Romantic scams
Day Three

Romantic scams

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Are you a lady of a certain age?  Do you use social media?  Have you noticed lately that you’ve had  friend requests, follows, or random flattering comments from men you don’t know?  You’re almost certainly being targeted by a romance scammer. 

Typically, this is how they work.  They use a profile photo of a good looking, distinguished middle-aged man.  They may be in military uniform.  Their user name will be a relatively common, USA/UK name with numbers tagged at the end, eg johnwilliams45735. If their target bites by either following back or friending them they will move onto stage 2.  

If they don’t get a response they might step it up by studying public posts going back several months and making a comment that’s relevant.  For example, say you have posted about eye make up in the past they might drop a comment on your latest post saying they’d like to be your friend and by the way, you have amazing eyes.  Flattery will get you anywhere, as they say.

The profile photo they use will not be of themselves, neither is that their real name.  The photo will likely have been copied from a legitimate profile.  One way of  checking out profile photos is to search on Google by image.  Download the photo to your own computer or if that’s not possible take a screenshot. If you click on the camera in Google image search you can either paste in the URL of the photo or upload the image you’ve downloaded to your computer.  You might discover that the original photo has been stolen from a minor politician in a small European country or a general in the USA

I used this method earlier today with a suspicious profile and the results showed that the same photo was being used on over 20 accounts.

I know you’re thinking that you’d never be caught out by this sort of scam but these guys can be patientpersistent and practised in their scammy ways.  The idea seems to be that they throw out the bait in terms of follows, friend requests etc to thousands of women.  Most won’t bite, but maybe a hundred will friend them, that at least gives them a little ‘social proof’ when they send out further friend requests.  Out of the hundred maybe twenty will engage in conversation, maybe ten may be open to a romantic relationship, maybe two will have money and then there’s the one who’s willing to spend it.   Because make no mistake this is always about money although it might not be obvious initially.  

To begin with this man will seem perfect.  He typically will have a high powered job abroad, is either widowed or divorced with grown up children.  He’s caring, kind – everything a woman could want.  He will fall in love quickly and be constantly attentive, online and on the phone.  He won’t be able to meet up because he’s working abroad, and he can’t video chat because <phone broken, poor signal> insert excuse here.  He will promise a future together with his chosen target and once she is properly locked into this mirage, which may take several months, he will make his move.    

Of course not every scammer works the same way and they change their methods regularly but a typical story might see him saying he’s finally coming home and they can be together.  Much anticipation and excitement  but then disaster, he’s had his money stolen, lost his passport, his child has had an accident, replace with any scenario where he needs money very quickly and for some reason can’t get hold of his own.  The woman is now committed to this ‘relationship’  and of course she’s going to help out her prospective life partner in his hour of need, it’s an emergency, after all.   The money will have to be wired to prevent tracing and if the woman agrees then this is just the beginning.  There will be plausible reason after plausible reason to keep on giving money.  Of course he’s promising to pay it back and even if the target is starting to get suspicious they may not be willing to walk away from their ‘investment’.

Naturally it all ends badly with some women losing thousands of pounds or dollars. They may be left devastated, humiliated and sometimes don’t even share the scam with their family and friends.  Sadly, this often happens to the most vulnerable, including older women who may be lonely after a bereavement or divorce.  It also appears this particular scam has been on the increase during COVID-19 because so many of us have been been isolated and using the internet more regularly for communication.

I know you won’t be caught out but spread the word particularly amongst your older family and friends, not just women either because these are equal opportunity scammers.  Men get fooled just as easily as women. 

What to do if a likely scammer approaches you? From romancescam.com: Never inform scammers that you know what they’re doing.  Block, ignore and report to the site they used to contact you. 

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Chat room

I (used to) attend a writing group at my local library. I joined about 2 years ago and attending weekly group meetings was inspirational, supportive and a lot of fun. 
In a weak moment l offered to build a simple website for the group in order to share our news and successes with a wider audience. It sat there for a few months, not very exciting but functional. Then came the lockdown and everything changed.  
Our meetings were cancelled, of course and that was the end of that. I wondered if we could keep in touch via the internet and I installed a text chat room on the back end of the website. It seemed to work well and we tentatively resumed our Friday meetings online. Members submit their contributions and I post them on a private webpage. We read them and come to the meeting to share our critiques.
The first time we tried it out for real it was a little chaotic but as the weeks of isolation have turned into months we have become more organised. The meetings have turned into a high spot of the week with lots of ‘bants’ and laughter and we’re regularly getting attendance that equals our old face to face meetings.
A meeting over text chat is not the same as a physical meeting and it’s possible to see various aspects of personalities emerge via this medium. Quiet people become ‘louder’ and vice versa. It’s different.  We’re suddenly missing all of the signals that we take for granted when we’re meeting up in RL (real life).  
When I looked back to my own experience with text chatting online I realised it stretched back to the last century starting with IRC. In 1996 I was an ‘operator’ on the NC channel. In other words I was an administrator on the Internet Relay Chat channel primarily used by residents of North Carolina. (I’m a Brit who was living in Ireland at the time!) I was new to the internet and it blew my mind that, with IRC, I was able to chat to people all over the world, in real time. I would pop into different channels just to say hello and the people in NC pretty much adopted me.  
When internet chat rooms emerged in the 1980s, a form of shorthand was developed, to help with the lack of facial gestures, body language and subtlety in tone missing from the real life experience. It was on IRC that I learnt the chatiquette that most of us are familiar with, for example, it’s rude to use ALL CAPS when chatting because it’s shouting, how to emphasise *certain* words with asterisks and not to bother too much with spelling and grammar because of the temporary, fast flowing nature of online chat. Although if I make a howler of a spelling mistake during frantic typing I will usually add a *sp afterwards to denote my error. (No, really I DO know how to spell!)  
Then there are the acronyms. This is where LOL and ROTFL were born, but also IMO (in my opinion) BTW (by the way) and hundreds of others, as well as the shortcuts necessary when leaving temporarily for a bathroom break: brb (be right back) wb (welcome back) ty (thank you) yw (you’re welcome). The emoticons that developed were all text based 🙂 smile 😉 wink ;P tongue out, etc that are all familiar to us these days from texting.
From IRC I moved to ICQ (I seek you) for several years and then the virtual world of Second Life where, in the early days, communication was all based on text chat.  
These days I still use the chat facility in Google Hangouts on an almost daily basis to chat with a friend in the US. Over the years we’ve developed our own shorthand that has become so nuanced and subtle that we can read pauses that last a nano second too long and interpret the most garbled spelling mistakes automatically when we’re in the middle of a muscular political discussion!
Text chatting, IMHO (humble or honest – take your pick) is an underrated form of communication, developed in a time when the internet was young and is now taking a quick curtain call for those of us who have cut their own hair and don’t want to use Zoom. 
Edit: Modern technology has turned most of my text emoticons to images in this post.
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Distraction dolls

27 days, almost a month in total lockdown.  Neither of us have been outside the confines of the house and back garden, except once a week to put the bins out.  I think I’m institutionalised now. Outside resembles a TV screen; nice to look at but not anywhere I could actually enter.  

In the early days of confinement it was all about how much writing I’d get done and if not writing then definitely recording these strange days with creating a sketchbook (or a daily blog!)  Reader, none of these things have happened.  Most of yesterday involved watching YouTube videos on how to cut your own hair *with clippers* and nodding along, thinking that it looked doable.  If it doesn’t work out, who cares..nobody else is going to see it for many weeks and maybe I’ll develop a new skill.  I’m sure I have pink hair dye somewhere.  

The most recent distraction is making Tilda dolls.  This is the first prototype and its creation involved watching Russian videos and spending way too much on downloadable patterns from Etsy.  Many things need changing but I hope to develop the pattern and techniques.  Another welcome distraction is looking for ways to enable contact between members of our local writers’s group.  Meeting digitally can be a challenge but proving to be really worthwhile.  

I’m resigned to staying in the house/garden for the foreseeable future but admit to becoming slightly pissed off with the people who think that they are the exceptions to the ‘stay at home’ rule and flout it by driving across the country to visit their friends, amongst other things.  They will justify it until the cows come home, but really, get a grip. Which part of ‘stay the fuck at home’, don’t you understand?

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Changing attitudes

They say a week’s a long time in politics but it feels like a decade in a pandemic.   On 5th March 2020 Boris Johnson said

"...perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population, without taking as many draconian measures."

To be fair (and it pains me) but he did say that this was one of the theories and it needed to be balanced with more preventive measures.  But even to consider this as part of a balanced approach seems extraordinary when, according to more than 200 scientists who wrote an open letter on 14th March this tactic to produce the much quoted “herd immunity”,  would result in many thousands of unnecessary deaths.  

Three weeks later and we’re in a different place, with almost a lockdown being implemented last night.  Almost, because people can still go to work and there is a lot of confusion about what can and can’t be done.  You can probably take your car for an MOT if you can find a garage open but you’re not allowed to visit your partner if they don’t live in the same house.  No visits with family members unless you live together. 

After Johnson’s TV address last night though attitudes seem to be changing.  It’s less than 10 days since a doctor told my husband that this thing would ‘blow over’ soon enough, surprised and not a little dismissive, that he was self isolating.   

14 days in isolation for us today, which seems like a mini milestone but I’ve a feeling it’s going to be a long year.

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Meltdown

So I bought a new phone last week.  I had the last one for about three years and it was perfectly serviceable except for battery life.  It was hardly making it ’til lunchtime.  I had the horrible thought that if one us of needed to go to the hospital I’d need a phone with a decent battery so I bit the bullet and bought an iPhone 11.  Ordered, delivered but without a SIM card.  I spoke to Virgin customer support who assured me that all their phones come without a SIM.  It was on order, would be delivered by Royal Mail and would be with me in a couple of days.  Hmm.

I wasn’t totally convinced and spent the whole of Day 6 texting to various support people at Virgin, getting increasingly infuriated as I was told different variations of the story.  Finally, one guy said that he couldn’t see any trace of an order for a SIM card and was I sure it wasn’t in the box?  No, absolutely not, I’d had a thorough search of the box but hang on..what about the cardboard outer?  Being conscious of the longevity of the virus on cardboard I’d ditched the outer box as quickly as possible.  A dive into the recycling bin by my long suffering husband resulted in the discovery of the SIM card nestled safely in the cardboard box. Grovelling apology to support guy and phone finally up and running. Yeah, I’m a dick but why did they lie in the first place though?

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So here’s the thing…

Neither of us are sick (touch wood) but we decided to self isolate a few days before it was advised because we both have the dreaded ‘underlying conditions’. When we started I imagined that I would get stuck into a project and emerge blinking in a few months time with a fully formed novel. Or maybe a portfolio of new art work. It’s becoming more obvious that it probably won’t work like that and I’m going to flit about from one thing to another. Currently I’m taking part in a 30 day photo challenge with one of my oldest friends and that’s the start…12 days in.

Continue Reading So here’s the thing…