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Thursday, June 20, 2024

ScamSurvivors Combats Financial Scams and Helps Victims of Online Exploitation Recover Their Dignity

Scamsurvivors Combats Online Financial Scams
Mike Senecal

Written by: Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal
Mike Senecal

Mike Senecal draws on more than 20 years of editorial experience to update CardRates.com readers on industry trends, business news, and best practices in budgeting and credit use. Mike has worked for decades in academic and trade publishing, including roles as managing editor and technical editor at the University of Florida and as contributor to finance industry publications, including Surety Bond Quarterly and Independent Agent, among others. Mike holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Carolina, and he enjoys bringing his years of academic and industry expertise online to help consumers of diverse financial backgrounds.

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Edited by: Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro
Lillian Guevara-Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of editing and journalism experience to the CardRates team. She has written and edited for major news organizations, including The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the New York Times, and she previously served as an adjunct journalism instructor at the University of Florida. Today, Lillian edits all CardRates content for clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement.

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In a Nutshell: The internet creates an infinite space for scammers looking to steal money, privacy, and dignity. ScamSurvivors has provided a forum for fighting back since 2012. Although the game is always the same, scammers are tireless in devising new methods to take what isn’t rightfully theirs. ScamSurvivors contains how-tos and forums for identifying and dealing with scams and staying updated with the latest trends. And it provides crucial support for scam victims who may feel intense shame after being duped.

It’s always about money. Human nature being what it is, scammers have likely been trying to part people from their cash since the dawn of society. Unfortunately, the internet has dramatically expanded opportunities for fraudsters to connect with potential victims.

ScamSurvivors is a resource for fighting back. First, ScamSurvivors is a volunteer-led community dedicated to expanding awareness of the danger scammers pose. Forums and galleries help visitors understand the variety and pervasiveness of modern scams.

ScamSurvivors is also a how-to guide with click-through pages devoted to identifying fraudsters and helping victims mitigate financial damage.

Graphic of ScamSurvivors logo

And ScamSurvivors is also a global support group for scam victims. Although the site is realistic about dim prospects for recovering stolen funds, it works with law enforcement agencies when possible. At the same time, the ScamSurvivors community helps thousands of victims understand what happened to them and guides them to recovery.

The owner of ScamSurvivors is known pseudonymously as Wayne May. May started his journey into scam awareness and prevention almost two decades ago as a scam baiter. He would receive emails from victims and potential victims, assume a false identity, and engage with scammers to ridicule them.

“I found out fairly early that I was good at dealing with them,” May said. “Soon, my priorities changed from just having fun to helping people.”

ScamSurvivors took shape in 2012. About a year before, May had met a woman known as Firefly in the scam survivor community. With Firefly and a few dedicated volunteers helping May, ScamSurvivors became an essential resource for combatting online scammers.

“We are not vigilantes — we don’t do justice by ourselves,” Firefly said. “Our mission is to expose with the hope that it will warn someone before it’s too late.”

Get Help for All Online Scams

Scam victims often feel intense shame due to exposure of personal behavior to family members, friends, and colleagues. Many survivors find the loss of their privacy and dignity is more devastating than financial loss, although financial loss can be considerable.

Scams harm men and women, young and old, and people from all demographics and income levels.

ScamSurvivors works with other scam prevention organizations to extend its reach and effectiveness beyond the volunteer help it receives from Firefly and others.

Artists Against 419 is a close partner. The number refers to the type of advance-fee fraud prohibited in Section 419 of the Nigerian Penal Code.

The ScamSurvivors forum gathers scam reports, including 419 reports, from the community, provides advice on scam baiting, and publishes fake and stolen websites abused by scammers.

Graphic of ScamSurvivors blog
The ScamSurvivors blog provides forum space for general discussion.

The forum also lists ScamSurvivors podcasts and links to media reports, partner sites, and enforcement agencies. A blog link provides a forum space for general discussion.

Direct help starts with a tool for mitigating harm from sextortion and webcam blackmail, in which fraudsters exploit victims captured in compromising positions online. The step-by-step guide includes a form to submit details to ScamSurvivors.

The site includes a similar tool to identify romance scammers — those who prey on lonely hearts — and a scam identifier questionnaire. A gallery publishes fake websites, photos and documents, and mug shots of actual scammers.

“We do a bit of everything,” May said. “We post the scams in our forum, communicate with law enforcement agencies, and work with people whose images were stolen to help raise awareness.”

“These interactions gather a huge amount of fraud infrastructure information,” Firefly added. “In the US, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center serves as a centralized system for reporting scams to law enforcement.”

Cryptocurrency Provides a New Twist on Romance

Scammers are willing to spend significant time and effort to achieve the desired result because it’s a career for many. Scam organizations in some jurisdictions function almost as legitimate businesses and are housed in office buildings with regular work hours and performance expectations.

Romance scamming is a tried-and-true strategy because it’s potentially more productive to manipulate victims who are tied emotionally to their scammer. Romance scams may require a considerable time investment, but fraudsters usually have many potential victims on the hook simultaneously.

And there’s always a new twist. For example, today’s scammers gain a golden opportunity to entice gullible prospects when cryptocurrencies are in the news.

“They’re romance scams where the fraudsters create fake cryptocurrency sites, slowly explain the benefits of investing in crypto, and gradually introduce an investment opportunity to the victim,” May said.

Graphic of romance scam tool
A tool enables visitors to spot romance scammers.

“But of course, it’s all run by the scammer,” he continued. “So when the victim finally decides to withdraw the money, the scammer just strings them along.”

Today’s crypto scams are a natural evolution toward what works, Firefly added. Fraudsters put as many approaches as possible to the test on various victims, with the most successful strategies getting the most play. Crypto is just the latest iteration.

“The classical angle for romance scams is let’s invest in our common future,” Firefly said.

Unfortunately, victims of cryptocurrency romance scams need to understand that what goes in rarely comes out — once invested, the money disappears forever.

“Some scammers will claim to be able to get your money back,” May said. “It’s known as a recovery scam, and quite often, it’s the same person who came to you in the first place.”

“In 90-odd percent of cases, you’re never, ever going to see that money again,” May continued.

Exposing Scammers and Helping Victims Recover

Some scam strategies are so well-known that it’s hard to believe anyone could fall victim. For example, advance fee or 419 fraud is commonly known as the Nigerian scam because almost everyone has probably received an email about a Nigerian prince’s lost fortune or something similar.

Yet victimization still occurs because it’s a numbers game. Send out enough emails, and someone who has not heard of the scam will respond sooner or later.

Anything in the news can serve as source material for a new approach. ScamSurvivors uses “capture accounts” to catch criminals in the act.

“We create a fake email account, put it out on the internet, and the scammers contact us,” May said. “We see what’s going to be the next big thing.”

The 2022-23 war in Ukraine provides a typical example. ScamSurvivors received a message asking for help for the people of Ukraine just three days after the conflict started.

“You learn through experience that as soon as a disaster happens, the messages start coming,” May said.

Earlier, the COVID-19 pandemic presented a massive opportunity for fraud. ScamSurvivors tried to get ahead of the curve by proactively identifying fake pandemic sites based on social media advertising.

“We saw the proliferation of fake shops offering PPE ventilators and associated products,” Firefly said. “They were not easy to find, and people got massively defrauded.”

Unwitting money mules usually take the blame even when scammers get caught. Still, taking quick action with law enforcement can help in rare cases. And it’s wise to use credit cards for all online purchases, Firefly said.

“With a credit card, you can easily report the fraud and reclaim the payment,” she said. “But if you use anything else, forget it.”