The Netflix documentarywas fascinating viewing. One of the things that struck me about it was how people spoke about the victims of this perpetrator. From what I heard, there was very little sympathy for the women who had fallen victim to this guy’s charm and perceived wealth.
“It was their own fault, giving away their money willingly” and “you’d have to be a fool to give money to someone you barely know,” were common comments.
In the conversations I heard at lunch, there was a lot of judgement of the victims of this individual’s pathology and little empathy for them. This is one of the problems with romantic scammers. There seems to be very little judgement of those who perpetrate the con and what they do to the lives of those who have the misfortune of getting pulled into their orbit.
The reality is romantic scamming is a huge industry and there is a science behind what they do. Often criminal organisations have unscrupulous psychologists working with them to help them towards their terrible end. An important question to ask is why some people ignore glaring warning signs and allow these people into their lives.
Most of us laugh when we receive an email from an African princess who has many millions waiting to arrive in her bank account and hallelujah, amazingly enough, she is willing to share a percentage of that bounty with you. All you have to do is simply share your bank details with her and the money is yours — if only.
Of course, we all know that is a scam. Very few of us fall for it so what is it about romantic scammers that make them highly successful?
Well, the answer is rooted in science. When we connect with someone romantically and are attracted to them, parts of the brain’s reward centre fire so lovely chemicals such as dopamine and norepinephrine are released. These affect the reward and pleasure part of the brain and we feel great.
The very same thing happens when you place a bet or eat chocolate. It feels good and you want more. These happy chemicals are located in the hypothalamus, which is where things get complicated. The hypothalamus can cut off access to the prefrontal cortex, where logic and reasoning take place, so when we feel an attraction or connection to someone, we can literally lose the ability to think logically.
Of course, we all know, reading this in the cold light of day, that if a stranger walked up to you in the street and asked for €5000, it would be accurate to say that, by the end of the day, that person would not have been given any money.
However, An Garda Síochána released data this month that illuminates just how profitable romantic scams are. According to the figures, €800,000 was fraudulently taken from victims between January and May alone. That should be a warning to anyone attempting to have a romantic encounter online. We must remove the stigma around this heinous criminal enterprise. I suspect the Garda data is conservative as this sort of crime is vastly under-reported because the victims feel incredible shame and guilt that they were so easily duped.
Con artists are very visible on most dating and social media apps. Once they have caught you in their web they are going to maximise the return on all the work they put into building that relationship. I am not writing this to scare people away from online dating — there are plenty of lovely people looking to connect online — but you must be aware of warning signs such as:
- Love bombing, where they tell you they love you very quickly
- They try to move you away from the dating app
- Their profile online is quite superficial and lacks posts or friends
- They are unable to do a video call or work in a country that is war-torn
- They suddenly ask you for money — that is a huge red flag
We don’t automatically think of younger people falling victim to these scams but research shows that women in their 40s are commonly targeted, the median age being 45.
We all want to connect with someone and share the experience of our life. There are plenty of genuine, decent people looking to connect but there are also plenty of bad people who will take advantage of you given any opportunity.
We must be careful about who we bring into our lives. The women taken in byare still paying for that experience.