You can close your eyes to the things you don’t want to see,
But you can’t close your heart to the things you don’t want to feel.
– Johnny Depp
Ever since I can remember, I have been fascinated by human behaviour i.e. why people do what they do. As an only child (until my sister came along fourteen years later), I was raised to be one of those children who were “seen and not heard”. I was the child who had to play quietly in the corner until I was spoken to and then only speak when spoken to. This was the time when I would sit and observe those around me trying to make sense of what was going on inside their heads, trying to understand why they did or said certain things.
As an adult, this fascination with human behaviour continued. I can sit in a public place for hours just observing people. In my adulthood (in the last two years), I have allowed myself to be part of certain “risky” situations – not because I’m stupid or gullible, but to see how far people will go to get the upper hand (or scam) another individual.
In the last few weeks, I have been thinking particularly about online scammers – specifically those who target w¬omen with a promise of attaining something of great personal value (like a romantic relationship).
Social Media and your online presence:
Have you thought about how safe or risky your online profiles might be? Maybe you are on Facebook, Instagram, Google+, online dating site or some other form of social media. Have you viewed your profile data critically as an outsider would see it? I only recently changed my relationship status on Facebook because I suddenly realised that my honesty could actually get me into a lot of trouble (I was an open target for scammers without realising it).
The vulnerable are open targets:
For example: if your relationship status says “single”, online scammers could target you as someone “looking for love”. If your relationship status says “widow” or “widower” the scammer sees you as someone who has recently inherited loads of money making you an open target for a money scam or maybe even a romantic relationship scam. People with disabilities are also open targets because the scammer assumes you are receiving a disability grant which they could try to swindle you out of.
Telling a scammer you are unemployed does not get you sympathy, instead the scammer thinks “huge pension pay-out”, “long service award” etc. Recently lost a parent or both parents? The scammer thinks “inheritance”.
Scammers set up profiles of themselves pretending to also be widowed, divorced, lost a parent(s)/sibling etc to gain the trust of their potential victim. Due to the anonymity of the internet, you cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality or even gender of the person. Most times the scammer turns out to be a fake persona created solely for the purpose of luring you to send money. They create male and female personas and entice the same sex as well as opposite sex. When conversations move quickly to expressions of romantic interest or discussion of intimate matters, you are usually dealing with a scammer. Naturally, a request for money is a sure sign of a scam.
Online scammers are very sneaky – especially those who promise a romantic relationship. They ask very innocent questions like “what did you do today?” Looking for signs that you have a job, have enough money not to work etc. “Do you use public transport?” another innocent question but if you say “I have my own car” will give an indication that you are of reasonable financial means. By asking various “innocent” questions, the scammer is actually building a profile of you and will share certain personal details about himself (usually a made up story) to gauge how sympathetic you will be to whatever story he is going to use to scam you. Scammers are usually also emotionally manipulative. They know just how to play with your mind and your emotions to get your sympathy. Their ego is easily bruised leaving you feeling like you’ve not been sympathetic enough/have not cared enough etc.
These usually start through meeting online (dating website, e-mail chat room (like WeChat, Google Hangouts), Facebook etc). The pick-up line is usually something like: “I like your profile picture and would like to get to know you better” or “I like your profile picture and would like us to be friends” or something along these lines. Once you respond to the initial pick up line, they will quickly try to move the conversation to an Instant Messaging system like Google Hangouts or WhatsApp very quickly so they can continue the conversation with you without others in your circles picking up on the scam.
The scammer would then claim to be a native born citizen of a particular country (e.g. US Citizen currently working in the UK, Afghanistan or some war torn country), but has a thick accent and/or uses grammar indicating that they are not a native English speaker. The grammatical errors can also be picked up in e-mails and text messages.
After communicating with you for a few weeks (while secretly and very seductively getting personal information out of you), they suddenly proclaim their undying love for you and have this urgent need to meet you face-to-face because they simply cannot imagine living another day without you. They will even go as far as expressing an interest in marrying you. They then take another few days or weeks building up the anticipation of meeting face-to-face waiting for your response to see how eager you are for this face-to-face encounter to take place. The more eager you are to meet them, the easier it will be for them to scam you.
Scammers usually have the worst luck imaginable (car/plane crashes, they get arrested, mugged, beaten or even hospitalised for some very serious or critical illness or injury). Sometimes the scammer will even claim to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or who has been in an accident and needs urgent medical attention. The money requested will usually be for hospital bills, Visa fees or legal expenses or for a close family member (usually a child or teenager who needs urgent medical treatment or surgery). You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting money to be sent on behalf of a patient.
This doctor, Lawyer or Police Officer is likely to be part of the scam.
The scammers “bad luck” will usually happen when they are on the way to the airport to fly out to meet you. They like to build the anticipation of their victims (“honey, I’m rushing to the airport now for my flight which leaves at XYZ”). Once you are excited about the chance to finally meet them in person, that’s when something critical happens to prevent them from making the trip. (“honey, I’m sorry I can’t make it because . . . “). They count on your excitement to finally meet them as an extra incentive to send money to help them out of their predicament. As soon as you send money, however, another situation occurs, which requires you to send more money (“honey, you will not believe what just happened . . .”).
The scammer will ask for a certain amount of money in a particular currency to get out of the so-called “bad” situation. You need to be aware, however, that because scammers prey on your good intentions, some of them will not actually ASK you for money. They will rather share their heart-breaking story with you in the hopes that you will willingly send money to help them. When you don’t offer, that’s when they will ask.
The scammer will usually claim that he has no choice but to ask you for help because you are the only one who can help (seeing as he is in a foreign country). The scammer will claim that the Embassy or Consulate office would not or could not help. Most likely, they have never tried to get help from the Embassy or Consulate office because they are not actually citizens of the country they claim to be from.
Scammers will usually not give you banking details to transfer money into. They will request that you send a Moneygram (through Money Gram International or Western Union) and the “excuse” is usually because paying money into an account takes days to clear whereas a Money Gram is accessible within ten minutes of the deposit being made. People in the USA and UK can process Moneygrams online using their credit cards whereas in South Africa, you have to physically go to your bank or Money Gram Agent to process the transaction.
All you need for a Money Gram is the receivers full name, city and country they will be collecting the money in. Your bank or Money Gram Agent will give you a reference number which you need to give to the recipient. The recipient of the Money Gram then needs to provide proof of identity, the reference number and answer a security question and they are able to draw they money immediately.
Some scammers will even send you a copy of their passport to “prove” to you that they are, indeed, a citizen of the country they claim to be coming from. This copy of the passport will look computerised and will include an attractive photograph that looks like it was taken by a professional photographer. This is not a typical passport photo.
How to protect yourself:
• A request for money is usually a sure sign of a scam. Never send money to someone you have not met face-to-face without verifying their identity, and be wary of sending Money Grams to people you have never met before.
• Telephone numbers starting with +4470 are usually scams from Nigeria and +233 are usually scams from Ghana.
• Anybody who quickly moves to expressions of romantic interest or discussion of intimate matters within a few weeks, are usually scammers. Ask the person “how can you be in love with me after only talking to me for X amount of time and without ever meeting me?” and be very wary of their answer.
• Do not disclose personal information over the phone or online – even in your profile on social networking sites. For example: have a look at your marital status, sharing too much information about your “wheels” or your house. Scammers thrive on information like this. Having your own house or car indicates a certain level of prosperity.
• Refer all individuals who claim to be in distress to their local Embassy or Consulate. Assisting citizens overseas is the Embassy or Consulate’s top priority. All citizens will be assisted – no one will be turned away. Consulate offices are available 24/7 for emergencies.
• Contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens to verify whether the situation is legitimate or a scam.
• A citizen with legitimate emergency financial needs overseas should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate office for assistance. The Embassy/Consulate will contact family or friends on the citizen’s behalf and under certain conditions will provide a loan.
• DO NOT SEND MONEY TO PERSONS YOU DON’T KNOW, WHO CALL YOU FROM ABROAD, ASKING FOR MONEY!
Military Romance Scams:
Be aware of the fact that Military Romance Scams are very prevalent worldwide, where you have individuals claiming to be soldiers in the United States Army (for example), using pictures of real soldiers which they have stolen off the internet for the sole purposes of scamming you out of your hard earned money.
For example: General Mark A Welsh III (Airforce Chief of Staff) has been the victim of Identity Theft and photographs of the General are being used by many scam artists under various names on social media platforms and online dating sites.
Read more here:
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III
Always remember: Real soldiers DON’T NEED:
• A satellite phone, calling card or permission to call
• Access to your bank account
• Money shipped by Western Union or Money Gram
• Permission from a fiancé to go on leave or retire
• An “agent” to ship a box
• Anyone to pay for medical expenses (for themselves or their family)
• Money for food
• Anyone to pay for a plane ticket to go home or on leave
NEED MORE INFORMATION?
For information on financial scams, please contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747
If you feel you’ve been a victim of an internet scam, please send all reports of internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaints Centre (IC3): default.aspx
A partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Centre was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop and refer complaints to federal, state, local or international law enforcement if appropriate.
Be thankful for the bad things in life,
for they opened your eyes to the good things
you weren’t paying attention to before!