are you lonesome tonight?

Remember that old Elvis song?

It could always touch a chord, and the plaintive melody was memorable. It sort of summed up a time in the early 1960s, when that was question enough. And Elvis was ready to come sit on the porch and just hold your hand. Maybe put an arm around your shoulder, to make you feel like you had a friend.

Back in the simpler Sixties, the word “friend” was someone you actually knew. You had met that person, in person. Not a picture online.

A lot of people got lonely during 2020. Most of us older people had already found ways of being alone, at various times over the decades, and with varying degrees of success. The ability to “be alone” is actually an indicator of maturity itself, so you expect older people to have that one down. Even chatting with “friends” on the internet, brings some level of social interaction, if you need that. And “facetime” and Duo allowed us to “visit” with our grandchildren in far off places.

But apparently not everyone, even “mature” people, knew how to spend time being alone, so 2020 was the year to learn to pick up a good book, write a letter, or just sit and watch the birds. In other words, grow up, find that inner adult. Learn to meditate.

And yet, we found out recently that someone we thought we knew rather well had become involved in a scam, most likely out of “loneliness.” Even though this particular person was getting out and about and was constantly surrounded by family, she was still looking for love.

You notice I didn’t say she was a “victim of a scam.” Being a victim implies being hit from behind with a 2 x 4. This scam involved agreeing to let someone hit you in the face with a 2 x 4, over and over again.

Let me make this simpler for those in the back of the room: if a hurricane blows your house away, you LOST your HOME. If the bank took your house because you couldn’t pay the mortgage, you lost your home. If a tornado blew it down, you lost your home.

If you SOLD it legitimately, and took ALL the PROFIT and GAVE it to a TOTAL STRANGER, you didn’t LOSE your home. You GAVE IT AWAY.

You didn’t LOSE anything. You gave it away to someone you never met. Not a “friend,” like the girlfriend from high school going through a bad patch. A total and complete stranger who you have never met.

You know how those poor people in Nigeria were going to be able to inherit millions ONLY if they could use YOUR bank account?

That never sounded right to you, did it? So you never followed up on it. It was patently ridiculous. You got nothing out of it and it was too sketchy to be real.

Years and years ago, when I had a very public face in the art world, I remember getting one of the early art scams. Artists are supposedly always “starving” and rather desperate, so it probably seemed like a good group to approach, and honestly, a couple people I knew almost did it, for that reason. The operative word is almost.

Here’s how that one was presented. You got an email saying that the person had “seen your work online” and wanted to buy a piece for his wife for a surprise gift. There was never any mention of a particular piece, which is the first red flag. Then, there was a price range, usually starting in the middle of your own website price range and going to the top end. Again, no particular piece is referenced, just one of the big ones.

Then, they are “moving,” so you need to use “their” shipper, and because they are “moving” you also need to use “Western Union,” instead of the system you’ve trusted for years, like PayPal or Square, and UPS or FEDEX.

So, right then and there, you KNOW you are not dealing with ANYTHING LEGIT. Nothing about it is legit. The red flags are everywhere, and you delete and move on.

The first time this happened, my husband had some time on his hands, so he said, “let’s play ’em, and see how far they go.” We strung them along for awhile. It was interesting to see how far they would go, and we managed to give my bank a whole raft of credit card numbers that had been compromised but none of which had been reported as stolen or “hacked.”

I pretended to be “delighted to help” and the scammer gave us an address in Australia that was actually in a building that housed some legitimate retail, just none of the businesses “he” listed, but real enough to trust if you were a trusting person. Which, neither my husband nor I am.

Then, the shipping. It had to be with their company, and they owed them money, so they would send ME some money to add to what I was going to pay the shipping company and that way, I am “trusted” with the scammer’s money, so……

This is called “pigeon drops” we now know, and it is a common element of a lot of online scams, apparently.

Long story short, we never intended to send anyone anything and we didn’t. The scammers, on the other hand, kept trying to “buy” still-unnamed paintings, still just in a “price range” and kept giving me new and different credit card numbers to do it.

Just so you know, this never, ever happens in real life. If someone sees something on my website, even if it is a collector I have never met, they interact with me about a specific painting.

They like a piece and will call it by name and ask questions about its size, the colors, if it’s available as a print, etc. etc. Someone supposedly getting a “surprise gift for his wife” who has never chosen a specific piece is not real. Real people don’t do that. In fact, I’ve had real people tell me they aren’t even very fond of “Christmas in Charleston,” themselves, but their wife is in love with the color and they need the specific measurements because it needs to fit over the sideboard in the dining room….that kind of thing.

SO RED FLAGS EVERYWHERE.

After awhile, it wasn’t even fun for my bored husband, who had figured out that the IP address was “somewhere in Africa” and routed through NJ, (for someone who supposedly was in Australia); the bank thought we were rockstars for giving them all this info, and we had lost interest in trying to string this person along. We passed along the info to other artists, and, years later, had some good laughs when the Nigerian princes started showing up.

Since everyone now knows about the Nigerian soon-to-be-millionaires-who-need-to-share-it-to-get-it —– we were a little surprised this winter when someone we had thought of as being mostly sensible, asked my husband about a man she’d met online. The guy was supposedly military, supposedly a “flag grade officer,” and needed “help getting home from overseas.” Since my husband is former military, and she knew that, she asked what he thought of the legitimacy of the request.

He was polite, and asked a few questions, and then looked at her and said, “that person is lying.” He told her no American military officer would ever “need help getting home,” and that if he did, he was either disgraced, or using stolen valor altogether. Certainly no “flag grade officer” would be asking for help from strangers on fakebook. They had a fairly long talk about it. We both told her it was a scam and that she should “run away! run away!” like in Monte Python. She agreed. She said she’d, “thought so, but wanted to get another opinion.”

We didn’t think about it again.

Fast forward to this week, 6 months later — we learn that, not only did this person not follow that advice, but she doubled down. Not only did she not “run away, run away!” as everyone suggested she do –she actually lost everything she owned! She had come into some money in the interim, that was going to really aid in her retirement — and sent it to “the general.”

We also learned that what she got involved with is a scam called “catfishing,” and that Dr. Phil did a series of programs on it, back around the time we were rooting around the intricacies of the “art buy scam,” way back in 2012 or 13. The shocking thing –then and now — is how many women are reeled in by it — in the face of any common sense, even denying reality when it is presented to them. Like crack addicts and communists.

Catfishing cartoon by @nobleworks.com thank you for this great illustration!

One old gal on Dr. Phil was in love with a very nice looking man — for over 4 years and never met him, but sent him over $300K and 3 luxury cars. She, by that time, was indigent herself, and unable to pay her mortgage.

Dr. Phil tracked down the man in the picture, and he made a video for her. The man was exactly the one in the FB photo, and he told her he was very sorry she’d fallen in love with “him” but it wasn’t him. Just his picture. He also knew what it was like to suffer loss and be lonely — because his husband had recently died.

She nodded all the way through it. And when they all talked about it in the studio, the old gal was convinced — that Dr. Phil and her daughter were somehow wrong.

She was still in love with “Richard Randall.”

(Then they played her an audio of a similar Nigerian scam artist, using the same script — the same lines and sweet talk in the same accent as the guy she was talking with on the phone– and she said, “maybe that sounds like him” but she still believed her guy.) Another woman got involved with 4 of them, one after the other, and 2 of them told her the other one was a scammer, but she was still sure that the 4th guy was the real deal. You just shake your head at the stupidity of it. You do and I do, but these women can’t even see it.

That’s the catfishing scam. The guys on the phone are like psychics – they ask leading questions and develop profiles and work them. They reel in lonely older women who are just computer savvy enough to be interacting on “social media,” but not savvy enough to protect themselves, and too needy to see a scam.

Still, at some point…– at some point you screech to a halt a say, “I just sent money to a stranger, and he’s asking for more.”

Really only “charities” get to do that, and I don’t even trust many of them any more. Do you?

But these women — and they are mostly women — don’t ask those questions. And if they do….

…if they ask questions, the scammers have something called “pigeon drops” — where they send money TO the lonely women, to forward on to them, the scammers. Because for some reason some other person can’t send them money directly, so they need to trust you to help them in this way. Now the woman-being-scammed is the “trusted” go-between, so she “trusts” the scammer again, and the hemorrhaging continues.

You cannot make this stuff up…well, clearly you can….because the ladies on Dr. Phil and also the one we thought we’d “advised” — cannot see it. And continue.

A decade ago, when the script got the name “catfishing,” they estimated $82 million was lost. Remember, this is women sending money to men they have never met. Ever. And lots of it.

2020 was a banner year for this — a perfect year for someone who can never quite get around to coming to see you, or get back from their farm in Ghana, to wherever you are — but if you keep sending money he will continue to love you more than anyone else around you loves you. He loves you more than your own children love you. They are just trying to get your money. He love YOU, the real you……so just send another $30,000……

In 2020, lonely people in America contributed $302 MILLION to this scam alone. Talk about a transfer of wealth.

Today, apparently, they use Bitcoin. No disrespect to digital currency, but it is unregulated. Whether that is good or bad, it makes it a lot easier for scammers.

Our friend didn’t tell us any of this. Her family has uncovered it and is reeling at the the levels of it. None of us would have expected this. She’s always been a little man-crazy, but she’s in her 60s! And when everyone you talk to about this gives you the SAME ADVICE — don’t you at least consider that?

Nope. You decide they are all against you, and you continue to confide in your imaginary lover.

I have suggested early dementia, because before we realized how far down the dementia road my own mother was, she had “invested” in a four figure vacuum cleaner! But the guy had actually come to her house and conned her. He probably look like my dad or something. She had a perfectly good, pretty new vacuum cleaner, and my sister, being nearby, and on top of things, got it sorted out. But that isn’t always possible.

It seems, too, that early dementia is one of the side effects of our world after 18 months of being literally beside ourselves 24/7.

But still.

It’s a cautionary tale.

So, keep an ear to the ground with your Aunt Lillian, and if Nona suddenly has a boyfriend at 82, you probably want to meet him. If your older neighbor stops wearing all her jewelry, and you know her well enough, make sure she hasn’t cashed it in to feed into the bitcoin machine.

We live in a crazy, tilting world and no one’s life is what they expected, but it’s going to be difficult enough to be old and in the way, without throwing thousands at strangers, and hoping to get love in return.

If you’re lonely tonight read a book. The men are better in fiction than real life anyway. Just saying. And they never ask for money.

About Carol Joy Shannon

A former sailor of the seven seas, living in my beloved Lowcountry, between the blackwater swamps and the saltmarshes, surrounded by pre-revolutionary history.....thinking about current events....painting dinosaurs and other whimsical animals for children, with the occasional abstract or new cityscape for my delightful collectors. The best thing about being a seasoned old salt is sitting down not running around, so...
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