Monday, May 03, 2010

Down the Cyberhole

One of the great things about the Internet is being able to connect with people from all walks of life anywhere in the world. The sense of community and knowing that no matter what you've been through we all share the same experiences, or know someone who has, is wonderful. There is a downside.

Such connections and freedom of movement behind the anonymity of the computer, where you can be anyone or any gender you choose, also offers a breeding ground for games and cons. One of these cons has several different forms, but it targets vulnerability and ignorance of what people can be and are capable of perpetrating. It begins with the connection.

A man finding himself with too much time on his hands begins to surf the Internet. He gets involved in forums, bulletin boards and groups to help pass the time. It doesn't take long before he finds an empathetic someone to listen to his troubles and share hers. We are after all not that unique in our troubles and many people are just as willing to commiserate as they are to have someone tell them they're not alone. Beware. Danger, Will Robinson. You are about to fall down the cyberhole into the Con Zone.

It starts innocently enough, sharing tidbits of information and background between the usual getting to know you conversations in chat and email, and now on Skype. Such sharing inevitably leads to a more intimate kind of sharing and often cybersex is the next step, but there is another. Like Wilbur being fattened for the fall when he can be killed and turned into pork chops, bacon, ham, etc., this guy is being prepared for the next phase of the operation.

He's become enamored of his online connection and fancies himself in love, but she's not. She's too busy fattening other marks up for their time to be harvested. Once he's completely hooked, the troubles on her end begin. Her husband is ill or she's divorced and something breaks down, someone needs an operation or some disaster strikes that requires money to fix -- and she doesn't have it. She's barely making it as it is. Gentleman that he is, which is why he was chosen, he will offer to help her out. She refuses at first because she's shocked he would even offer, but this is where she embeds the hook so he won't wriggle free.

She may refuse a couple of times just to make sure he's hooked but good, and then she will reluctantly agree to accept his generosity -- on one condition. She'll pay him back. No matter how long it takes, she will pay him back. She won't and he won't let her. She has enough trouble as it is and he doesn't want to add to her burden. He sends the money and she goes out to celebrate and maybe buy that Prada purse she has wanted for so long. She'll keep tapping him for money until he gets wise or until she knows she's pushed just far enough so he doesn't figure things out. The last phase is the release.

One such con artist staged her online death. It was easy. She had several different email accounts and personae. She'd bump one off when it was time to hit the road so the marks would be sad and grieve for a while, but would forget her eventually. The usual releases include getting married, getting back with an ex-husband or partner, finding religion, etc., etc. There at least 50 ways to leave your cyberlover. Get out the back, Jack. Get a new plan, Stan. No need to be coy, Roy; just get yourself free.

People like that prey on good men and women who are lonely, sad or having trouble with their partner or spouse. They are ripe for conquest and the con artists know just how to find, hook and fleece them. The same pattern is followed every time with a few variations and the end result is always the same.

If you have a friend or relative in a similar situation, let them know what's really happening. They might not believe you at first and will be defensive, but they will figure it out eventually, hopefully before they send their money down the cyberhole with their innocence, generosity and emotions.

One word of advice: There are genuine people out there who find themselves in desperate straits that should not be confused with the cyber cons. It's easy to tell which is which because the genuine people are seldom aggressive about moving from one phase to the next. If someone turns on the waterworks when told that cybersex is cheating on a spouse or partner and then, once the emotional storm is passed, keep putting the cybersex on the table, you're in the clutches of a cyber con. Get to the nearest exit without delay because the cyberwhore is about to turn into a mini disaster movie and you're going to be paying the bills.

That is all. Disperse.

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