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Combined with research which asserts online communication as the enabler of “hyperpersonal relationships” (overly intense relationships), this literature helps frame how individuals are manipulated into losing money to someone they have not physically met.
Over the years, I’ve interviewed around 150 victims and they do not fit a prescribed stereotype.
From my experience interviewing victims, it starts out innocently.
An online message from a dating website or social media, a “like”, a “wink” or a “kiss”.
In the process, she has lost all her savings, her house, her job and it put immense strain on her relationships with family and friends.
This case study is typical and from the outside it is easy to see that the person is being scammed, yet they continue to put themselves at the mercy of the offenders.
Over days, weeks, months or even years a relationship develops. It may be a few hundred dollars or it may be several thousand.
This follows similar approaches undertaken in other jurisdictions, notably Project Sunbird in Western Australia, which exemplifies a proactive way to combat this type of fraud.
The idea that victims are greedy and stupid is simply a myth used to perpetuate the idea that “we” cannot be victims, that “we” are different to those who become victims and that “we” are too smart and impenetrable to any type of fraud.
Instead, I’ve found that romance fraud affects men and women, young and old (though older people are more attractive targets), from a variety of educational, occupational and socio-economic backgrounds.
It’s too easy to blame the victim, hold them responsible for their loss and reinforce the shame and guilt they are already feeling. For those seeking relationships online, their weakness is the desire to find love.
But this ignores the role of the offenders in this situation and the ways in which they employ high level manipulation, exploitation and social engineering tactics to ensure compliance from their victims. Studies which explore characteristics of online relationships have found increased self-disclosures online compared to face-to-face interactions.
Over three months it sent 1,500 letters to potential victims in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.