Friday, January 18, 2013

Lack of Help for Victims of Cyberpaths & Scammers

by James Eli Shiffer

Jody Buell thought she was falling in love, but she fell for some­one who didn't exist.

The Burnsville, Minn., woman didn't catch on to the scam until she had spent more than $10,000 on her on­line admirer.

In­stead of sink­ing into de­spair, howev­er, Buell decided to get even.

For the past two years, she has been help­ing oth­er fraud victims get advice, support and fel­low­ship from an on­line group called romancescams.org. Since the Yahoo group was founded in 2005, it has helped more than 50,000 people from around the world.

"It's ba­sically a war," said site founder Barb Sluppick, a scam victim who lives in Mis­souri. "They're battling us for our mon­ey. We're fight­ing back, but we're fight­ing on our own because the govern­ment doesn't seem to want to get in­volved in this."

Govern­ment of­ficials say the biggest hur­dle is that the vast major­ity of suspects are located out­side their ju­ris­diction, usu­ally in oth­er countries. The epi­center of the scams appears to be West Africa, partic­ularly Nige­ria, where young men reportedly work through the night in Inter­net cafes per­pe­trating dozens of frauds.

"I've had scam victims from around the country getting ahold of us because they can't find anybody to pick up their case," said Jim Arlt, in­terim di­rector of the Minnesota De­part­ment of Public Safety's alcohol and gambling enforce­ment unit. "I am astounded at re­ally the lack of co­or­dinated effort in this area."

In the past year, the FBI has received more than 4,000 complaints about dating-site fraud, but the agency has no es­ti­mate on the financial impact, FBI spokeswoman Jenny Shearer said.

In some cases, the losses are dev­astating. An Arizona man who con­tacted romancescams .org said he was tak­en for $1million, and in Au­gust, a New York man shot him­self af­ter los­ing $50,000 to an on­line scammer.

When Buell first joined the group, Sluppick had to moderate her com­ments because she was still so angry. Now Sluppick consid­ers Buell her sec­ond-in-command.

Looking back, Buell said she can't be­lieve she mis­sed the warning signs. She said she decided to tell her story publicly for the first time because she counsels oth­ers to feel no shame for be­ing the victims of crime.

"Who in this world does not want or need to be loved?" said Buell, a longtime in­sur­ance bro­ker.

In 2008, the dating site eHarmo­ny.com matched Buell, 53, with Claude Eichmann, who de­scribed him­self as a Mary­land busi­nessman with an international mining compa­ny. Their friend­ship blossomed by e-mail, in­stant messaging and phone conver­sa­tions.

Paul Breton, a spokesman for eHarmo­ny, said he can't disclose the meth­ods his compa­ny uses to weed out crooks. But he noted the site also in­structs users to pro­tect them­selves by rec­ognizing the signs of a fraud - some­one who wants to move too quickly, who draws you into a sudden person­al cri­sis, who has a complicated story, who asks for mon­ey.

Buell's friend­ship with "Eichmann" played out over 3-1/2 months. His photo showed a smartly dressed man with unruly black hair. Af­ter a number of weeks they exchanged phone numbers, and while Buell was initially put off by his ac­cent, he re­m­inded her that he had grown up all over the world.

"Ev­ery time I would raise a doubt or a question, he would have a plau­sible answer," she said.

The two planned to meet, but first he had to trav­el to the West African nation of Ghana to open an office. Then trou­bles began. His office equip­ment suppli­er fell through. Could you send mon­ey? he asked. Buell refused, but he persuaded her to buy $10,000 worth of com­put­ers and phones and spend an­oth­er $1,300 to ship it to Ghana. Buell even included a pair of Timber­land boots he coveted, plus a lock of her hair.

Then "Eichmann" became ill and asked her to pay for his malar­ia medicine. Buell implored him to con­tact the U.S. Consulate, but he resisted he idea, so she went to the embassy website her­self. On the home page, she no­ticed a link to "romance scams."

"I clicked on it," Buell said. "It was like ice went through all my veins. Ev­ery­thing that hap­pened to me was listed on that website. My dream per­son turned into a nightmare in 15 sec­onds."

Buell reported the crime to IC3, the fed­eral Inter­net crime clearing­house, but she doesn't expect any fol­low-up. (IC3 reports an 9+ year backup on reports; many they dismiss.)

Af­ter Buell's sad encounter, an old boyfriend invited her to go on a bike ride. On the trip, he popped the question. Now she's happily married, but she's not for­getting what hap­pened to her.


remro1229 said...

I too am I victim of internet fraud. He told me that he loved me and wanted to Marry me. He said that he was a Major to the General in the US Army. Then came when he wanted to come and he needed money his bank account was frozen because he did not use it where he was. He claimed that he was in Sudan in the jungle. I have sent him about $3,000, now I am just about broke and stunk in a bug infested apartment with no way out. Barely have money for food and according to the government I make too much to be able to get any assistance. I make sure that my rent is paid and my car since I live in florida and without a car I would not be able to get to work.
I found out that he was a fraud only by the fact that he had someone send me money to send him and he would not thank them. I went onto that person's facebook page and thanked them for helping my so called fiance or person who I thought that I was going to marry and become the mother to his daugher. And she told me that she was going to marry him. We compared stories and found out that we both were scammed by this person.

Rosemarie McEngel

EOPC TEAM said...

We had to remove your other comment. We will not post names of possible cyberpaths or scammers until someone signs a release with us. Sorry.