Business & Society

Gaslighting: A web of deceit and way out

Gaslighting – manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity – can be a common technique to cheat people out of their money, says Lisa Mills, romance fraud expert at the charity Victim Support.
In this report, Harvey Day explains how gaslighting is used to cheat people out of their money.
After ending her 24-year marriage, Linda Young found herself alone in her modest coastal town residence. Her grown up children had completed their university education and moved out, leaving her with few local acquaintances.
Seeking a fresh start in her love life, Linda, a busy administrator at a special education school, decided to explore online dating. It wasn’t long before she connected with an attractive man on a dating platform catering to individuals over 50.
In a mere six months, however, she fell victim to a scam that cost her more than £120,000 ($150,000). This was orchestrated through a daily barrage of emails, texts, and late-night phone conversations. Linda vividly remembers how she fell deeply in love with her scammer, their shared affection for dogs serving as a bonding point.
Recalling those times, she reminisces, “His affection and care overwhelmed me. I couldn’t resist the rush of excitement. Every ping from my phone or his text would light up my world.”
Soon, they began envisioning a shared future, leading him to request money for what he claimed were joint investments. Linda had initial doubts about sending money, but he skillfully reassured and manipulated her emotionally, insisting, “We’re investing in our future. This will benefit us both.”
Reflecting on her experience, Linda characterizes it as a period of “temporary insanity,” acknowledging that she was “under his spell.”
According to Lisa Mills, a romance fraud expert at the charity Victim Support, gaslighting, a technique to manipulate individuals into questioning their own sanity, is often employed to deceive people out of their money. She emphasizes the toll it takes on their mental and physical health.
For Ginny Skinner, co-author of the BBC drama series “The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies,” which delves into the intricate web of deception and manipulation in romance scams, gaslighting is a central theme. She encountered this while speaking to real victims during her research.
Lisa, the romance scam expert, highlights that victims who challenge their scammers regarding money often face guilt-tripping responses like, “If you truly loved me, you wouldn’t question why I need this money so urgently,” or “You said you wanted to help me before; what’s changed?”
She asserts that romance scams are particularly insidious because they exploit the fundamental human desire for love and connection, even affecting those who are aware of the risks.
Linda, who never recovered her stolen funds, confesses, “It took me a long time to overcome the shame.”
“The Following Events Are Based on a Pack of Lies” revolves around the character Dr. Rob Chance, a romance con artist who targets individuals like fashion assistant Alice Newman and best-selling author Cheryl Harker. Although the series isn’t based on a specific real-life story, it draws inspiration from notable scammers like Bernie Madoff, Elizabeth Holmes, and Billy McFarland.
Penelope, one of the creators, experienced her own encounter with a scammer through a fraudulent email that included a fake invoice. She admits, “I was in a rush, it was related to money, and it made me anxious, so I clicked and entered my personal information.”
The drama raises the question of why romance scammers continue to evade justice. Lisa, the fraud expert, advocates for ending victim-blaming, emphasizing the importance of language. She suggests that describing victims as having been “exploited” rather than having “fallen” for a scam is more accurate.
Actor Alistair Petrie adds, “We’ve all said, ‘Oh, that would never happen to me,’ but I bet you it’s happened to all of us to some degree. It’s everywhere.”
Here are some tips on staying safe from romance scams:
– Approach requests for money cautiously, especially if you’ve never met the person in real life.
– Seek advice from family or friends.
– Verify the authenticity of profile photos; perform a reverse image search to check their origin.
To support a loved one caught in a romance scam:
– Offer reassurance and emphasize that it’s not their fault.
– Educate yourself about romance scams.
– Remember to take care of your own well-being when assisting someone through a romance fraud ordeal.
============================ BBC ===============================

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