed all of these red flags. Any situation with this many signs of a scam is definitely a scam." If you find yourself thinking of the scammer as an ex, or even as a friend, take a moment and gently correct yourself. The thought "my ex girlfriend Carrie used to love red velvet cake too" would become "the scammer found out I loved red velvet cake and used that detail to make the situation seem real." Note the use of the word "gently." The goal here is to guide your mind back to reality, not beat yourself up.

Confusion Over What Is You and What is the Result of the Scam

Scammers tend to craft a character that is perfect or nearly perfect for each victim, so it is unlikely that you would have changed your religious beliefs, political opinions or affiliations (or lack thereof), general field of work, or lifestyle for the scammer. At the same time, scammers do give their victims little challenges and projects that serve as both tests to see how compliant the victim is, and as tactics to keep the victim enmeshed in the story the scammer has woven. They may convince you to look for a new house for the two of you to live in and encourage you to plan to decorate it any way you want it, train or go back to school for a slightly different job in your field so that you can have a fresh start or a higher salary when the two of you are finally together, plan a dream wedding, research vacations, or learn a new hobby so that the two of you can participate in activities together. Scammers may also encourage you to make changes in your style of dress, eating habits, entertainment choices, appearance, or schedule. Once you realize the situation was a scam, you also realize there was never a woman who wanted you to learn more about opera so the two of you could go together and encouraged you to get that promotion at work instead of going back to school to qualify to teach like you planned....or a man who thought you would look gorgeous with red highlights and kept encouraging you to take up morning yoga and enroll in online business classes. But now you're not sure which of those things really are enjoyable to you or something you might want to do, and which of those things you just convinced yourself you wanted under the mind control of the scammer.

Fight this confusion by starting with the most trivial detail the scammer altered and adding more elements to the process after you have examined and resolved each one. Suppose you have slowly begun to realize that the scammer talked you into coloring your hair and buying a new aftershave (or makeup set) as a test of compliance, convinced you to redecorate your living room to further test your willingness to do what they wished, and pushed you to enroll in an online degree program in order to keep you wrapped up in their story and too busy to question them. Decide whether or not you like the cosmetic items first, then examine the changes you made to your home, and then re-examine your career goals. Tackling a tiny challenge successfully will give you a little glimmer of hope that you can take charge of your life again. Use that energy to work your way up to the bigger ones.