How do I make a "mark" understand that they are being scammed?
June 19, 2008 5:56 AM   Subscribe

I have a 60-year-old female friend who is single and spends a lot of time on dating sites. She seems unaware of the risk for fraud and scams. She's fallen into a travel scam with a "man from Louisiana working in Uganda" and just wired $110 to a third party. She's both totally convinced and stubbornly attached to the "relationship."

I've compiled a list of links regarding how to spot dating scams etc. However, my concern is that no matter how many articles I show her about avoiding scams like this one, she won't let go of her fantasy. I imagine that there are a lot of psychological implications which will have to be carefully navigated in order to get through to her. Has anyone experienced this? How did you unconvince them?
posted by greensweater to Human Relations (12 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
$110 sounds like a cheap life lesson-- might be hard to do, but if you've given her the information, and she's not accepting it then you've done everything you really can.

Ask her a final time to read your information and to be careful, tell her you are sure it is a scam, but none-the-less you'll be there for her when the house of cards falls.

If you keep pushing your view you're likely to bring anger from both sides, and that will hurt your friendship. Keep an eye on it, to make sure those dollar values don't increase but allow her to make her mistakes if that's what she's chosen to do.

Practice not saying "HAAA! I TOLD YOU SO!"
posted by Static Vagabond at 6:18 AM on June 19, 2008

The modus operandi of these guys is basically to say "i love you" and similar empty phrases repeatedly, giving a blank slate for the mark to project his or her desires upon. Shortly, the scammer will ask for more money and favors, and threaten to leave her for not loving him enough to pay for his kids medication, or the plane ticket to the US to finally meet her, then the plane ticket from JFK to whereever she is because customs made him miss his fight, then the bus ticket from Chicago to her because the airline folded in mid flight. Then, when she comes through with that, he'll tell her how he was deported because of a paperwork error found moments before they were to meet. If she's still hanging on, he'll have her act as an intermediary, selling stolen merchandise, cashing fraudulent checks and wiring it all to Lagos. She'll be busted soon, but with all the fish he's hooked it won't hurt his bottom line.

My suggestion? Tell her to write using the pet name Mugu for him and watch him flip out and show his true intentions.
posted by bunnytricks at 6:30 AM on June 19, 2008 [2 favorites]

You said you've compile a list of scams. I don't know if it will help, but I work for an international humanitarian organization, and we get calls about these situations all the time. Someone will purport to work for our organization, befriend likely targets through dating sites, and then request money because of any number of reasons... they need to get out of the country due to violence, they aren't getting paid, or the project they work for needs the money. Unfortunately, most of the people being scammed call my org to verify employment after they've wired the money to the scammer.

It's happened frequently enough that our customer service people have been briefed on how to talk to people. If this man has told your aunt that he works for an organization, maybe you can encourage her to call that org, or call yourself to inquire about this man. I'm sure that most NGO's are dealing with this, and might be able to convince her. No legitimate aid worker is going to get stranded without money. Mainstream NGO's are scrupulously careful about the well being of their volunteers/employees.
posted by kimdog at 7:00 AM on June 19, 2008

Can you probe your friend for specific details about her ersatz Romeo's Louisiana connections (or advise her to ask for these details), e.g. What town and what street address did he live at? What was the name of the supermarket there when he was a kid? Where did he go to high school? Where did he work? What was the name of his boss? Where are his relatives buried? etc.

It is possible that a cunning scammer with sharp internet research skills (or an actual connection to Louisiana) could select feasible answers to these questions, but I bet he'd be no match for our Louisiana-based Mefites who could be asked to weigh-in on his responses in a separate AskMefi query.

Your story makes me sad. This will eventually be such an awful come-down for her and I agree with Static Vagabond, don't make her feel worse with "I told you so" (not that you would, but..)

But then again, many lonely people will happily spend $110 on romance novels or movies, or on a trip to a local casino, or on the pleasant escape offered by a case of chardonnay, or buy elaborate costumes for their schnauzers, etc., all for a little respite of joy and escapism. So who knows, maybe your friend deep down knows more than you think she does but is enjoying the ride.
posted by applemeat at 7:20 AM on June 19, 2008

Although there's some arguably vulgar material (adult language) on the site, The 419 Eater details the lengths some will go to perpetrate a scam. These stories might encourage your friend to be more skeptical.
posted by GPF at 9:32 AM on June 19, 2008

The more you lecture her and try to prove that the relationship is bad for her, the more she's going to cling to it to prove you wrong and prove that she is in control of her own life.

Keep being a friend. Be kind and open to listening to her. Let her feel like she has someone to come to when it all goes wrong.

Ultimately, she is an adult and will do what she wants, as sad as that may be. You've planted a seed of doubt. She'll have to decide what to do with it.
posted by sondrialiac at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2008

$110 sounds like a cheap life lesson...

Vagabond, you're assuming it ends with the $110. I doubt it will.

What sondrialiac said is important. As long as you're supportive of everything except the money part, it should make your opinion weightier.
posted by rokusan at 10:56 AM on June 19, 2008

Do you know the name he's using? Googling that name might lead you to other people who have had "relationships" with him, as the names are often used over and over again. The pictures they send are also often recycled, so it might be worth searching for other online dating profiles with the same picture. Some evidence of those relatively minor lies might help convince her that the larger things are also lies.

Here's a list of known scammers.

Also, if you haven't looked at it already, check out
posted by dizziest at 1:03 PM on June 19, 2008

2nding 419eaters.
posted by Spurious at 1:12 PM on June 19, 2008

I work for an online dating site and we do see this happening.

Tell her to email the guy and say that she will not be sending him ANY more money until he provides her with a phone number where she can call and speak to him directly, and that if it's going to cost her money, that she wants to call him collect.

If he refuses, tell her to ask for the phone number of a friend or relative that knows him from Louisiana and check the phone number he gives against the area codes for Louisiana.

If he refuses both requests, (hell, if he refuses one or the other, as far as I'm concerned), then he's a scammer.

Pure and simple, he has asked her for money and she sent it. He should not be surprised at a request to verify his identity as an American.

Other options: Ask for the address where he receives mail in the US.

Ask him to chat with her via webcam so she can speak to him and see him at the same time. Does he match his photos online? What does his accent sound like?

None of these are unreasonable requests. There is a blue-moon chance he's a missionary or contractor but I doubt it.

Surely his refusal to make himself more available to her after a significant payment has been sent to him will lift the scales from her eyes.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:36 PM on June 19, 2008

Thanks for your responses.

I made a prediction that his travel plans would be interrupted by unexpected difficulties such as a family emergency, accident etc. and that more money would need to be sent to resolve the problems. Sure enough, there's been an "accident" and he needs a cash advance to pay some hospital bills. I think my psychic powers may have been enough to help tip the scales, but on the same token I wonder if she finds it worth it to enjoy the excitement of dealing with these strange and possibly dangerous people on the other end of the line.

Here are the links I mentioned I compiled:

A Dateline episode aired a few months ago called "To Catch An Identity Thief":
posted by greensweater at 8:38 PM on June 19, 2008

Make a throwaway email and join the site as another older woman. Write to this guy. String him along. Ask him questions. Respond to his sob story with, "Aw, that's terrible. As it so happens I haven't got much cash right now, but as of next week, my car insurance check comes through and I'll have $10,504 to spend, isn't that great? I'm sure I can spare a grand or so for you, sweetie." Then start the delay cycle. "This really got my goat last week, the insurer rang me up and said they have to make sure that my car was free and clear in title, before they pay me ...". At some point ask him "You're such a nice man, you must have a lot of ladies looking to talk to you." At which point he'll probably tell you you're the only one for him, blah di blah, pressure you further about the car payment, etc etc ...

When it just gets impossible not to be a scam, print it out, show your friend.
posted by aeschenkarnos at 9:44 PM on June 19, 2008

« Older Is the British Queen regnant/reigning King allowed...   |   Daddy Music Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.