Last Updated on by SCARS Editorial Team

Helping Friends & Family Better Understand Romance ScamsScams A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost.

Free Guide by the Society of Citizens Against Relationship ScamsSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS. [SCARSSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS.]

This Guide is intended for Family and Friends of someone that was involved in a Romance ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost.

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Introduction

This is presented in the hope that it will help scam victims to explain what happened to them. We hope that by reading this you can understand that the victim was not at fault but was professionally manipulated beyond their will and control.

If you are a victim, we encourage you to share this guide with your friends and family so that they can understand what happened to you. This way you don’t have to explain the “how” and the “why” – this guide will do it for you, just the “what” if you choose to.

If you have experienced a romance scam or know someone that has and are seeking help or would like more information, call please visit our other educational and support information here on our website www.RomanceScamsNow.com or our pages on Facebook and other social media.

Understanding How It Happened?

A Romance Scam Is An Unusual Crime. It Starts With Just Saying Hello.

The internet was conceived as a place for all of us to come together, connect with new people, people from all over the world. We could learn about each other’s cultures, lives, and histories, and make the world a smaller happier place. Or so went the theory.

We all know that there are dangers out there, from viruses and malwareMalware Short for "malicious software," this term means computer viruses and other types of programs that cybercriminals use to disrupt or access your computer, typically with the aim of gathering sensitive files and accounts. to pedophiles that stalk their victims online. The old MySpace collapsed because it became a “groomingGrooming Grooming is a form of setting up a victim for a scam or other crime by befriending and establishing an emotional connection with the victim, and sometimes the family, to lower the victim's inhibitions with the objective of the scam or criminal activity.  Grooming includes the development of a trust relationship between the criminal and the victim, getting the victims to the point where they can be more completely manipulated.   ground” for Pedophiles until the Federal Trade Commission stepped in and forced it to change. Sadly, that was just one chapter in the long history of crime online. Fast forward to the present, and we now see a situation where organized global criminalCriminal A criminal is any person who through a decision or act engages in a crime. This can be complicated, as many people break laws unknowingly, however, in our context, it is a person who makes a decision to engage in unlawful acts or to place themselves with others who do this. A criminal always has the ability to decide not to break the law, or if they initially engage in crime to stop doing it, but instead continues. cartels are everywhere online.

But How Does It Happen?

It starts with someone sending a message or a friend request, they pretend to be someone that looks real and honest. Maybe a soldier overseas just wanting someone to talk to. Or a woman doing aid work wanting to talk with someone from home. It is a beginning that anyone could fall for and millions have. In the last 20 years, more than 15 million people have become victims of romance scams and another 10 million inside China. This is not a unique or isolated problem, yet few people really know much about these crimes are how people become victims.

Before you leap to any conclusions, such as that these victims are all stupid lonely people (which they are not), just understand that ANYONE can be scammed under the right set of socially engineered circumstances. Anyone! Intelligence is not a barrier either, smart people fall prey just as easily (maybe more easily) than dumb people. Skepticism or distrust is also no barrier or protection. Everyone can be scammed.

Steps To Doom

A romance scam starts with an inherent hard-wired willingness to trust strangers. Studies have shown that we all are more likely to trust a stranger over someone we know. [Learn more here] You probably have met countless strangers during your life and were inclined to initially trust them until proven otherwise. In the real world, we have the benefit of all of our senses to detect deception but online we have none of that, yet the same instinctive desire to trust is still at work.  This is how the scammerScammer A Scammer or Fraudster is someone that engages in deception to obtain money or achieve another objective. They are criminals that attempt to deceive a victim into sending more or performing some other activity that benefits the scammer. gets through the door.

Once a connection takes place the scammer begins an innocent enough conversation that can go on for days. Getting to know each other just like two real people would do. Obviously being alone and lonely plays a role in this. The scammers do their homework and target people who appear to be of the right demographic and appear to be divorced or widowed – lonely people make easy targets. They also target age ranges that make them less tech-savvy and very overconfident – seniors and teens for example, but in reality, anyone at any age can fall for a romance scam – though about 60% of the victims are women.

The Hook

Once the conversation gets comfortable the fraudsterFraudster A Scammer or Fraudster is someone that engages in deception to obtain money or achieve another objective. They are criminals that attempt to deceive a victim into sending more or performing some other activity that benefits the scammer. begins to apply a technique that causes an automatic response – a bit like setting the hook when fishing. Wired inside our brains is the older and more primal part called the Amygdala. The Amygdala is responsible for our fight or flight response – our emotional reactions to day to day stimuli, and most people lose their thoughtful control when it kicks in. It happens to you too when you get mad and argumentative – it is your amygdala that has taken control – this is called an Amygdala HijackAmygdala Hijack Amygdala Hijack An amygdala hijack refers to a personal, emotional response that is immediate, overwhelming, and out of measure (proportion) with the actual stimulus because it has triggered a much more significant emotional threat or hormonal response. This can include: Anger, Sadness, Love, Desire, etc. [Learn more here »]

The scammer understands how to use this Amygdala Hijack to bypass rational thought by simply saying “I Love You.” The victim is already in a kind of friendly relationship and they are alone and lonely. For most people when we hear those words we feel good. But when you are in a relationship with the hope of something more those words are a trigger in the brain that causes actual chemical changes releasing hormones that are the most powerful drugs in existence, and it is all automatic and beyond our control. This cocktail of chemicals in the brain short-circuits a lot of our natural intellectual defenses. You probably felt that yourself when you fell in love hard for the first time? But this is not love in the purest sense, this is masterful manipulation.

Hard-Core Manipulation

Eventually, the brain’s chemistry begins to balance itself out – over the course of days, weeks, or months, and nagging questions start to surface. Scammers are far from perfect, they work in a high-volume business where they work on dozens of victims at a time. They organize themselves into teams to work their victims 24/7. So leaks and admissions or mistakes happen, and the victim will pick up on some of these naturally. However by this time they are preconditioned to believe the scam and the scammer(s). This is where another manipulative technique is employed, the same kind of techniques used by the CIA or MI6 to enhance control of captured spies or terrorists.

This is a technique that systematically shifts the thinking of the victim towards what the scammer wants – it is called “GaslightingGaslighting Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation in which a person or a group creates the seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or group, making them question their own memory, perception, or judgment. It may evoke changes in them such as cognitive dissonance or low self-esteem, rendering the victim additionally dependent on the gaslighter for emotional support and validation. Using denial, misdirection, contradiction, and disinformation, gaslighting involves attempts to destabilize the victim and delegitimize the victim's beliefs. Once in this state the criminal can then more easily control the victim for their own purposes. Instances can range from the denial by a scammer that a scam has occurred, to belittling the victim's emotions and feelings, to the staging of bizarre events by the abuser with the intention of disorienting the victim. The goal of gaslighting is to gradually undermine the victim's confidence in their own ability to distinguish truth from falsehood, right from wrong, or reality from delusion, thereby rendering the individual or group pathologically dependent on the gaslighter for their thinking and feelings..” [Learn more here] Expert Gaslighting manipulates the victim into accepting the scammer’s lies and avoiding the search for the truth. Every battered spouse goes through this. Even people that have been cheated on have experienced some form of gaslighting. It is something that is real and works on anyone done expertly by the right person. These scammers apply this technique consistently over a long period of time that leads the victim into believing that their family and friends have turned against them and that they can only trust the scammer. The victim is deliberately isolated so the scammer can control them.

The combination of periodic restarting of the amygdala hijack and prolonged gaslighting can keep a victim captive for lengthy periods of time – from months to years. The victim will lose themselves and their connections to the people that could help them. They will gradually move into a world of the scammer’s making. Until something happens, usually they run out of money, then the truth is revealed. Once the victim learns the truth they crash and crash hard.

Who Is To BlameBlame Blame or Blaming is the act of censuring, holding responsible, making negative statements about an individual or group that their action or actions are socially or morally irresponsible, the opposite of praise. When someone is morally responsible for doing something wrong, their action is blameworthy. By contrast, when someone is morally responsible for doing something right, we may say that his or her action is praiseworthy. Blame imparts responsibility for an action or act, as in that they made a choice to perform that act or action.?

Who is at fault here? Certainly, the victim let the scammer in the door – how many times have we asked how that happened with other kinds of crimes? From fraudFraud In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain (money or other assets), or to deprive a victim of a legal right. Fraud can violate civil law (e.g., a fraud victim may sue the fraud perpetrator to avoid the fraud or recover monetary compensation) or criminal law (e.g., a fraud perpetrator may be prosecuted and imprisoned by governmental authorities), or it may cause no loss of money, property, or legal right but still be an element of another civil or criminal wrong. The purpose of fraud may be monetary gain or other benefits, for example by obtaining a passport, travel document, or driver's license, or mortgage fraud, where the perpetrator may attempt to qualify for a mortgage by way of false statemen