Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Romance Scammers Pose as U.S. Military to Entrap Women

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

Being 'Anonymous' Online Changes People's Behavior

Faceless communication online or over phone often turns nice people nasty
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.

I, anonymous
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.

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.”

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’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.

Not that I would ever retaliate, but if we ended up with some psycho (employee), it could happen.”

Going public
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.

“It also archives forever.”

(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

Twitter Stalking is Protected Free Speech

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

Complete Privacy Does NOT Exist

Arguing that technology has ensured that "complete privacy does not exist," Google contends that a Pennsylvania family has no legal grounds to sue the search giant for publishing photos of their home on its popular "Street View" mapping feature.

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

Vulnerable & Scammed - Man Commits Suicide

(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

Police Dispatcher Charged After Harassing Online

(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

Amanda Craig Tells Her Horrifying Story of Being Cyberharassed

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

Over 200,000 in Britain Duped by Online Dating Scams

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.

original article found here