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Helping Friends & Family Better Understand Romance Scams
Free Guide by the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams [SCARS]
This Guide is intended for Family and Friends of someone that was involved in a Romance Scam
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.
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 malware to pedophiles that stalk their victims online. The old MySpace collapsed because it became a “grooming 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 criminal 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 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.
Once the conversation gets comfortable the fraudster 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 Hijack [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.
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 “Gaslighting.” [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 Blame?
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 fraud to rape to murder. We see in the news that they let their attacker inside. That is all (at least in part) because of our willingness to trust – that is why we have to tell our children over and over again not to talk to strangers. Our brains are not trustworthy, only hard-learned habits keep us safe.
It started with just talking with someone interesting online. It might have been a real person or a fake identity created by the scammer, but after that, the victim’s own brain worked against them controlled by serious manipulation techniques expertly applied by these large scamming cartels that train the thousands of people in their organization to do just that. But these techniques are not limited to scammers, boiler room telemarketers, politicians, advertisers, spies, police interrogators, they all use the same toolbox to bend us to their will.
Your friend or family member who was scammed was trapped in a web so powerful that it catches the most skeptical of people as well as the most vulnerable. Are they to blame? Should they have known better? What were they thinking? These are all rational questions, but the fact is this was an irrational experience. It blended the most addictive chemicals known: endorphins, dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin and others into a stew that trapped them and allowed the scammer to have control. It leaves them not really knowing how it happened. However, it was not their fault. Everyone can be scammed and to a lesser or greater extent, the same techniques would work on you too.
In the period immediately following a romance scam, there are many concerns for the victim. This is a traumatic experience and these scams can leave the victim in shock and with symptoms similar to addiction withdrawal. Plus in many ways, this is like a psychological violation that can leave them in shock and disoriented – many victims describe it as though they had been raped (without the violence). It is important they recognize that they have had a romantic relationship and that its abrupt ending is no different than when any relationship ends, but in this case, it is compounded by the fact that the victim was lied to and manipulated both financially and psychologically. This can be a recipe for extreme instability and trauma.
During this period it is important to be supportive and watchful since romance scam victims take their lives every day. If you sense that they need help, try to get them on the phone with a crisis hotline (www.SuicideLifeline.org). These are staffed by professionals that understand how best to help people on the worst day of their lives.
In the immediate aftermath, many emotions are going to emerge. It starts with a mix of shock and disbelief (denial), with anger and rage thrown in. The victim (as a result of the Gaslighting) may have alienated themselves from family and friends so they may not know who they can trust now. Regardless of what was real or not these things have been wired into their heads and it takes significant time to de-program them.
Try not to focus on any money the victim has lost as this can only delay their reconnection with reality by c