Wednesday, December 28, 2011
by Charlotte Gill and India Sturgis
(U.K.) As she sat down in front of her laptop to read the latest messages from her online admirers, Elana Brown felt a flutter of excitement. Divorced for seven years, she had been persuaded by a friend to sign up to the Jewish lonely hearts website, JDate.
For two months, she’d logged on and chatted to several potential suitors, but each had come to nothing. But today, as she checked the messages in her inbox, one in particular caught her eye.
‘It was from a doctor in the U.S. Army serving in Afghanistan,’ recalls Elana, a 47-year-old learning support assistant who lives with her sons, aged 17 and 20, in Ruislip, West London. ‘His name was Sergeant Terry Scott. He liked my picture and said he would like to get to know me.
‘He told me that he had a nine-year-old son, that his wife had died in a car crash two years earlier, and he was looking for love again. It was a heartfelt message and he seemed a genuinely nice guy.’
Elana had no hesitation in tapping out a reply. ‘He replied almost straight away and we began emailing each other every day. After a week, we were getting on so well that Terry asked for my phone number and he started calling me.
‘His voice was lovely — he had a deep American accent and sounded kind. He would ask me how I was and about my two boys. We could chat for ages, sometimes four hours at a time. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to hit it off with someone I’d just met online. Looking back, I should have been more cautious. But I suppose, because I was looking for love, I wanted so much to believe in him.’
Certainly, there was nothing to suggest that Terry was anything but genuine.
‘He sent me lots of photos of himself in the Army. He told me about how hard life was in Afghanistan. In my profile, I’d written that I was looking for someone who was manly, but also able to help out around the home. He told me he’d take care of me, that he’d come to England and marry me. He said he wanted to make me happy.’
It was a whirlwind romance: just a few weeks later, Terry announced that he loved Elana and wanted to meet her. ‘He said he looked forward to meeting my sons and that we would all be one big family. It may sound naive now, but I believed him.’
Then, just three weeks into their relationship, Terry made a request which should have set alarm bells ringing.
‘He said that one of his soldiers had been shot, and he and his friends were trying to raise money so he could be sent to Russia for treatment. He asked me for £300 towards it.
‘I believed him, but I told him I just couldn’t afford the money. He then started bombarding me with texts and phone calls, saying they were desperate for the money. Terry promised that I would get the money back. He spoke to me so nicely that I just thought: “OK, I’ll give him the money.”
‘I transferred it by Western Union, as Terry had requested. He was so grateful and assured me he would pay the money back as soon as he could.
‘He promised he was resigning from the Army and would get a $300,000 (£190,000) payout. He said it was his Army pension. Then he would come to England and marry me. I was even sent official-looking letters from the U.S. Army stating that money I had sent was being used to get security clearance so Terry could leave the Army. They looked genuine to me.’
After that, Terry came up with endless reasons for needing more money. He wasn’t getting paid by the Army; he needed funds for a business he had set up. Blinded by love, Elana sent more cash. In the two months they were in contact, she parted with nearly £10,000.
Of course, she never did get to meet the man of her dreams. She was, in fact, the latest victim of an online dating scam targeting vulnerable older women.
Earlier this month, the National Fraud Authority announced £2.5 million has been stolen by online dating con-men in the past six months alone.
‘Fraudsters who take advantage of online dating sites are a particularly sinister lot,’ says the NFA’s chief executive, Dr Bernard Herdan. ‘They use clever psychological tricks to gain the confidence and affections of legitimate site users. They are attentive. When a romance fraudster has gained a person’s trust, that’s when they begin to ask for money.’
Increasing numbers of women, such as Elana, are falling victim to this kind of fraud — in particular to criminals in West Africa posing as U.S. soldiers. The U.S. Embassy in London received 500 phone calls and 2,000 emails reporting various types of internet scam last year.
Many victims feel too embarrassed and ashamed to confess they’ve been duped.
In a survey last month, the Office for Fair Trading found that 39 per cent of people who had been tricked in the past year did not report it to the authorities.
‘I can’t believe how foolish I was now, but I was in love with this man and I thought I was giving him money to help him resign from the Army so we could be together,’ says a heartbroken Elana.
‘I used all my £600 savings, took out a loan and had to remortgage my home to scrape together the money. But Terry promised I’d get my money back with interest. I thought we were going to spend our lives together, so why wouldn’t I get it back?’
When her elder son tried to warn her, she rowed furiously with him: ‘I wouldn’t listen. And all for a man I’d never met.’
After taking a last payment of £2,600 from Elana, Terry promised that he would repay the money within days, then fly to the UK to be with her. But the money never appeared. And neither did he.
The truth dawned on Elana when ‘Terry’ suddenly ceased all contact. ‘My son was right,’ she says tearfully. ‘I had been duped. I cried every night. I was a mess.’
A few months later, she heard the story on Crimewatch of a woman who had lost £45,000 to a Nigerian fraudster posing as a U.S. soldier and realised her story was virtually identical. Elana then contacted Action Fraud, the national fraud reporting centre, and investigators told her the payments she had made went to internet scammers in Nigeria and the UK.
By then, the fraudsters were long gone, along with any hope she would get any of her money back. A year on, she is working longer hours and paying back £200 a month to get rid of the debt.
‘Looking back, I see how naive I was. These fraudsters are so clever. I am not usually a silly person who easily trusts people, and yet here I was being conned.’
But it’s too late for divorcee Kate Roberts. The 47-year-old gave £80,000 to a gang of Nigerian fraudsters posing as a lonely U.S. soldier between October 2009 and July 2010. ‘I was taken in,’ she says. ‘Aside from losing the money, I feel I’ve lost the love of my life. I know he wasn’t real — but the feelings were real to me.’
Kate, a mother of three, had to sell her house to pay off crippling debts after taking out credit cards, loans and borrowing from family and friends in order to send money to the virtual ‘lover’ who contacted her on the Friends Reunited Dating website in October 2009.
‘Scammers carefully target and then tap into people’s wants, needs and vulnerabilities,’ explains psychologist Anjula Mutanda, who has worked with knowthenet.org.uk. ‘Initially, online dating fraudsters spend time emotionally grooming the person. They show interest, gain trust — reeling the person in before hitting them with the sting.’
Despite the huge rise in cases of online dating fraud, awareness among the 2.5 million women who internet-date is alarmingly low.
Elana is keen to stress that the victims are not stupid: ‘I’d heard of scams, but I never thought I would fall for one. You may think that this could never happen to you, but I am proof that it can.’
Friday, December 23, 2011
By Diane Mapes
One minute, they’re nice, normal people. The next, they’re frothing at the mouse.
“It’s mind-boggling the things people will say and even the things I will say,” says Catherine McIntyre, a 38-year-old medical billing specialist from Houston. “People who’d never say something horrible in real life will do it again and again and again online. It’s like the behavior of crowds, or those mass beatings where no one gets blamed because everyone’s at fault.”Sheri Pineda, a 59-year-old customer service representative at the Daily Breeze in Torrance, Calif., encounters the same bad behavior in the after-hours messages left by her newspaper’s subscribers.
“It’s appalling the way people talk,” Pineda says. “They’ll rant and rave and cuss at us with extremely foul language. And I think a lot them specifically wait until we close the phones. They’re looking to let it all out and then get on with their day. And then they’re surprised when I get back to them. They’re like, ‘You actually heard that?’ and will be embarrassed.”Hello. You have reached the split personality zone. Press 1 to melt down. Press 2 to hang up and act like a normal person again.
Between out-of-control customers, vituperative online posters and road-raging drivers, it’s hard to find an individual who hasn’t succumbed to the siren song of faceless, consequence-free communication. Online boards are clogged with insults hurled by readers hiding behind deceptively mild screen names — (“I hope you rot in hell!” signed Kittyface) — and customer service reps endure blistering tirades from disembodied voices week in and week out.
These days there are a dozen ways to communicate without actually having to look somebody in the eye. As a result, not only have we developed an abrupt, abbreviated way to chat (IMHO), but our technological advances have spawned new psychological terms such as “online disinhibition effect” to explain our tendency to open up — in both good ways and bad — when we’re sitting in front of a screen.
In a February 2008 study published in the journal Psychological Reports, researchers found that out of four groups of participants, only those in the anonymous group took part in antisocial behavior — in this case defined as violating rules to obtain a reward.
“I definitely believe that anonymity affects the frequency of antisocial behavior among individuals to some extent, even when these individuals have a reasonable sense of morality — so-called ‘ordinary people,’” says study author Tatsuya Nogami of Nagoya University in Japan.
“In my personal opinion, people generally try to comply with social norms in everyday life, even when such compliance with norms and rules conflicts with their personal self-interests. However, if you can get what you want without receiving any punishment or negative evaluations from others, are you still 100 percent sure that you’ll always refrain from engaging in that kind of undesirable behavior?”Rage against the machine
McIntyre, the billing specialist from Houston, says the online news forums she’s participated in over the years have led her down many a dark and dysfunctional corridor.
“People get sucked in,” she says. “You can be whoever you want, you can put out there whatever you want, and there are no consequences. I even got sucked in and was mean to people. I consider myself better than that, but I did it too, and that bothers me. I guess it’s just the dynamic.”Rider University psychology professor John Suler wrote about this dynamic in his 2004 paper “The Online Disinhibition Effect.” In it, he describes both toxic disinhibition — angry, threatening behavior such as that seen in flame wars or cyberbullying — and benign disinhibition, in which people make overly personal revelations due to the intimate nature of the medium. (Think online daters who “fall in love” without ever meeting.)
A lot of this effect has to do with feedback — or lack thereof, says Wallace.
“The environment affects how you behave,” she says. “Any time you go to places where you’re not known — even if it’s a hotel in another city — you might be more aggressive. So when you construct an environment like the Internet or long-distance call centers with a help desk worker in Bangalore, you’re creating an environment that facilitates uncharacteristic behavior.Cherise Oleksak, a 35-year-old cable TV customer service representative from Fife, Wash., says dealing with people’s disinhibited side can definitely be a challenge. Some scream and rage; others get a little more, uh, personal.
You’re not getting those nonverbal cues that calibrate your behavior and give you feedback if you’re going off track. Those people who do customer service for Comcast probably need double doses of Zoloft.”
“You’ll get people who will turn into perverts,” she says. ”They’ll ask you out or ask you to do (FREE) phone sex. They’ll be like, ‘Can you read those pay-per-view adult movie titles out loud to me again?’”Robin Taylor, 42, a customer care representative from Nashville, Tenn., says she’s seen this split, as well.
“I guess they feel they can say whatever they want because they’re anonymous, but the funny thing is we have all their information: their name, their address, their phone number, even part of their Social Security number.Going public
Not that I would ever retaliate, but if we ended up with some psycho (employee), it could happen.”
Interestingly enough, some folks are starting to retaliate.
Surreptitious tape recordings of outrageously bad customer behavior have started to pop up on YouTube in all their profanity-laced glory.
In 2004, comedienne Margaret Cho posted dozens of hateful e-mail messages she’d received in response to a monologue on her Web site, along with each sender’s full name and e-mail address. Shamed — and deluged with their own hate mail from Cho’s fans — some posters sent in abject letters of apology.
In the online world, abusive users hiding behind anonymous screen names are being outed, sometimes to huge public embarrassment as when Whole Foods chief executive John Mackey was unmasked as the sock puppet responsible for posting numerous attacks against competitors on a Yahoo! financial message board.
And media sites from Sacramento to Soho are stepping up their moderation of anonymous comments in an attempt to keep the incivility down to a low roar.
“When we first started with online blogs and that sort of thing, people weren’t aware of how much the environment could affect their behavior, but now people are getting much more savvy about it,” Wallace says. “But the issue that needs to be considered now is there’s no privacy. People need to recognize that they just can’t send out these blogging responses and e-mails and expect their anonymity to be preserved. It probably won’t be.
Recording devices are everywhere and Web 2.0, with its user-generated content, greatly amplifies the Net’s power to expose and publicize.
(please see our far right column for a few of the VICTIMS of Exposed Predators and how they fought back against smear and lies from the Exposed Predators)
Thursday, December 22, 2011
by Andrew Couts
(San Francisco, U.S.A.) Saying mean, terrible, even violent things about someone on Twitter or blogs is free speech protected by the First Amendment, a judge has ruled.
A San Francisco judge has declared that cyberstalking on Twitter and blogs is constitutionally-protected free speech, reports The New York Times. The ruling is a victory for the First Amendment. But like all things worth fighting for, it comes at a price.
Here’s what happened: A Buddhist religious leader in Maryland named Alyce Zeoli became friends with a man named William Lawrence Cassidy. At some point, the two had a falling out. Cassidy took the mature route, and began posting thousands of messages on blogs and Twitter, often using pseudonyms, that aggressively disparaged Zeoli. Some of them even called for her death.
Understandably distraught, Zeoli then worked with the FBI to have Cassidy arrested, which he was, based on interstate stalking laws. Cassidy, the government argued, had caused Zeoli “substantial emotional distress.”
This, however, was not enough to convince Judge Roger W. Titus, who declared that Cassidy’s actions, while distasteful, were not enough to set a precedent that could cause serious harm to the entire foundations of speech on the Internet.
“[W]hile Mr. Cassidy’s speech may have inflicted substantial emotional distress, the government’s indictment here is directed squarely at protected speech: anonymous, uncomfortable Internet speech addressing religious matters,” wrote Judge Titus, in his official order.
Titus ruled that, because no one was forced to read Cassidy’s posts and tweets — as opposed to a “telephone call, letter or email specifically addressed to and directed at another person” — they are considered free speech, not harassment, just as personal bulletin boards of the colonial era fell under the protection of the First Amendment, which “protects speech even when the subject or the manner of expression is uncomfortable and challenges conventional religious beliefs, political attitudes or standards of good taste.”
One of Zeoli’s lawyers, Shanlon Wu, told the Times that Zeoli was “appalled and frightened by the judge’s ruling.” It is not yet clear whether there will be an appeal to the ruling.
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
Responding to an invasion of privacy lawsuit filed by Aaron and Christine Boring, Google has countered that the couple "live in a residential community in the twenty-first-century United States, where every step upon private property is not deemed by law to be an actionable trespass."
In a motion to dismiss the Borings's federal complaint, Google's six-lawyer team asserts that,
"Today's satellite-image technology means that even in today's desert, complete privacy does not exist. In any event, Plaintiffs live far from the desert and are far from hermits."An excerpt from Google's U.S. District Court motion can be found below. The company asserts that the images of the Borings's Pittsburgh-area residence were "unremarkable photos of the exterior of their home," and were taken during a "brief entry upon their driveway."
In their lawsuit, the Borings charged that a Google vehicle -- outfitted with a panoramic camera on its roof -- drove down a private road to take images of their Oakridge Lane home.
In its dismissal motion, Google noted that it intends to prove that there was "no clearly marked 'Private Road' sign at the beginning" of the Borings's street. Google removed its "Street View" photos of the Boring residence and swimming pool after the couple filed its lawsuit in April.
Sunday, December 18, 2011
(U.K.) When lonely divorcee Philip Hunt fell for a beautiful woman on an internet dating site he thought all his prayers had been answered.
She convinced him she was young, fabulously rich and if he could help transfer $2.9million from Nigeria to the UK then they could start a new life together, an inquest heard today.
Unfortunately it was all an elaborate scam that would cost Mr Hunt £82,000 and ultimately his life.
The 58-year-old was hooked on the fantasy of a future with the stunning 'Rose' and he willingly paid out tens of thousands of pounds to help her beat malaria and get her funds through customs and into the UK.
The cargo officer remortgaged his house, took out loans, ran up overdrafts and begged for cash from his employers after repeatedly transferring money across to the fraudsters' account.
Eventually he became so hopelessly mired in debt that he committed suicide by lying down in front of a train.
Although warned by a former girlfriend that he was the victim of a 'scam', Mr Hunt appeared to believe in Rose until the very end.
His mobile phone was found in a rucksack near his body and a text message to Rose - which was never sent - read: 'I'm cold, lonely and depressed, I'm so lonely without you tonight. Going to meet my maker..'
Twice-married Mr Hunt went online in search of love after splitting up with girlfriend of three years Lesley Smith. He began exchanging texts and emails with Rose, who claimed to be living in Nigeria. She sent him a picture of herself and he quickly fell in love with the attractive white brunette. Over the months that followed Mr Hunt was tricked into thinking Rose was seriously ill and in desperate need of his help. The prize was the rest of his life with her and her cash.
Each time he came close to arranging a meeting with 'Rose' the anonymous criminals behind the 'romance scam' demanded further cash for hotels, medical bills and travel expenses to the UK. He even travelled to London to meet two of the fraudsters who claimed they needed money for an expensive solution which would magically turn scrap paper into $100 bills.
Mr Hunt met two 'agents' at the Travelodge near London's City Airport. He was greeted by two large men who opened a case containing scraps of black and grey paper. One of the men then sprayed a note with a mystery substance which seemed to turn the filthy paper into a $100 in front of his eyes - convincing him to hand over more money to pay for the chemical spray.
Mr Hunt began wiring over money in December 2008. At one stage he asked to borrow £25,000 from his employer, a shipping company at Immingham Docks, but later retracted the request and resigned from his job.
His last contact with the fraudsters was in June last year and he died on August 13 when he was hit by a train and suffered multiple injuries.
Police investigating his death found a handwritten note at his home in Grimsby addressed to them, which read: 'I just can't take it any more.' They also found bundles of emails outlining the huge scale of the fraud and a message predicting his own suicide. He wrote: 'I have insurmountable debts and will take my own life.'
A jury at the inquest in Hull returned a verdict of suicide.
After the hearing former girlfriend Miss Smith said: 'These people are out to get people when they are very vulnerable, they are like vultures. I'd like to alert people to this so they can be aware and be cautious. Philip was a quiet and reserved gentleman, and he was very intelligent which makes it all the more unbelievable that he fell for this, but he was at a low ebb and they got him when he was most vulnerable.'
Detective Chief Inspector Danny Snee, of British Transport Police, said: 'People need to be very wary, if something looks too good to be true it usually is. They should be particularly wary about parting with money with someone they have never met, it just doesn't ring true. The demands for money for supposed medical bills, hotel bills and travel expenses were endless.'
He said a criminal investigation into the international fraudsters was ongoing, although no arrests have been made.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
(U.S.A.) A South Texas police dispatcher is in trouble with the law after she posted photos of her husband and a female police officer on her Facebook page.
Brownsville dispatcher Laura De Leon is free on her own recognizance after she was charged with single counts of online harassment and phone harassment. Both are misdemeanors. She's also on administrative leave from her job with the Brownsville Police Department.
De Leon told The Brownsville Herald that she posted the suggestive photos and text messages exchanged between the woman and her husband, both of whom are Brownsville police officers.
She also admitted to calling the other woman and leaving a voice mail message on her phone. She said she did this because she was upset and later took down her Facebook postings.
Wednesday, December 07, 2011
By Amanda Craig
(U.K.) What is it that makes people want to send vitriolic abuse, including death threats, to a total stranger?
I can’t begin to imagine. But this year, thanks to Twitter and Facebook, I do know what it is like to be on the receiving end of such embittered hatefulness.
Why? Because I’d dared to write a piece in this newspaper about my teenage years spent at Bedales, the progressive public school that was embroiled in a scandal earlier this year concerning shoplifting and under-age sex.
As a pupil at the school in the 1970s, I had experienced a level of bullying and abuse that I still find disturbing to think about to this day and which inspired my second novel, written 20 years ago, A Private Place.
Yet when I set down my painful memories of my formative years on paper, I never imagined I’d be setting myself up as a sitting target for a new breed of modern-day bullies, who choose not the school playground, but the internet to target their victims.
‘Cyberbullying’ isn’t confined to children — it is a contemporary menace in which people can be targeted anywhere, at any time. When my email inbox began to fill up with awful messages, my first reaction was one of exasperation, quickly followed by cold contempt.
I was totally unprepared for the slew of virulent messages that, for the next month, pinged into my inbox via both my Twitter account and my public Facebook page. Many of these messages are unpublishable in a national newspaper, but they included threats to my personal safety, disgusting sexual abuse, venomous comments about my looks and personality, a flurry of one-star Amazon reviews of my novels — and several attempts to hack into my Wikipedia entry.
Astonishingly, those behind them were girls and boys of between 15 and 21 years old, many of whom declared themselves to be current or former pupils of Bedales. They defended the school by calling me bitter, greedy, bitchy and, what’s more, claimed that I ‘deserved to be bullied’. Then they said that the school was wonderful, and that bullying didn’t exist there, and that ‘every single one of (the abusive comments that had been posted about me) was understandable and acceptable’.
The poisonous mob mentality these messages displayed actually did far more to show any current or prospective parent the ugly side of a ‘liberal’ education than what I had written. I was told that ‘we know where you live, so watch out’, ‘your [sic] dead, bitch’, ‘die, you ugly c***’ and so on.
‘You are insulting an establishment you show no understanding of, in a way in which you can only expect a [sic] outraged reaction. You have not only insulted our way of life, our home but us as individuals. I feel personally attacked,’ wrote one boy.
A couple of current pupils were moved to express sympathy and to assure me that things had changed, but these, like the nicer kind of Bedalian student of my own time, seemed far and few between.
One posted a more moderate, thoughtful comment about my article — and his peers turned on him: ‘Stop s***ing her d**k Toby, and stick up for the f*****g school. Your [sic]
The abuse was so remarkable that two national newspapers picked it up, and one even wrote a leader page column. Yet when the Head of Bedales, Keith Budge, was approached for comment, his response, as quoted in the Daily Telegraph, was to say his pupils were simply defending their school.
The Old Bedalian magazine, edited by a former member of staff, decided to publish a sneering piece, which included a photograph of me printed upside-down and — a lovely touch — an encomium of the school’s creativity by Kirstie Allsopp.
Nobody in authority has attempted to contact me to apologise, and no pupil, as far as I know, has been reprimanded. Now, I don’t take the ravings of over-excited teenagers seriously. But neither do I think anyone should be allowed to get away with this kind of behaviour — least of all the privileged pupils of a £30,000-a-year school.
For such mindless venom to come from privileged children living in conditions which the majority can only dream of, and attending an institution that prides itself on its liberal outlook would be especially offensive.
Every contemporary school is aware of the life-long emotional and psychological damage that bullying can cause, and the responsible ones, both in the state and private sectors, have strong protocols about dealing with such issues, especially online.
Cyberbullying is worse and more cowardly than playground bullying. Even as an adult, I found the abuse deeply offensive. It was extraordinary that I was being addressed as if I were still the vulnerable, innocent 12-year-old I had been all those years ago. What I had described was so painful that I thought nobody in their right mind could feel anything but shame and compassion — and, more importantly, concern about whether the ills I described were still happening.
Instead, it seemed to provoke the opposite reaction. It was extraordinary — and ludicrous. But that’s the thing about the internet. While it has transformed the way people can communicate, it has also allowed some to say the most unkind things to someone they don’t know, have never met, and wouldn’t dare to confront face-to-face.
Bullies beware: Anonymous messages can be traced back to the location and computer they were sent from (posed by model)
These so-called ‘trolls’, inspired by envy, rage and spite, appear to live in a parallel universe in which they believe they can threaten, stalk, intimidate and libel anyone with impunity.
You don’t have to do something as provocative as write about your unhappy schooldays to set them off. Just being pretty, happy, or good at what you do is enough. Whole families can be affected by the fall-out, if my experience is anything to go by.
‘Why do people keep saying horrible things about you on Facebook just because you were bullied at school?’ my 15-year-old son asked me, bemused. ‘Because they’re total losers,’ replied my 18-year-old daughter. Having been forewarned by their schools about how to handle online abuse, they were far better placed to deal with it than me.
My husband was the most shocked — and angered — at the hate-filled messages I showed him. He was the one who then had sleepless nights — and who became the most worried about our physical safety. I am not easily intimidated, but I was admittedly depressed by this evidence of how little had changed about the mentality of bullies. On the flipside, however, the attempts to undermine me caused something rather wonderful to happen.
A number of distinguished authors, journalists and lawyers — many of whom had, ironically, become friends of mine through Facebook — saw what was being posted on my page and sprang into action, unasked, to defend me with both eloquence and wit.
'For the victim, an abusive Twitter message or email is no different from receiving verbal abuse'
To see the likes of Philip Hensher, Nicholas Lezard, Louisa Young, Chris Priestly and Katy Guest all pouring scorn on these abusive bloggers was rather like the scene at the end of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia novel, The Silver Chair, when the bullies who have been terrorising the children at the progressive Experiment House are punished.
Alarmed by this unexpected challenge, the trolls began, one by one, to delete their messages. Today, they are all gone — though I, and several others, took copies of them, in case they feel tempted to strike again.
People who do not have Twitter and Facebook accounts may be rather mystified by all of this. Meanwhile, those who do may wonder why I have dared to risk further online abuse by describing my experience here.
The answer is two-fold. One is that I believe bullying will never stop unless there is a concerted effort from the top to confront it, and that while any school continues to appear to condone its own smug cult that will not happen. Second, if you haven’t experienced bullying, you have no idea what a scar it leaves on the soul. Just because I learnt how to use my rage in creative, positive ways, writing novels, doesn’t mean that it’s not there.
Connecting with readers and writers through the web can be one of the greatest delights of 21st-century life, as Twitter and Facebook host a vast virtual conversation, in which people share views and exchange ideas about everything, from trivial thoughts to breaking news. But more and more bloggers and writers are complaining about the intimidating attacks made on them.
Caroline Farrow, a vicar’s wife and mother-of-three who blogs for the Catholic Voices website, recently revealed she receives at least five sexually threatening emails a day.
One of the least offensive read: ‘You’re gonna scream when you get yours. F*****g slag. Butter wouldn’t f*****g melt, and you’ll cry rape when you get what you’ve asked for. Bitch.’ That anybody can get away with writing in such a horrific manner to another human being beggars belief — but, thankfully, the law is slowly catching up.
The Police Central e-Crime Unit is responsible for investigating malicious communications. For example, a man of 60 has been charged with sending threatening Twitter messages to MP Louise Mensch.
Perhaps the threat of arrest, a criminal record and punishment will help the bullies think twice. For the victim, an abusive Twitter message or email is no different from receiving verbal abuse, or getting a poison-pen letter.
For the bully, though, there is one key difference: although they think the internet affords them anonymity, every message can be traced back to a location and a specific computer. Cyberbullies would do well to remember that before they click the send button.
Amanda Craig’s novel A Private Place (Abacus) is being re-issued as an e-book in February.
Friday, December 02, 2011
by Peter Walker
(U.K.) Number of unreported cases likely to be far higher as individual losses range from £50 to £240,000
More than 200,000 people in Britain may have been conned by fraudsters posing as would-be romantic partners on internet dating sites, according to the first study examining the potential scale of the problem.
Anti-fraud groups have warned for some time about scams, in which criminals create a false identity – often an army officer on active service, explaining an inability to meet in person – and develop a close online intimacy with a victim, who is then asked for cash to help their presumed suitor out of a crisis.
It had long been suspected that official figures for such crimes greatly under-represented their prevalence, largely because many victims feel too embarrassed or hurt to go to the police, or never realise they have been conned.
The study by the universities of Leicester and Westminster, working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (Soca), found 2% of people surveyed personally knew someone who had experienced the crime. Extrapolating this to the online UK population means more than 200,000 potential victims.
Monica Whitty, a psychologist and professor of contemporary media at Leicester University, said that the pool of those targeted was likely to be greater still as it did not include people who realised what was happening before they lost money and those who still did not realise they had been conned.
The researchers had been "shocked" at the numbers involved, she said.
There has been an assumption that victims tend to be middle-aged women. However, said Whitty, targets were from both genders and all age groups.
Aside from the financial costs involved – Soca has tracked individual losses ranging from £50 to £240,000 – those conned also faced the heartbreak of discovering that the person with whom they had fallen in love was the invention of a skilled con artist, usually Nigerian or Ghanaian, and often not even of the same gender.
"A lot of people find it very hard to accept what has happened, even if they know the person involved is now in jail," Whitty said. We've had male victims who still refer to the other person as 'she', even though they now know it was a man. In a few cases they've found the relationship so therapeutic they keep it going, even if they know they've been conned."
The scams often begin with an online dating site profile carrying a notably attractive photo, taken from elsewhere on the internet, and a description of someone in a remote, hard-to-contact location – whether a military base in Afghanistan or, to tempt male victims, a UK or US nurse at a small foreign hospital.
The use of almost exclusively online communication – the criminals occasionally resort to phone calls but these are rare given the extra difficulty of explaining away an accent – can actually accelerate intimacy, Whitty said, allowing victims to project their own hopes and desires on to a warm and empathic correspondent.
"Email and instant messaging can have the effect of being hyper-personal. Lots of people get in touch with someone through a dating site, meet them a few weeks later and this person doesn't live up to their expectations. With an online relationship this never happens."
The faked romances can last for a long time – the longest the researchers heard of was five years – with each criminal juggling a series of parallel relationships. At some point comes the request for urgent financial assistance, often to help them out of supposed difficulty.
"They might test the waters by asking for a present, for example saying they've lost their mobile phone and need another one. If this happens, they'll ask for money. It's like a clever marketing ploy."
Very few cases are seemingly reported. A spokesman for the UK's National Fraud Authority said the agency had learned of 730 crimes over the past 15 months, totalling £8m in losses.
The survey, covering more than 2,000 people, found that just over half were aware that such romance scams existed.
While this was a positive sign, Colin Woodcock of Soca said, significant numbers of people remained at risk.
"The perpetrators spend long periods of time grooming their victims, working out their vulnerabilities and when the time is right to ask for money," he said. By being aware of how to stay safe online, members of the UK public can ensure they don't join those who have lost nearly every penny they had, been robbed of their self-respect, and in some cases, committed suicide after being exploited, relentlessly, by these criminals."
How to spot a dating scam
Soca has compiled a list of tell-tale signs for people to look out for if they suspect their internet suitor is a con artist.
• A distant location and/or a job in the military: by pretending to be serving in, for example, Afghanistan, or on an oil rig, the scammer has a convenient excuse for being unable to chat on the phone or in person. When men are targeted, the other party often tends to be a nurse working in a remote country.
• A fondness for Windows Messenger or similar applications: aware that dating sites are increasingly conscious of such cons, the perpetrators can be keen to continue their wooing elsewhere.
• A suspiciously attractive and/or rugged-looking photo: of course, not every good-looking person lurking on a dating site is a fraudster. But the con artists tend to select particularly alluring physical alter egos, which they borrow from elsewhere on the internet.
• A quick adoption of a pet name: if, by the second email, you are being addressed as "dearest fluffy bunny", beware – it could be a fraudster looking to establish instant intimacy.
• A predisposition towards financial or other misfortunes: it is perhaps the most obvious tip, but if a suitor you have never met suddenly crashes their car, or needs an expensive airfare or a lawyer, be on your guard. The same goes if they start alluding to gold bullion or suitcases full of cash they hope to bring to the U.K.
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
(U.K.) Two 20-stone women targeted by a philanderer with a fetish for overweight lovers have joined forces and dumped him from their lives.
Angry Amanda Hart, who at 20-stone is two stones lighter than her one-time love rival Michelle Flack, says her ex used her weight as a way of controlling her when she was at her lowest.
The 25-year-old says that after years of being alone and bingeing on junk food he promised her that she was the woman for him. She says she even feared that he would leave her for a slimmer woman, unaware he was already dating a much heavier woman behind her back.
Both women met fireman Matt Kemp after they logged on to find love on dating website Smooch.
After a whirlwind romance with the 27-year-old Amanda swiftly moved her new love into her home. The 25-year-old had turned to the online dating agency after she struggled to find a boyfriend who would accept her.
Amanda, of St Leonards-On-Sea, Sussex, said: 'Matt was totally charming, he was quite a talker. He genuinely didn't seem to mind my weight. If anything he made me feel good about my size.'
Within months the couple were planning their wedding and a future together even though he was already seeing Michelle, 33, from Chelmsford in Essex.
Michelle, who turned to the dating site after her marriage failed, added: 'He picks on women that are vulnerable and controls them. I've moved on and am engaged to someone else. Amanda is a good friend now.'
The women came face to face when Amanda decided to pick up her then fiance from his work in Chelmsford, the same town where Michelle lived.
With only three months to go until their wedding she was horrified to see him with another woman outside the firestation where he worked.
Amanda said: 'At the end of June, Matt said he was working away as a fireman in Chelmsford. I agreed to pick him up from the station where he was based.
'He liked big girls - at 22st Michelle was even larger than me. I obviously wasn't big enough for my fat fetish fiance. But sat in the car waiting for him I saw him with this other woman. A big woman - at least my size. My stomach churned. Something about the scene didn't look right to me.
'Matt quickly got in the car but the mystery woman followed him and opened my driver's door. She said "I don't mean to be rude but who are you?" I told her I was Matt's fiance and she said she was his girlfriend.'
Matt denied he was having an affair but Amanda kicked him out and cancelled their dream wedding after discovering him chatting to Michelle on Facebook.
'Matt promised that I was perfect for him, whatever size I was, and when I sent out the wedding invites I couldn't believe how lucky I was to have a fiance who would walk up the aisle with a bride my size. At the back of my mind I always had a lingering fear that he would dump me for a slimmer girl but I knew that Matt loved me - and my curves.
'He liked big girls - at 22st Michelle was even larger than me. I obviously wasn't big enough for my fat fetish fiance. 'I felt like I had let myself down and also my family because we all welcomed him in. He moved in and we would cuddle in front of the TV with a pizza I thought I'd found the one.'
Michelle, of Chelmsford, Essex, admits she met Matt on the dating site after her husband divorced her for getting too fat - but says she was unaware he was cheating.
Michelle said: 'I was insecure about my size after my husband left me but Matt reassured me he wasn't interested in thinner girls. He helped me through my divorce and I trusted him. Matt told me that he liked big women. The bigger, the better, he said.'
Matt said: 'I was engaged to Amanda and we even went and saw the wedding venue. We were going to be married in September. Michelle was lust and not love. I know I hurt Amanda but I never loved Michelle. I wish I hadn't done what I did.'
Monday, November 28, 2011
(U.S.A.) Travis Davis is facing stalking charges after he allegedly set up a Facebook account using the name of an ex-girlfriend he raped in Ohio to contact a more recent ex in Pennsylvania. He tried to force the woman he contacted to come back to him by threatening to distribute a secretly filmed sex tape.
The 23-year-old Indiana man was arrested Aug. 15 outside the second ex-girlfriend's home in Delmont, about 25 miles east of Pittsburgh, after someone called 911 to report a man sleeping in a suspicious vehicle outside, police said.
He had a .45-caliber pistol, three magazines of bullets and a box cutter, and the car had a stolen Pennsylvania license plate taped over the Indiana plate on his car, police said.
Davis had created a Facebook profile in the name of another ex-girlfriend, a woman he had raped in Preble County, Ohio, and used it to contact the Pennsylvania woman and her current boyfriend's family, police said.
A week before his arrest, police contend Davis sent the Pennsylvania woman a video of him having sex with her when both still lived in Indiana. The woman "never knew that this video was filmed in the first place and obviously never gave consent to send the video to anyone," a criminal complaint said.
Davis threatened in an e-mail to "send the video to everyone if she did not return to Indiana for him," a criminal complaint said.
A few days later, the Pennsylvania woman received a friend request from the Facebook page Davis created using the identity of his Ohio rape victim. Davis - pretending to be the Ohio woman - threatened to send the video to the Pennsylvania woman's current boyfriend if she did not move to Indiana, the complaint said.
Davis, still posing as the woman he raped, then messaged the Pennsylvania woman and told her he would keep the video a secret if she agreed to a "sexy video chat" with her ex-boyfriend over the Internet. Police say the Pennsylvania woman consented to the chat Aug. 12.
The next day, Davis called the woman claiming that his Facebook alter ego had sent him the video and "advised her, in sum and substance, that it may be in her best interest to return to Indiana," the complaint said.
On Aug. 14, nude images of the Pennsylvania woman were sent from the Facebook page to the woman and her boyfriend's mother, police said. Authorities said they have contacted Davis' accuser in Ohio, who confirmed the Facebook page wasn't hers.
Davis pleaded not guilty and faces charges of violating a protection from abuse order and stalking.
Davis remains in jail on $75,000 bail and his lawyer says he intends to prove his innocence.
Friday, November 25, 2011
by Jojo Moyes
(U.K.) Only the most observant would have noticed the faint shift in classical singer Katherine Jenkins’s expression as she answered a viewer’s question on the television show Something for the Weekend last Sunday; the sudden rictus quality of her smile.
But a furious statement she posted online just after the programme ended revealed a greater drama backstage. Addressed to an unnamed online “bully”, the statement read: “You’ve set up a false account in my name where u slate & destroy my character (sic). After blocking you, you still tried 2 find a way 2 get to me & this morning was 1 step too far. Sending in a question to be read on live TV… to 'make me look clueless’ is utterly pathetic,” she wrote. Jenkins, it emerged, has been the target of this cyberstalker for over a year. “I’ve tried to ignore you but after this it’s time to stand up to you.”
Yesterday, Lynne Featherstone, the Liberal Democrat Home Office minister, unveiled proposals to introduce a specific offence of stalking, potentially also covering cyberstalking. A three-month consultation will also look at the use of restraining orders and police attitudes to stalking cases. It is a complicated issue; but it is timely. For it has been a depressing week to be female and have any kind of online presence.
On Saturday, cookery writer and presenter Lorraine Pascale posted a jaw-dropping message she had just received. It ended with the phrase: “Get off the TV c**n and know your place”. (It is now in the hands of the police).
Both she and Jenkins received a groundswell of online support. But the cyberbullying of women is becoming a matter of public concern.
Two newspaper columnists went on record last week about the online sexist abuse they suffer for the apparent sin of being female and having an opinion, while American writer Sady Doyle, weary of the level of online sexist abuse she received, has begun to document it, using the twitter hashtag: #mencallmethings. In a roundup of her unsolicited messages, reproduced on various websites yesterday, she lists, alphabetically, the abusive names she has been called in lieu of actual argument. Scanning the seemingly relentless list ('bitch’ is one of the few I can repeat), the overall effect is, frankly, numbing.
One of the great joys of Twitter when it began was that it was a place where women could have an opinion, and be funny, using a public platform. Talk to many high-profile tweeters today, and you will hear stories of extraordinary abuse directed against them.
Just last week, bestselling children’s author Emma Kennedy suffered her “most depressing day” on Twitter when she took issue with someone who believed he had a right to create and enjoy the image of another female celebrity with a knife through her head. Infuriated when she blocked him on Twitter, he bombarded her with aggressive emails instead.
Kennedy believes that anyone in the public eye can expect to find themselves cyberbullied now. “Quite why this is, is baffling to me. My main beef, however, is that women are treated very differently to men. Men’s abuse is about their words or actions. For women, it’s about their appearance and sexuality.”
The urge to provoke seems to be behind much of it. You do not have to go far online to find oddballs whose sole raison d’être seems to be to get a rise out of those more successful.
But, in an age where women are increasingly judged by how they look, there seems to be increasing anger directed at those who choose to use their voice. And the downside of online access is that those who possess that anger have no filter in place to cause them to stop and think. When I interviewed a US sports writer on this topic last year, he regretted the loss of the “lick the envelope” moment of sanity that stopped many people from saying vile things.
Some women have chosen not to address such abuse head-on, fearful that it will inflame any cyberbullying. Indeed, Jennifer Perry, spokeswoman for the charity Network for Surviving Stalking, does not think Katherine Jenkins’s decision to address her stalker online would be helpful. Ms Perry, who has advised X Factor contestants who received abuse online, said: “It’s more likely to empower him that he’s got her attention. She’s now talking directly to him, which is what he wants.”
However, the reaction of Jenkins and Pascale suggests this mood may be changing. When Tory MP Louise Mensch recently received threats to her children via email, she responded publicly: “To those who sent it; get stuffed, losers … I don’t bully easily. Or, in fact, at all.” (A man was subsequently arrested in connection with the threats). Regardless of your political persuasion, it felt like an admirably punchy response.
Mensch points out that the outspoken woman has been a trope of public fascination since Dr Johnson. “But I do think it is really important for women to stand up to any perceived threat of violence, like Lorraine Pascale has done.”
Mensch says that such abusive comments are now part of her working life, as they are for many female MPs. “If I spent all my time responding to every sexist comment which referred to rape and violence, I would lose my whole day, so I take a 'don’t feed the trolls attitude’. You have to distinguish between a genuine cyberstalker and common or garden abuse.”
Featherstone’s task will be to try and make that difficult distinction. But, in the meantime, dealing with such abuse seems to have become an inevitable side effect of having any kind of profile.
Mensch is struck by the fact that many of those who commit the abuse are often “men with respectable jobs. If you confronted them, they would be deeply embarrassed. But I’d like to ask them: would your mother be happy to hear you talking to a woman like that, using gross threats of sexual violence? If you don’t like her, you know what? Don’t follow her. Don’t read her blog. And grow up.”
Thursday, November 24, 2011
The TV host entered the world of Internet dating two years ago and became “infatuated” with a Brit she met on the web.
She tells Newsweek magazine, “When I was single two years ago, I decided I wanted a boyfriend for my birthday. My friends thought I was crazy for online dating.” Lake admits the relationship progressed very quickly and she even met with immigration lawyers so she could marry her lover.
She explains, “I found this narcissist online and started a whirlwind relationship where I was delusional. I was with a guy who was a total user and liar. He was English and considered himself a poet. He was more charismatic than physically beautiful but I became infatuated with him very quickly. I was out of my mind in some ways. I wanted it so badly I lost all clarity… I was going to marry him so he could get a green card. I even went to England with him and met his mother. He was such a bad guy. I was the only one who didn’t see the signs… I found out from my housekeeper that he would be nice to my children in front of my face but would cringe about them behind my back.”
Lake soon realized the romance was doomed and ended the relationship: “After six weeks, I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize myself. I had lost all sense of who I was. I realized it was not working. As soon as I saw the light, it was over. I didn’t cry a tear about this guy. I dumped him.”
Lake, who has two children with ex-husband Rob Sussman, is now engaged to Christian Evans and admits it was her disastrous romance that helped her find her perfect man.
She adds, “I learned my own value. It’s not about having someone. It’s about having the right someone… Two years later, I’m with the most amazing man who is absolutely right for me. He’s selfless and kind, and he’s not looking to further his career through his lover. I’m with the right person. I had to go through a couple of dirt bags to get to him.”
EVEN MORE REASONS TO STAY AWAY FROM ONLINE DATING!
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
By Nick Fagge and Christian Gysin
When Katherine Jenkins hit out this week at the ‘pathetic’ cyber bully who had harassed her for more than a year, she stopped short of naming names.
But an online trail followed by the Daily Mail leads inexorably to a 43-year-old former civil servant called Geraldine Curtis. From her run-down home in South London, Miss Curtis has repeatedly attacked and denigrated the Welsh classical singer on a personal blog.
She has now been blocked from the star’s personal Twitter page.
Miss Jenkins, 31, had kept quiet about the seemingly endless tirade of abuse to which she has been subjected – including attacks on her Twitter site.
But she broke her silence on Sunday after appearing on the BBC’s Something For The Weekend show, where presenters asked her questions supplied by the public. To viewers, the question: ‘What is the difference between a mezzo soprano and a bel canto?’ appeared inoffensive enough. However for Miss Jenkins the identity of its supplier - named as ‘KJMezzo’ - was the last straw.
Within half an hour, she issued a withering statement describing her anonymous attacker as ‘sad’ and a ‘bully’. Shortly afterwards KJMezzo’s Twitter account was shut down, apparently in response to a request by the singer, and a blog written in the same name also disappeared.
Miss Curtis, an accountant, who lives alone, is also suspected of having posted anonymously on the We Love Katherine Jenkins website. One recent observation read: ‘KJ is an over-hyped talentless slut with no discernible talent … she is despised by opera buffs.’ Moments later, another contributor asked: ‘Is it you, Geraldine Curtis?’
Interviewed by the Mail at her semi-detached cottage in Brixton, Miss Curtis insisted she is not the person behind the KJMezzo Twitter account and did not send in the question to the BBC show on Sunday which so enraged the Welsh star. ‘I did not watch it - I did not know it was on,’ she said. ‘I had a stinking hangover. Too much red wine on Saturday.’ She later admitted, however, that she had watched the show online on the BBC iPlayer.
And, with little prompting, she launched into a bitter tirade against Miss Jenkins.
‘She can’t sing,’ said Miss Curtis. ‘She is not an opera singer. She criticises opera singers. For years her website has said that opera singers are histrionic, overweight and frumpy. ‘She claims that she has “brought opera to ordinary people” who are too stupid to like opera, that’s her attitude. She is very critical of other people but she cannot take criticism. My comments about Katherine Jenkins are critical but she is in the public eye.’
In recent days, Miss Curtis has clashed on her Twitter account with Samantha Cox, a representative of Miss Jenkins’s management company. Claiming that if you criticise Miss Jenkins ‘her heavy mob turns nasty’, Miss Curtis tweeted: ‘If my Twitter account suddenly disappears, blame Katherine Jenkins … and check my blog for details!’
Earlier Miss Cox had tweeted to Miss Curtis: ‘The vile things that come out of your mouth! ... calling someone else horrible and nasty is like the pot calling the kettle black!’
The style of attacks by KJMezzo is similar to postings placed by Miss Curtis on her own blog in the past two years. Examples include an entry in which she says: ‘Dress is too tight … she’s a Barbie doll … she looks cheap/needs her roots doing.’ She claims Miss Jenkins exploits her appearance at the Remembrance Sunday service and the death of her father when she was 15 to sell records, adding: ‘She says, “Feel sorry for me my daddy died. Buy my album”.’
And she accuses Miss Jenkins of ‘jumping on the bandwagon of the abuse of female bloggers’ with her own claims that she is being bullied.
On her personal Twitter page less than 24 hours after Miss Jenkins’s outburst, Miss Curtis wrote: ‘I expect KJ & her entourage will now accuse me of cyberbullying. They’re on a roll, with traction. Criticism is not bullying.’
On her Facebook page, Miss Curtis has posted an album of 46 photographs showing her with opera stars including Placido Domingo, Erwin Schrott, Jonas Kauffman and Rolando Villazon. Its title is ‘Stalking’.
A spokesman for Miss Jenkins said she was glad the online hate campaign against her appeared to be over and added: ‘Katherine is pleased that the Twitter account that was sending the abusive messages has now been deleted. ‘She loves using Twitter and it’s great that she can continue using it without the constant hurtful and damaging comments made by that individual.’
Saturday, November 19, 2011
(Boston, U.S.) A married man met four other women online, romanced them over several years and then stole more than $200,000 from them by feigning financial and medical problems, authorities said.
Albert Lovering, of Waltham, Massachusetts, was indicted Tuesday on 23 counts of larceny, pleading not guilty on Wednesday.
Lovering, 54, met the women through various dating websites and deceived them into believing he was romantically attached to them, Middlesex District Attorney Gerry Leone said.
The women loaned Lovering money – including one who gave him more than $100,000 after meeting him just once – with the expectation he would repay them, but he never did, Mr Leone said.
'These allegations are extremely troubling and the defendant's lies spanned several years, targeting numerous victims who were conned into believing the defendant cared for them,' Leone said in a statement.
Lovering's lawyer, Daniel Flaherty, revealed his marital status as he asked a judge to release his client on personal recognizance as he awaits trial. He said Lovering has lived with his wife in Waltham since 1999.
The judge rejected the request and set bail at $10,000 cash.
Mr Flaherty did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the accusations, the Associated Press reports.
Lovering allegedly met the first woman in 2006 after they both placed dating ads on Yahoo.com.
The woman agreed to loan him $1,000 after he told her he had placed a bid on eBay on an item he had to purchase immediately, prosecutors said. He allegedly then told the woman he needed more money for several purchases and that he needed her to co-sign a loan.
When the loan was approved, he used the money for himself and did not repay the woman, Mr Leone said.
Lovering met the second woman in 2008 through a personal ad on Craigslist and courted her with 'romantic dinners and professions of warmth, affection and physical attraction,' Mr Leone said.
He also convinced her that he needed $28,000 to complete an eBay purchase, authorities said.
The woman never saw Lovering again, but he continued to communicate with her electronically, telling her he had to stay in hospital in New Hampshire for a serious medical condition, Leone said.
He allegedly told her that his health insurer would not pay several of his medical bills and that the hospital would not release him until those bills were paid.
'Based on his need, her affection for him and his promises of repayment, she sent a series of checks payable to him to a post office box,' Leone said. In total, the woman loaned him more than $70,000, he said.
Prosecutors said Lovering met a third woman in 2009 through Craigslist.
When they met for the first time, Lovering allegedly told the woman he owed the Internal Revenue Service back taxes and asked for a loan.
The woman loaned Lovering $7,200 and never saw him again, Mr Leone said. Lovering met the fourth woman through Plentyoffish.com, authorities said.
They met only once, but Mr Leone said Lovering led the woman to believe he was romantically interested in her and told her he needed a loan to pay back taxes. The woman gave him two checks totalling $1,500 on the promise that he would repay her, authorities said.
Mr Leone said Lovering told the woman in January 2009 that he was hospitalized in New Hampshire and unable to get discharged until all his medical bills were paid.
The woman repeatedly sent money to him through a post office box, investigators said. All told, she loaned him more than $100,000, they said.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
The former write-in candidate for Arizona governor traveled to Ukraine looking for love. He ended up hungry and sick in a homeless shelter — the victim of an Internet dating scam.
Social workers were stunned to find Cary Dolego, 53, sitting on a city street last Wednesday, behaving strangely and suffering from pneumonia.
Dolego, who ran for Arizona governor just last year, had traveled to Ukraine this spring to do research for an engineering project and look for a wife. He says he met a woman named Yulia online and, hoping to marry her, went to her hometown of Chernivtsi.
She never showed up.
With nowhere to go and no money left, Dolego spent days roaming the streets of Chernivtsi along with other homeless men until he was picked up by social workers and taken to a shelter. He spoke by phone Wednesday from a hospital where he was being treated for pneumonia.
"I was looking for a Ukrainian mate, a partner, somebody who would stay with me, be my wife," Dolego said. "All the Slavic ladies in this part of the world are absolutely delightful."
Social workers were shocked.
"He looked bad — his clothes were dirty, he was dirty, he looked like a typical homeless man," said Anastasia Beridze of the Narodna Dopomoha (People's Help) charity.
A woman who acknowledges being Yulia says she had been unaware of Dolego's existence during the Internet fling.
The woman, who declined to give her last name out of fear of attracting publicity, said in an interview that someone had hacked into her account on an Internet dating site and had been communicating with Dolego on her behalf, charging Dolego for those e-mails.
The woman, who was contacted through a mobile phone number provided by Dolego, acknowledged that the account he'd been interacting with on the site was hers. She denied being part of any scam. "What happened is ugly," she said.
Yulia, a 29-year-old doctor by training, said that after she found out what happened to Dolego, she paid him a visit to express her sympathy.
"I went to the hospital and he started hugging me: 'Oh Yulia, oh Yulia!' I was shocked," she said. "He thought we were getting married."
Dolego confirmed that she visited him and he believes they could still be together.
"We seemed to hit it off," Dolego said. "She wants to continue with the relationship."
Yulia has a different take. "He is not really my type," she said.
Before his Ukrainian adventure, Dolego, of Queen Creek, Arizona, says he was pursuing a bachelor's degree in organizational studies at the University of Arizona.
Passionate about engineering, he claims to have designed a "lifesaving" method to keep ships from sinking and aircraft from disintegrating during a crash. He says he sold his house, truck and motorbike and left for Ukraine to further study the method here.
But Dolego, a twice divorced father of three, also had another goal — finding love with a beautiful East European woman.
After finding no support for his project in various Ukrainian cities and being evicted from a room he was renting, he said he boarded a train to Chernivtsi, hoping finally to meet his Yulia and settle down.
After he arrived, Yulia stopped answering his e-mails. With his U.S. bank account frozen and no means of supporting himself, he said, he became a homeless man. He was reduced to sleeping on the streets and seeking shelter at a local railway station, according to social workers.
"Things befall people that they cannot predict," Dolego said. "I will work through it."
Beridze said that besides being understandably worn out and ill after days of living on the streets, Dolego was exhibiting abnormal behavior. "He talks a lot and gestures a lot. He is acting strangely."
Beridze's group has contacted the U.S. Embassy in Kiev and is planning to buy Dolego a train ticket to Kiev, the capital, from where he could fly back to the United States. The U.S. Embassy declined to comment, citing the Privacy Act.