• Post category:News

Assist Women Scammed by Online Friendships

Sarawak Women for Women Society - Press Release - 1 July 2013

SWWS congratulates the Police for the recent arrest of organized criminal gangs who are using social media sites to con people looking for genuine friendships.  Educating the public – both men and women – about this unscrupulous crime is very much needed.  However the public also need to be helpful and empathetic to the people who have been scammed and not negatively label them.

It is our experience that very intelligent, caring people have been taken in by these con artists.  Those who have experienced such trauma need to be supported not scolded.  People are too quick to blame the victim of the crime not realizing how sophisticated this scam is and how easy it would be for many people – of either sex – to be trapped into trusting their internet friends. 

Just like child molesters, these criminals use many methods to gain the trust of the person they have targeted.  They find out from the person’s Facebook page their interests and appeal to them. Often they can pretend to be a genuine friend for months before introducing the con in the form of helping a friend. They may offer to send money to the target’s favourite charity or send them a collector’s item for their hobby or request help with a business venture.  It all sounds very plausible to their target –not because the person is stupid –  but because the criminals are skilled at making it sound genuine.

SWWS member and UNIMAS lecturer, Gill Raja notes, “The lone woman is unknowing up against a sophisticated syndicate who cleverly cultivate her trust and only when it is lowered ask for some help.   I see similarities to the process called grooming in child sexual abuse except instead of one perpetrator there is a whole gang of people playing different roles giving the internet ‘friend’ credibility and at times cajoling the woman to give their friend more help.”  

She adds that, “Sadly the public then blame the survivors of the crime instead of putting the responsibility on the criminals. This just adds to their pain. No one asks to be cheated.  It takes a while to realize that the ‘friend‘ is not who he says he is. The more money that has been given the harder it is to accept the scale of the financial losses –  the truth is so horrible to face it takes a lot of evidence and encouragement to convince people they will never get their money back.”

On finding out the extent of their losses the survivors of the crime are devastated, feel betrayed and have to face the wrath of others whilst coming to terms with the loss of who they thought was a good friend and their drastically depleted finances.  It is a crime which can continue to hurt the survivor long after the money has gone.  Some can feel suicidal.  It is essential that all involved – from police taking reports, bank officials, relatives and friends – help the person conned to get their life back on track. 

SWWS supports coordinated action to tackle this crime of the internet age. As the police have stated, banks need to work speedily with the authorities to catch the criminals especially as the syndicates are very savvy on how to use technology to their advantage and often encourage their targets to apply to loan sharks to help them thus plunging people into debt.  Social networking sites need to inform members to be wary and that additional fees are not needed to release funds sent internationally. We all need to be suspicious of friends who ask for money over the internet, alert others if we think they are being targeted and comfort those who have been conned.