Much of the research for my second novel, Chatting as Adalee, centered around internet romance scams. These scams are always out there, and the more single artists put themselves out there, the more susceptible they are to them. You do not have to be on a dating site. Scammers lurk everywhere. Those of us who are taken are only somewhat protected, as romance scammers are often willing to adapt, and will run a friendship scam, in which they convince the victim they are like a sister or brother to them, should literal “romance” not be an option.
An internet romance scam occurs any time anyone first pretends to be a different person, or a different version of him or herself online, and then uses that created persona to enter into a fake romantic relationship (or close friendship, if need be) with someone else online. Sometimes internet romance scams are run for a general sense of revenge on the world or certain segments of the population. Other times they are run to get revenge on a known individual. Tricking a victim into doing illegal errands involving reshipping or banking are very common as well. However, the vast majority of scammers operate with the goal of getting their victims to send them money and/or buy things for them. The upheaval caused by the scam can further cause a victim to make uncharacteristically poor work and money decisions or to spend their money in ways they ordinarily would not. There are three ways a victim of an internet romance or friendship scam may lose money.
Direct Loss of Financial Resources
Losing your money and ruining your credit is the first type of monetary loss that most people think of, and for good reason. It is typically the most devastating form of financial loss. This type of loss occurs when the scammer, posing as the created persona, either asks the victim directly for money, or tells increasingly touching tales of problems with work, health, family, friends, or travel until the victim offers to send it to them. In some cases, the scammer also asks for or hints for expensive items such as iphones, laptops, or plane tickets.
The amount of money lost in this manner varies widely, from a few hundred dollars to several hundred thousand dollars. Each victim will feel the impact of their financial loss differently depending on their individual life circumstances. A man who sent his scammer $5,000 and a woman who sent her scammer $500,000 are both going to be completely financially devastated if that was all the money each had. Direct financial loss can also be the most embarrassing for a victim, as they often brerate themselves for sending money or purchasing expensive gifts for a person who doesn't even truly exist.
Friends and family members of a romance scam victim who suffered direct monetary losses will understandably be shocked, but it is important not to dwell on the amount of money lost or to add to the person's shame and embarrassment . It will be far more helpful to simply listen to the victim, and when they are ready to reorganize their finances, help them find accountants or financial consultants, craft a new budget, or make other changes in their financial habits as needed for their unique situation.
Job, Business, or Academic Loss Due to Involvement with the Scammer
Scammers know that messing with a person's daily routine is the quickest route to altering their thinking. Pushing for late night and early morning conversations, making requests to 'take naps together' in what is the middle of the day for the victim, and arranging for phone calls or IM chats during what would normally be dinner time are common tactics. These changes make the victim hungry and tired at odd times, and can cause them to have trouble focusing during their working hours. The added stress of believing that a loved one is going through the horrible stories the scammer tells can also impair their ability to function well at work. This can result in the loss of a job or business clients for the scam victim. Students may neglect homework assignments, forget to study for tests, or finish projects hurriedly because they have begun spending their study time devoted to the scammer.
Finding out that a friend has been demoted or fired, seen a large number of clients go elsewhere, or has dropped out of school because of a scammer will be unsettling. Your urge will probably be to yell out "how could you brush off your real job/degree for some person that didn't even exist?" or "well what are you going to do for money/your academic credits now?" Channel this urge into something productive. Ask the person what you can do to help, and then do what they need you to do. Two hours spent helping the person update their resume, talk to their professors, sign up for an employment service, or go job hunting is going to be much more productive than five hours of glaring at them and lecturing them on how foolish they were.
Money Spent to Please the Scammer
Scammers often give their victims little projects. They might have them read certain books, learn a new skill, or look for a new house or apartment. This is done to keep the victim focused on the scammer, and less likely to talk to friends and family who might point out the red flags. Many of the little projects scammers push their victims into cost money.
Victims may also purchase items or participate in activities that make them feel closer to the person they believe they have fallen in love with online, or begin investing in their appearance in order to look their best for what they think is a new love. Victims of friendship scams may spend money preparing for a visit, or purchasing items necessary to travel to visit what they believe is their new best friend.
Never trivialize this type of money loss, or argue with the person that what they got out of it was really very useful or nice. They need to get rid of these items for their mental health. It may seem senseless to get rid of a perfectly good set of cookbooks, DVDs, or golf clubs, or odd that a person would want to give away clothes that have garnered them compliments at work, but keeping these things around will only keep them tied to the scam emotionally. Help your friend gather up everything they bought to please the scammer and donate it to the nearest thrift store as quickly as they can. Don't argue with them if they need to cancel gym memberships, drop out of activities, or quit getting beauty treatments or other services they seemed to enjoy. It is a necessary part of their psychological healing.