Amy Gdala and Acacia Oudinot: To fight cyber fraud, liberate women
This Valentine’s Day, more women are caught in romance scams than ever before. Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, dating app usage soared and, with it, so has the number of highly skilled criminals using the platforms to drain single women of all of their money. Love Fraud was already at epidemic levels before the pandemic, ranking as the number 1 cyber fraud in the US in size of damages per victim. In 2019, $475 million was stolen. The FBI estimates 82% of victims are women. As if that weren’t disturbing enough, these criminals also trick their victims into unwittingly committing crimes on their behalf. Love Fraud is a full-out economic assault on women in the US and throughout the world and warrants a dramatic women’s movement response. Women’s collective awareness about Love Fraud will not only rapidly eradicate it, it’s powerful enough to level vast global criminal networks in the process.
Love Fraud is a long-con technique that uses social media to find victims and social engineering to subdue them. Scientific research shows romantic love is as addictive as cocaine. Romance scammers leverage this susceptibility through a technique called “love bombing”, using constant, highly validating messaging to trigger an oxytocin dependency in the victim. This grooming process often takes months. Once a victim reaches what scammers refer to as the “ether state”, they’ve essentially been drugged into an emotional stupor that has key psychological side effects including high levels of trust, generosity and impaired judgment with financial decisions. The effect is so powerful that victims — who hail from all education and income levels –are often remotely controlled into draining their bank accounts and sending shocking amounts of their money to someone they’ve never met. Friends and family watch in horror, their interventions powerless over this complex, traumatizing scam.
In the top ten states with the largest damages from romance scams, the average loss per victim was $44K in 2019. In Oklahoma, the number 1 state for Love Fraud losses, the average victim lost $70K. The result is often complete financial devastation for the victim, though this is only one part of the criminal’s intent. Romance scammers have found their victims are ideal vehicles for money laundering. Since scammers build a trusting relationship with their victims and isolate them from others’ advice, there is little risk that victims will steal the funds or goods they receive. It is estimated that 30% of romance scam victims are used as money mules.
Experts believe women romance scam victims make up a significant part of the financial infrastructure through which cyber criminal syndicates –which operate a wide array of cyber frauds in addition to romance scams– launder their ill-gotten gains. When money is transferred from the money mule’s bank account, it often ends up outside of the investigator’s jurisdiction, making it hard for local law enforcement to trace. Each year, cyber criminals launder billions from counterfeit check fraud, credit card fraud, grandparents scams, lottery fraud, fake investment scams, business email compromise fraud as well as romance scams this way. Without Love Fraud victims to launder their money, cyber criminals can’t access it.
This means that women are central to the solution for cyber fraud. With more knowledge, women can defend themselves while halting the operations of vast criminal networks. That’s how much untapped power women have, but you’d never know women were even a factor based on the current strategies to combat cyber fraud. Instead, efforts focus on cajoling dating app companies to take any initiative. But, despite all of their virtue-signaling about BLM, climate change and even the insurrection, these companies have done little to protect their users from merciless criminals that use their platforms as traps. That’s because their business model relies on these scammers. Investigations have revealed that as many as 30 percent of new users on the online dating service Match.com were scammers. In September of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission sued Match Group, Inc., the owner of Match.com, Tinder, OKCupid, PlentyOfFish, and other dating sites, alleging that the company used fake love interest advertisements to trick hundreds of thousands of consumers into purchasing paid subscriptions on Match.com. The FTC alleges that millions of contacts that generated Match’s “You caught his eye” notices came from accounts the company had already flagged as likely to be fraudulent. The suit alleges many consumers purchased subscriptions because of these deceptive ads, hoping to meet a real user who might be “the one.” Instead of a chance at love, they too often found a scammer on the other end along with financial ruin and, sometimes, criminal charges too.
Single women must accept that we are under a withering, unprecedented economic attack by large global criminal enterprises. These attacks are so intense, it will require a movement of women focused on defense. Ideally, we will find loyal partners in governments and financial institutions worldwide once they recognize the most effective approach to fighting cyber fraud begins by protecting women.
Acacia Oudinot was targeted by a romance scammer and fought back, exposing this top crime trend. Amy Gdala is the pen name of a financial crime-fighter for women and is a voice through which female financial victims can speak. For more information about financial crimes targeting women and women-led solutions, visit www.securewomen.org. Thanks to American Forum for sharing this article