Posted by: zhak39 | May 30, 2009

Scam, Scam, Scam, Scam

You think that you are speaking with or texting or e-mailing her.

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She’s a nurse or a student or an aspiring model.  She is nurturing and hard working.  She has been doing community service in Africa but she is from Australia or England or Canada.  She very much wants to come to the United States.  It is her dream to live in this great country, to work and be a good citizen but most of all, to give her heart and soul to a kind and loving American man or woman.

In fact, over the last few months you have shared your deepest kindness and vulnerabilities with one of these folks.

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The economy is tough all over but the economic squeeze is nothing new to west Africa.  Ghana is my focus right now but this story repeats itself daily throughout the region.  Just yesterday, ghanaweb announced in its business news section that Afrique announced the ten strongest economies in Africa based on 2005 figures.  Ghana debuted as number 10, even with this to say about the country:

Ghana – GPD: $54.45 billion The tenth ranked country on the list was also the first country to gain independence in sub-Saharan Africa in 1957. Despite being a country with plenty of natural resources, Ghana is still heavily dependent of international aid and technical assistance. Its chief exports are gold, timber and cocoa. Ghana operates a subsistence agriculture-based economy and employs about 60% of its workforce.

Let’s see if we’re paying attention.  This country is in the top 10% in GDP based on subsistence farming and a 40% unemployment rate.  And that’s before the global economic hit.

The new president, John Evans Atta Mills seems like a smart and involved and sincere guy who wants to improve the quality of life and continental standing of the country.  He has some tough challenges.

Not every Ghanian is a con artist and there are resources to help people make good decisions.  This blog post was written in 2007 by an American (Jersey-girl) who is raising her family in Ghana.  The government has tried to build up the infrastructure to better support technological industry and attract outside investment.  Like Bangalor and successful projects in the Indian subcontinent they have made strides in ‘wiring’ the countryside.  This has led to the establishment of a multitude of internet cafes.  This in turn has been the basis of a new cottage industry–virtual romance scams.

Ghanian youth, generally from ages 14 to 24 cannot find jobs.  They are banding together in collectives and running these scams.  They purchase portfolio shots from photo studios (and note the photo I used above was a freeware stock photo shot).  These are from young women who are trying to break into modeling or acting and is done absolutely without their knowledge or permission–their visual identities are stolen.  The scammers then troll through singles dating sites and magazine dating ads.  Their focus is the vulnerable, recent widowers, the disabled.  (An excellent resource put out for the latter, here.)  Once potential ‘clients’ are identified, they hone in on the vulnerabilities in the personal descriptions.  They begin correspondence rooting out areas that they can exploit.

I want to emphasize here that they are not necessarily exploiting people’s nefarious desires.  They are carefully learning what an already hurting human being needs to hear.  They are targeting deep needs that we humans don’t always successfully meet for each other–ease of loneliness, sense of relevance.

Over a period of weeks or months after developing a sense of trust and compatibility the scammers of course start to ask for money always with the promise that it is just to relocate and join their mark.  At the same time, they use that trust basis to drive a wedge between their victim and any friends or family that may object.  The fact that the latter works shows how deeply they touch a person’s basic needs, for love, companionship, relation.  They are good.  The American Embassy in Ghana puts out an excellent treatment of the development of this, let’s call it the business model.

Why are the scammers doing this?  It’s lucrative.  With the duping of just a few clients a year, say for a couple thousand a piece, a Ghanian can live very well.  Health care is not great in Ghana but it is really cheap.  Food, housing, even luxuries like cars are inexpensive by Western standards.  In a country with limited legal opportunities, cheating people is a viable employment.

So what can you do when a friend or family member is being taken in?

First kick yourself real hard for not recognizing that this person has been suffering.  He or she would be much less likely to be vulnerable if there was a local face-to-face outlet for friendship, companionship, company.  Lose the judgement and understand that he or she is missing something fundamental.  Help him or her develop a local support network.  At the same time, ask the right questions and offer correct information.  Suggest that the stranded potential spouse or lover produce some real documents (i.e. Visa) and have it checked out with the State Department.  Brainstorm some positive ways to challenge the scammer.  Be a detached rational and compassionate supporter.

It takes awhile for a person to become involved with this kind of scenario.  Take the same amount of time to bring your friend into healthful supportive relationships.  This is not a game and it’s not some shameful weakness.  This is an opportunity to become stronger in the human community.




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