A few days ago, I had a conversation with a middle-aged Australian man who had been scammed twice online by two different women in the Philippines. Once bitten, twice shy questions aside, the conversation affected me quite strongly, so I wanted to discuss it here.
Firstly, a little background about internet scammers. If you use the internet regularly at all (and I'm sure you do, if you're reading my blog), then you have encountered someone who was not genuine, even if you didn't know it at the time. From the spam in your email to the person you're chatting with through instant messenger, there are thousands and thousands of people online who are lying, scheming, and scamming. For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to stick with the money scammers.
Generally, money scammers fall into two very broad types. There are the "you need to give me money for some reason" scammers, and then there are the "I have a huge pile of money I want to give you for some reason" types. There are scammers in every country that has internet access, although they are more predominant in countries that are poor and/or corrupt. They may work alone, or they may work for an organisation. They can be any gender, or pretend to be any other gender. They can be cunning and sneaky, or outright stupid. But they all have the same goal: to separate you from your money.
The "you need to give me money" scammers come in many varieties. They may be completely up-front, and ask for money so they can do a little strip-show on their webcam. Or slightly more subtle, and want you to pay for their internet connection/webcam/laptop. They may ask for money for medication for a sick relative, or their school fees, or their rent. They may ask you to pay for their ticket to come and see you. Whatever reason they give, it all comes down to "give me money". These scammers usually prey on lonely people.
The "I want to give you money" scammers also come in many varieties. Of course, they don't actually want to give you money: they want your money! But they convince you to give them your money by saying that if you give them a little bit of money, they'll give you a lot. They may say you've won some lottery you didn't know you'd won. Or that they're dying of cancer and want to give you their inheritance so you can give it to needy children. Or that they're a bank manager with a huge sum of money that was deposited by a political dissident who was then assassinated and left no next of kin and they want you to be the next of kin. Whatever their story, it all boils down to the same thing. These scammers usually prey on greedy people.
What all the money scammers have in common is this: they prey on vulnerable people. Two different sorts of vulnerability, yes, but vulnerability all the same. I'm going to stick with the lonely vulnerable people, because that's the sort of guy I was speaking with the other day.
DISCLAIMER: I only have the man's version of this story, of course. My discussion below assumes that a) he is telling the truth and b) she was lying to him. Much I'm going to say is speculation based on previous experience. It's possible, though unlikely, it will turn out that is not the case. If that happens, I apologise to the woman involved.
This guy, as I said earlier, had been ripped off by two different women, but they both fell into the "you need to give me money" category and used similar tactics. This guy was a nice guy with his own place and modest income, but most of all, this guy was lonely. He wanted a family and a nice wife to settle down with because he was starting to get on a bit. The second woman seemed particularly heartless. The two of them spoke for months and months (although they never actually met). He sent her money for rent and other expenses, sent her gifts, even sent her his laptop as a loan (she was supposed to bring it with her when she came to Australia). He took little home videos of his house and farm and sent them to her. He really thought that she was "the one". But she kept needing more and more money. She spent the money he'd sent her for her plane ticket on rent (or so she said). He started getting suspicious and upset. But by the time he acted (sending a friend in the Philippines to where she said she lived), she'd already buggered off with everything he'd given her.
The guy was absolutely gutted. He was crying as he spoke to me, and sounded desperately lonely. He said, "they don't understand what loneliness is." But that is just the problem: they understand all too well, and use it to their own ends. What *I* don't understand is how they can be so heartless about it. This woman had developed a relationship with this man. She must have been telling him how much she loved him, and how much she was looking forward to being with him and coming to Australia. And yet she didn't mean a word of it: she was milking him for all she could get before moving on to the next victim. How could she do that and not feel sorry for the guy? How could she do that and sleep at night? I understand she was probably desperate for financial help, but surely, surely she would be better off getting that help in a more honest way? Didn't she feel any sympathy at all? She knew how upset the guy had been over the last person who scammed him, because he told her! How does she live with herself?
The internet connects us to more people than ever before, but that doesn't mean we are less lonely than before. The connections can be shallow and meaningless, and there are plenty of predators out there, hunting for their vulnerable prey. Take care, everyone.