Why do People Fall for Romance Scams?
I have a confession. I fell for Squirmels, aka Snoots, aka the Magic Twisty Worm, aka the prank gift that looks like a furry worm moving on its own. I was in a toy store in Orlando, down to my last few dollars, and just looking around while life passed me by. A video on a small television within the display showed a montage of silly scenes with Snoots seemingly to move without provocation. I was mystified. There was no way I could conceive how it worked.
I bought the stupid thing and was severely disappointed on how obvious the shiny fishing line attached to the nose was in person, compared to how invisible it had been on the recording. I was in my early twenties, my life had fallen apart several times by this point, I was living with an abuser, and I was under tremendous stress trying to dig myself out of what seemed like an impossible, financial hole.
The stupidity I felt in that moment was gargantuan. On the one hand, I knew it was a trick, but on the other, a big part of my dopamine-starved brain screamed “WOW,” and I had become instantly infatuated with the object. It was a very cheap waste of money, but I had such little money at the time, that it was a significant portion of my bank account.
I felt conned and part of me knew it was a con the whole time. However, the human part of me was no longer in control, while a desperate part took over in that moment. Was it my inner chimp? Was it part of me trying to find hope in a completely desperate situation?
The next day, my boyfriend at the time stole my car, stayed out all night, and cheated on me. This was a man who had begged for me to take him back, and I held firm, until he wore me down. He was just using me though, but my brain had sparkled “WOW.” As I let him back in, I thought we were finally going to work out. Part of me must have known I was being conned, right?
I think it’s everyone’s dream at one point or another to find a good person and build a life with that person. No one is perfect and people let us down. The bigger your heart seems to be, the more vulnerable you are to being scammed one way or another. I was paying his bills, paying for his food although I was barely eating, and living with him, when he stole my car to be with another woman. I was also willing to be physical with him, but I guess I just didn’t do it for him anymore. He already got me, so it was time for him to seek someone else. I was his meal ticket, nothing more.
This happened many years ago and I could chalk it up to being young and dumb, but I think it’s more accurate to blame feelings of loneliness, desperation, and economic hardship.
Over the past few years, I watched several Dr. Phil episodes on romance scams and Social Catfish’s YouTube videos on the same types of scams. Within the videos, the person being scammed is always in some stage of denial. I’m sure some part of their brain knows they’re being conned, but another part is just saying “WOW,” and taking control. Within the comments of these videos, viewers write the same things, some version of: “I could never imagine this happening to me!”
Well, maybe have a little more imagination. The minute we think we couldn’t fall for a scam, is the minute we lose sight of our own blind spots. When struggling, anyone can become a different person, make bad decisions, act out, or become vulnerable to predatory people.
I was vulnerable after a bad breakup, which is why I let my guard down and got back together with the jerk mentioned above. Innocent people in these Dr. Phil and Social Catfish videos also vulnerable, but hadn’t realized it when they started being conned.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rloYvbcIY5E watch this video on Social Catfish’s YouTube channel for an extreme example of the denial a victim wrestles with.
At one point, I had vowed to never let that man back into my life, but he wore me down with his words, which is how I ended up in Orlando in the first place. He never paid me back for anything he promised to, nor did he keep any promise really. I was at war with myself, believing him even though I should have known better.
The victims of these romance scams are also in a tug of war when they interact with their online predators. How many times has any one of them told the scammer it would be the last time they sent money or a gift card? How many times has that scammer worn their victims down? Begged them? Guilt tripped them? Manipulated them?
In life, we have to take a cold, hard look at ourselves and face the objective truth, or as much of it as we can see. We can’t do that just once, no, we must do it over and over. It’s painful. We won’t always like what reflects back. I have mentally revisited times where I’ve acted completely out of line, but despite regrets, I was still responsible for my own actions and those actions were disgusting. Other times, I’ve been abused and stayed. I’ve made poor decisions with money. I’ve convinced myself that liars weren’t lying.
Nothing about this is easy. Facing ourselves is what we should do instead of seeking comfort online or with predatory partners. Participating in these romance scams, for the victim, is akin to an avoidance behavior, much like staying in an abusive relationship or hostile work environment, as opposed to facing the true causes of our psychological stressors. We avoid underlying issues causing us to be lonely and feel unfulfilled. It’s easy to send someone money online, but hard to interact with people in person. As we know, people let us down. It feels safer to be hurt in our own homes. It’s easier to donate our money instead of our time.
According to the FBI’s 2020 Internet Crime Report, in one year alone, 23,000 citizens reported being victims of romance scams and confidence frauds, aka cons, losing a combined $600 million. I wonder how many went unreported? I wonder how many people are still sending money overseas, believing the lies of these scammers? I wonder how many people still can’t see the string attached to the nose of toy?
If there’s anything I can leave you with, know that taking care of yourself first and foremost must always be your priority. If you haven’t had an honest look at yourself lately, then it’s time. If you have taken a good, hard look at yourself recently, it’s still time. We must never lose sight of who we are and what we’re really dealing with in this world.
We all face challenges and it’s no wonder our oldest population is at the highest risk of internet theft and fraud. In 2020, the FBI reported over 100,000 victims of internet crime age 60 and over, losing a combined $966 million. It makes sense, as it’s much easier to fall for schemes, rather than deal with retirement, aging, the loss of a loved one or partner, or lack of fulfillment in life.
Frauds are easy, life is hard. You don’t have to deal with your own life, if you wrap yourself up in some fairy tale a scammer has constructed for you.
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