By Shelley Frost, Special Guest Blogger for Finance Is Personal
I didn’t want to believe it. I pretended like everything was fine. But when my sister’s online boyfriend told her to call him King and he will call her Queen, I finally accepted that she was caught in a romance scam.
Why did this little detail pull the trigger for me to begin an investigation? I was guessing that some of these scammers juggle multiple victims. The chances that he will mistakenly say the name of one of his ladies while talking to another is too risky. Having his women respond to the name Queen ensures that he won’t screw up anytime soon, and the money keeps flowing.
But at the time when I deduced her guy was a bad guy, I knew very little about these online crimes. My sister was head over heels in love. They were planning their wedding and their future life together – in Cuba! Where he was remodeling a villa!
Unbeknownst to me, that’s when she started draining her savings, sending him large chunks of her hard-earned money to a vast number of bank accounts. I was in the dark, unaware that he had convinced her he needed the money to grease the hands of Cuban officials who could sign off on building permits and such.
All I had were suspicions that she was making bad choices. So, what does an older sister do to rescue her younger, lovelorn, brainwashed sister before she faces financial ruin?
I turned to Google, looking for advice about how family members could break through to a loved one who has refused to listen to reason. At the time (late in 2018) there was precious little online that told me how to communicate with her to help her see the light without pissing her off. Instead, I hired two private investigators, secretly recorded our conversations, enlisted my niece - my sister’s daughter - to hack into her email account. I even visited the FBI.
One night with the help of Instagram I finally cracked the case and was able to show my sister that her King was really a Lucifer. What I have learned since dragging my sister out of a romance scam nightmare is that there are techniques and specific words to use that can soften their resolve without alienating them from you.
Oftentimes people enraptured by an online love who is abusing them by stealing their money, will push away friends and family members. They do this because their romance is consuming them; even if they suspect they are being taken advantage of the humiliation of learning the truth is too much to bear. So as the victim turns his or her back to those who would help them break free, the scammer prevails.
My advice to family and friends who suspect that a loved one is romantically involved with a scam artist are as follows:
1. Before having the conversation, take your loved one to a public location, coffee place or park bench. Your loved one may be easily triggered when the topic of their “boyfriend/girlfriend” is brought up.
2. Shroud yourself in a state of calmness. Use empowering language such as “it’s important to me that I understand your relationship,” or “I will always support you and want to be here for you.”
3. Thanks to Anne Brown, PhD & RN, who offers these sentences that work well in refocusing your loved one back into the real world of your friendship: “Funny, I was thinking the opposite was true.” “I remember when you and I were more in agreement on major issues like this one.” “That sounds like bad behavior to me.”
4. Consider writing a letter or an email. This gives your loved one time to process your concerns without high emotions coming into play. Write words that show your loved one you are interested in facts and are making sure they are not in an unsafe position. Follow up with a second email asking, “whether you had time to look at the information I sent you.”
After my sister had broken free from her criminal King, this is how she reflected on the efforts I and our family made in rescuing her: “I didn’t know how to ask for help. And now I don’t want to go down the road of shame. I feel grateful to everyone for taking it upon themselves to get me out of there. But it’s not gratitude, because that feeling would send me into self-loathing. Instead, I’ve accepted what happened.”
When the dust had settled, my sister and I wrote a book about the hell we endured at the hands of a mastermind half a world away. The process was like therapy for the both of us. Our sisterhood was repaired, and my sister forgave herself. Our story proves that through love and persistence, families can and must play an important role in breaking up scam relationships.
Shelley Frost is an animal advocate and author of several non-fiction books. With her sister Linda Young, they co-authored Her King the Con: How an Online Love Affair Led to Near Disaster, available at Amazon.com. You can follow Shelley on Twitter at @ShelleyFrost40 or Instagram @shewster20