Top Five Scams
On Abuse Support Sites
We haven't seen these on Fort in quite a while, but awareness never hurts.
Abuse survivors usually have great empathy for and a desire to help each other, default trust towards everyone we meet in an online support group, and belief that appropriate channels (like social services, police, etc) are imperfect, abuse victims often fall through the cracks, and if we don't help them - nobody will. Some of us also have blurry boundaries and/or various mental health limitations. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of these things and specifically target abuse sites, playing on your vulnerabilities to get your money or identity: name, address, phone number, or even just your skype ID. Cyberstalking: Why and How talks of what they want your contact information for, Staying Safe On Abuse Support Sites lists practical steps you can take to lower the risks, and below are the top five ways you might get scammed on an abuse site.
Child in danger:
Wolfgang claims to be a 15yo who is about to kill himself, or a 9yo who is being molested by his stepdad, or a 17yo concerned for his little sister. Either way he doesn't feel safe calling the police, hotlines, or talking to anyone in 3d because involving authorities would get him (or his sister) killed. He can't talk about it in on the site you're at either, because mods will see the logs and call the police. Instead, Wolfgang wants you to call or text his cell phone, so that you can save his (or his sisters) life. If there really is a child in danger - how are you expected to save them practically, and why do you feel you can do a better job than a hotline volunteer? If it's a con - you just shared your phone number (which means your full name and address) with a total stranger who has access to your posts about the abuse you've been through and the mental health issues you're having.
Rosamunde floods you with lengthy private messages (or emails, if you gave her your address under pressure), graphically describing how exactly she was raped, with what size penis, and what it felt like in each of her orifices, claiming that she needs to unload this level of detail on someone (over and over) in order to heal from the trauma, and the only person she can trust with it is you - she can't post it on forums, journal about it, or tell her therapist. In the unlikely scenario that this really is so - it's not healthy for Rosamunde and traumatic to you, you don't have to extend this form of support to her, it’s not what you came to the site for. Most importantly though - who said Rosamunde isn't a 50yo pervert getting off on this, especially if they expect you to share the details of abuse you have been through as well? And what will they do with those details?
Ruprecht claims to be a therapist, offering to work with you online, free of charge, because your story touched his heart so deeply. Just think of it soberly for a second: why in the world would a licensed therapist solicit free clients on abuse sites? Would you accept an offer to have your taxes done for free by some anonymous stranger online? Or a free chiropractic adjustment in an empty parking lot at 2AM? Imagine what Ruprecht can do with your information? Would you like your employer to see the copies of what you emailed him? How much are you willing to pay to avoid such disclosure? There's nothing wrong with therapists, accountants, and chiropractors - but not anonymous ones, and not the ones who solicit you instead of you soliciting them.
Gwendoline claims to be dying of bubonic plague, posts daily updates on her diminishing health, and doesn't need anything but emotional support. This can go on for weeks, the demands for money start later, once you're emotionally involved: that's when Gwendoline suddenly needs expensive pain-killers not covered by insurance, a laptop to connect with you from hospice, to pay off a small credit card debt that a collection agency is harassing her about on her deathbed, or even comparatively inexpensive items from her Amazon wish list (teddy bears, DVDs, down to fuzzy socks and candy). Gwendoline feels terrible asking you for money, but you are her only friend, she simply has no one else to ask. This scam commonly involves multiple accounts - Gwendoline's mother, sister, husband, friend, or even doctor suddenly joins the site to let you know that Gwendoline isn't lying and really does have bubonic plague or whatever it is she claims to be dying of, or that she passed away last night and you can forward funeral expense donations to firstname.lastname@example.org. Needless to say that all these accounts are created and operated by the same person. This scam is often executed as a hobby rather than a cold-blooded con job: Gwendoline might genuinely view you as a friend, the money you sent her - as a gift, and her alleged death - as a gracious way of ending a friendship that exhausted itself. Gwendoline is obviously disturbed and deserves pity - but it can be hard to keep your cool a few hundred bucks later, weeks of sleepless nights and shed tears - only to bump into Gwendoline on another site, except this time she's healthy but her son is dying of meningitis and needs donations to buy a brain transplant on the black market. (I'm not being sarcastic; both the bubonic plague and the brain transplant are real life examples, though by two separate Gwendolines).
Fundraiser to escape abuse:
Petronilla claims to be trapped in an abusive situation (domestic violence, cult, adult child living with parents because she can't work, etc) and needing money to escape it (a plane ticket to go back home, the first month’s rent to get her own place, etc). There's nothing wrong with helping people out, but it can be hard to tell a legit story from a scam. In developed countries there are various government and independently funded programs available to abuse victims, the homeless, poor, and disabled. These programs check for fraud (unlike fundraisers, where you rely on Petronilla's word alone) and cover basic survival needs: food, rent, medical care, transportation, childcare, toiletries, clothing, etc. Fundraisers, on the contrary, are great for optional things that one won't die without, such as a new laptop to access online support groups, a good divorce lawyer to keep the house and kick the ex out, therapy so unusual that health insurance doesn't recognize it as legit, etc. If Petronilla is struggling with basic survival, she either needs assistance applying for or navigating her benefits (in which case sending her cash won't solve the problem, she needs to call her local social services) - or it's a scam. The worst part isn't the $200 you sent her, it's disclosing your identity during the money transfer.
These stories might sound ridiculous when presented as short summaries, but keep in mind that they can take days, weeks, or even months, during which you develop trust, get emotionally involved, and hear all sorts of justifications, explanations, and even proof (fabricated of course), showing that the situation, while unusual, is indeed legit and is just an odd exception. For example, Gwendoline didn't catch her bubonic plague in New Jersey, she was on a trip to Tajikistan, and now that she's back home - insurance won't cover the plague as a pre-existing condition. Of course you can't sort through these nuances unless you are familiar with insurance policies, Tajikistan, and plagues, and aren't shy confronting a dying person who's reaching out for your support, so sooner or later you give up and Gwendoline wins.
However, all these scams involve a common denominator that you can spot them by: somehow you are special, different from everyone else, need to disclose your identity to either save someone's life or to get something for free, and it has to be done urgently. It's the same basic approach as the "you won a lottery" scams - there's absolutely nothing special about you that the scammer would know of, you aren't any different from thousands of other people they can reach out to, and if they want 3d help, they should get it in 3d. Just refer them to hotlines.
- Wikipedia page on Internet Fraud schemes - lists and explains the 26 most common ones. Good to read, since we all use the internet.
- Wikipedia page on Confidence tricks - lists and explains the top 47 cons, both on- and off-line ones. Educational.
- romancescams.org - site dedicated to online romance scams specifically; a lot of information, database of predators, and forums.
~ Winston Churchill
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