When Jan met the man of her dreams online, she had no idea she would end up parting with her life savings as part of a devastating scam. She says it's easier to be fooled than people may think.
“How could you give money to someone you’ve never met?”
That’s the first question most people ask. In just a few months, I believed I was ‘in love’. I accepted a proposal of marriage from a man I thought was a good-looking engineer, and then sent money – ALL my money – to a professional scammer. How did it happen? How can an intelligent person be so thoroughly scammed?
This question is the wrong one to ask, I believe. Instead, we should be asking how can we, and the websites and institutions we deal with, protect ourselves from people, the criminal fraudsters, who will deliberately lie to us, set up fake profiles on online dating sites or Facebook, and who are skilled imposters deliberately hooking us in and manipulating our emotions to a point where we go against our rational selves.
They’ve done it thousands of times so they know what works. In 2017 more than 200,000 scam reports were submitted to the ACCC, Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN) and other federal and state-based government agencies. In total the losses were reported at $340 million, with dating and romance scams causing a loss of $42 million.
Once we are caught in their skilled web, these professional fraudsters groom us by love bombing. This is the process of telling us they love us, that we are special, that we are destined to be together. It’s a heady mix to anyone who wants to be loved. Yet we all have a longing to connect with an ‘other’, and this does not decline with age. That’s why we are all vulnerable.
The intimacy that scammers are able to build up is the X-factor in a scam. Scammers call it ‘Taking the Brain’ because they know that when we fall in love they have control over us. And they are prepared to take their time to achieve this. The (fake) intimacy that they build with us allows us to justify to ourselves ‘this can’t be a scam’ and so we give our money away to someone we haven’t met. In our minds, we have met them, even if not in person. We don’t believe scammers could be so intimate. This belief is what the scammers rely on, and promote. It’s a deliberate power-play.
Unless we educate ourselves beforehand to recognise the indications that we are being scammed and have all our antennae on alert for any warning flags it is very easy to get caught in a scam. Most of us are trusting that people will tell us the truth – we’ve been brought up that way – that we should not lie. And so we expect it of others too.
In just 72 days I parted with $260,000, thinking it was a loan to my partner for life. Only when he broke contact with me did I realise it was a scam. I then had to deal with the grief for the lost relationship, adjust to a future with debt and without my superannuation, and deal with the shame of being scammed. The aftermath of a romance scam is traumatic and devastating.
I share the full details of my devastating experience in my book Romance Scam Survivor: the whole sordid story.
I speak out because it is important to anyone active online today, whether in online dating or other social media activities, that we understand the red flags indicating it is a scam, and protect ourselves.
To find out more about romance scams, how they work and how we are impacted, see Jan's blog https://romancescamsurvivor.org/, or you can contact her via firstname.lastname@example.org
For those in Melbourne needing support, see Jan's meet-up group https://www.meetup.com/Melbourne-Dating-Scam-Survivors/