Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Mind Over Matter: How a Romantic Scam Works


The phone rings. Rodney doesn't recognize the number. He steps away from his friends to take the call. The person on the other end claims to be from the bank. He is asking about a transaction of $23,000 to New Jersey. Rodney's first instinct is to dismiss the call as a wire scam. But before he hangs up, he asks which account the money was coming out of. This is when he discovers his 77 year-old mother was attempting to send money to a Ron White. Rodney flags the transaction and promises to get his mother in touch with the bank as soon as possible.

But he soon discovers that this had not been the first transaction. His mother had already sent $18,000 in gift cards to her new love. Ron White, who she had met on a dating app, claimed to be a comedian who was head over hills for her and wanted to marry her. But he claimed his money was tied up in his management. He only needed some money to buy out his contract and be 100% with her. She was in, hook, line and sinker.

A recent Netflix documentary, Tinder Swindler, has brough worldwide attention to online romantic scams. Romantic scams are however nothing new. The number of complaints about romance  scams, according to the US Federal Trade Commission, grew from 11,235 in 2016 to 52,593  in 2020. This was a four fold increase, with losses exceeding $300,000. People aged between 40 and 69 are most likely to report losing money to online scams. But it is people aged 70 or older who have the highest median losses at $9,500. 

But what makes a romantic scam successful? Are the victims simply too blind to see, to stupid to realize? Or are the scammers so suave, that they could capture any target they choose? The first stage in the process is the profile. The criminal creates one or several elaborate stories, pictures and videos to support his/her lies. The next step is grooming. The criminal identifies a target and begins showering them with attention and affection over a period of time. In the final stage, the sting, the target is made to "rescue" the scammer from various financial situations. The scam continues until the victim loses not just what they have, but what they can borrow as well.

But what makes a victim susceptible to a romantic ruse? Romance scam victims tend to be middle-aged, well-educated women, with impulsive, addictive disposition. Many victims describe their scammers as their "ideal partner." In fact, they very often grieve the romantic loss more than they do the financial loss. 

One rationale supporting this entanglement of fake and reality, is exaggerated romantic imagery.  Romantic imagery is defined as the mental imagery of an object of romantic love. A more intense romantic imagery is needed to maintain an online romantic relationship than a conventional one.  Scammers often pretend to be the ideal partners fitting into the romantic imagery of the victims. 

Mental image ability ranges from aphantasia, reduced extraversion, to hyperphantaisa, increased openness.  Online relationships may work better in individuals with greater romantic imagery.  Beatrice Portinari inspired Dante Alighieri's Vita Nuova, despite the fact that the poet had only met her twice before. He described her as his, "...muse, true love, salvation, and guide" in “Heaven in Divine Comedy.” 

So what then? Can we be saved or protected from romantic scams? Victims of romance scams suffer shame, embarrassment, shock and  anger. They may also experience anxiety, stress, fear, depression, or even suicidal ideation. In fact, the embarrassment is often so great that many victims suffer alone and in silence. Beyond the therapy, through the grieving of lost love and finances, victims need to learn how to identify their own vulnerabilities. Skilled and experienced therapists can help actual and potential victims to build different images based on the expected grooming cues of a scammer.

Scammers are professionals who spend months or years to formulate detailed long cons.  Victims continue to vividly imagine their fake lovers for a long time. Dismantling their affection by simply revealing that their object of love is a scam, is not as easy as it seems. Rodney's mother truly believed she had found love. When her son took control of her bank accounts, she refused to let go of her new love. She took out loans from shady places and even one against her car. By the time the "comedian" closed his act, he had cleaned her out of nearly $40,000, leaving her heartbroken and in debt.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

Have we Lost the War on Drugs?

Martine Moise lay in blood, pretending to be dead. Next to her lay her husband, the most senior official in Haiti. Deep in the night, mercenaries had gained access to the president's residence. They faced little resistance from the presidential guard. The only shots fired, had been the ones that had killed the president and injured the first lady. As Martine lay still, trying not to breathe, she heard the attackers rummaging through their files. "That's it," they finally declared before fleeing.

In the coming days, the poor nation of Haiti plunged into chaos. It emerged that the gunmen were mercenaries commissioned by the country's drug lords.  Before his death,  Jovenel Moise had begun a campaign to rid the country of the drug syndicate. He had cleaned up the customs department, nationalized a seaport and destroyed an airstrip used for smuggling. He had also launched investigations into Haiti's eel trade, suspected to be a front for money laundering. 

President Moise had launched a war on drugs in his country, but ended up signing his own death certificate.  When the attackers proclaimed, "That's it," they were referring to a list of names of suspected drug traffickers. Among them was Charles Saint-Rémy, also known as Kiko, a Haitian businessman long suspected of involvement in the drug trade.

More importantly, Kiko, is brother-in-law to Michael Martelly, the former president who is now gunning for a fresh term in office. Mr. Martelly, has publicly admitted to dealing drugs in his past but claims all his current businesses are now legit. But he had also been the one who selected Dimitri Hérard as head of security at the presidential palace. Dimitri's team never defended the palace on the night mercenaries attacked the first family.

50 years earlier, another first lady, Pat Nixon, had stood beside her husband as the United States launched what they termed, "The War on Drugs." But after spending $1 trillion on this war, the drugs industry has only grown in leaps and bounds. All indications are that the war is lost. 

In 1986, a US study found that the use of the armed forces to interdict drugs coming into the United States would have little or no effect on drug the trade. In fact, it raises the profits of cocaine cartels and manufacturers. 500 economists, among them three Nobel Laureates, wrote to president Bush urging: "... the country to commence an open and honest debate about marijuana prohibition... to show that prohibition has benefits sufficient to justify the cost... and numerous ancillary consequences that result from marijuana prohibition." 

As of 2022, reason is beginning to prevail. Only four out of 52 US states, still consider marijuana fully illegal. Globally, Netherlands and Portugal have long been the poster boys for progressive drug laws. Many nations, including but not limited to Uruguay, Canada, Georgia, South Africa and surprise, Mexico, have since joined the club. 

Ethan Nadelmann, who ran the Drug Policy Alliance,  believes that the world is losing the war on drugs. The implications for marginalized communities, exploding prison populations, and law enforcement are disastrous. His arguments have converted politicians and policy-makers on both sides of the aisle. 

We have many examples of failure in the war on drugs on one hand and impact of decriminalization on the other. The war has led to more murders, incarcerations and addictions. 20 years ago, Portugal had the highest rate of HV among drug users in Europe. The estimated heroin users were estimated at 100,000. Since the decriminalization policy,  HIV infection DROPPED 17%. Drug related HIV infection dropped 90%. The increase in drug use in Portugal has not been greater than that seen in other nearby countries that did not change their laws.  As of 2012, Portugal's drug death toll sat at 3 per million, in comparison to the EU average of 17.3 per million.

It appears the evidence for whether to use the carrot of the stick in the war on drugs has a clear winner. But the subject remains emotional and political. As public sentiment changes, so will the political positions that determine legislation. The battle on drugs has been lost, but not the war. If we change the strategy, we may yet win the war.

Filicide - Why mother's kill their children.

A train track cuts through the small town of Gilgil, tucked away in the Kenyan savanna. At the railway crossing, military vehicles jostle with donkeys. Army officers on their routine jogs are heading back to the barracks nearby.  Sprawled around the barracks are tin roofed houses and shops that make up Gilgil. In one compound is a set of ten, one-bedroom houses, where the neighbors know each other well. Wives are hanging their clothes to dry having taken the children to school. The morning sun is starting to get harsh, but cheerful banter is keeping the spirits of the women up.

But it is the unusual quiet from house number seven that has some of the women talking in hushed tones. Mollen, their neighbor, has not been seen in the past two days. Neither had any of her three children.  Her six and 10 year-olds had not gone to school that morning. Her curtains remained drawn, and there was the murmur of her TV inside. It was strange that if she was home, she would not have joined the rest of the neighbors as they carried on their day.

One of the ladies noticed some flies around her windows and moved closer to investigate. As she neared the window panes, a strong odor started to rise up her nose and she called on her friends to come over. They confirmed the unusual odor and concern turned to panic. One of the women call the local police. When they arrive hours later, they move the gathering crowd away and break the door. 

The pungent smell of rotting flesh pours out into the compound. Everyone covers their noses amid gasps. When the police enter the Mollen's home, they find her dangling in the corridor, a rope around her neck. The TV is on and it appears that they had had a meal as a family. But the children cannot are not in sight. Officers move to the bedroom and find the gruesome scene of three lifeless bodies. The children, aged one, six and 10, looked peaceful, their mouths foaming. They would later find a note by Mollen, that blamed her husband for abandoning her. He was a military officer on mission in neighboring Somalia.

Amid the horror and shock of Mollen's actions, the question that hung in the air was why? Why would a mother kill her own children then take her own life? In a town where a majority of the husbands were all in the military or in service to the barracks, what had pushed Mollen to this extreme? What evil possession would compel a human to such actions?

Philip Resnick, in 2016, identified five reasons that would motivate a parent to commit filicide. Trying to understand the reasons, is not condoning nor rationalizing. In altruistic filicide, which appears to be what happened in Mollen's case, is where the act is committed out of love. Mollen may have been convinced that she was saving her children from suffering.

Child maltreatment filicide is the case where injuries from physical abuse lead to the death of a child. This happened with Sinclair Timberlake. He was born of Kenyan parents in Queensland, Quincy Timberlake and Esther Arunga. A court later hear that Sinclair had sustained injuries from his father, who was trying to beat the demons out of him. In 2014, in  Cairns, Queensland,  Mersane Warria, suffered a pscyhotic episode triggered by undiagnosed schizophrenia. Mersane stabbed her eight children to death, but faced no criminal trial. Resnick identified this as acutely psychotic filicide, where there is no comprehensible motive. 

The two other types of filicide are unwanted child, where a parent kills a child they do not want. This is often newborns. Spousal revenge filicide is where one parent kills their child in an attempt to punish their spouse or make them suffer.

A study of filicides in England and Wales published in 2013, found that 40% of filicide perpetrators had a recorded mental illness. Another interesting finding from the study was that  23% of female perpetrators were teenagers at the time of the child victim’s birth.  Overall, fathers were significantly more likely to kill their children than mothers, and were more likely to use violent methods of killing.

Can anything be done to prevent filicide? Can we anticipate these acts and remedy them? To quote professor Kathryn Abe, who led the England and Wales study:  "Identifying associations between mental illness and filicide has clear implications for service providers. It shows there needs to be greater awareness for patients who are parents and especially those with severe mood disorders. This is an increasingly important issue because better mental health care means that more people with mental illness are able to become parents.

"Generating effective child violence/homicide prevention strategies requires broad public health approaches. Targeting sub-populations by providing high quality evidence about risk factors such as mental illness and the need for contact with mental health services may prove more constructive for health service development. Violence prevention may also offer possibilities to recognize and intervene with specific risk factors."

Monday, June 14, 2010

CSI Nairobi: Blasting back into some sense

The Tin Man is coming out of self imposed retirement for patriotic duty. I have been unearthed from synthetic obscurity by blasts in the dark of night at a prayer meeting in Nairobi's Uhuru Park. While I will not claim any emoluments, this shall be official duty, coming to the aid of one Mr. Iteere who I am certain is at odds and ends as to how exactly to handle the embarrassing lapse of security at a very public event. He has called on the military to come and do his job. Shame on him! Most of all, I am coming to the aid of all those deficient in common sense and likely to be swayed by the idiocy of Nay sayers desperate for at least some attention from the electorate.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Arap Some-more-ei: My Congratulations to Mr. Ruto

Dear Mr. Ruto,

On behalf of free thinkers in the Kenyan society, I would like to congratulate you on your recent promotion to Minister of Higher Education. I believe that such an ascension was a long time coming and am glad your bosses have finally realised your worth. I know there have been misinterpretations in the media that your transfer to the Ministry of Higher Education was a “demotion”. That is complete ignorance from the fourth estate. I mean, do they not see that economies move from an agricultural era into an information and education era? Is it not obvious even from the names of the ministries which is superior? You moved from a plain Ministry of Agriculture to the Ministry of Higher Education. Even an idiot knows that higher is a superlative form of the word high. But that is beside the point. What matters is that you now have the confidence of the coalition partners who have decided that you can serve this great nation in a greater capacity. I will give you four reasons why I think so.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bursting the Bible Bubble - Allow me to share some points of truth

The Candid Tin Man will not shy away from controversy regardless of the implications. If it is truth then let it be said as truth. If it is not true, let it not be said as true. So when I stumbled upon a collection of contradictions in the Bible, I was excited. I was excited because subscribers to the Christian faith, based entirely on the accounts of the Bible will shy away from any assertions or allusions to the fact that the Bible may be erroneous and a human account of a Judaic time in History. Many readers will decide at this moment to not proceed to see exactly where the holes are in the good book. They would rather not. For them I pose this question: If the one person you trusted, a spouse for example, was cheating on you, would you want to konw? If there was information that would at least make it clear whether trust had been broken or not, would you want to consider it and to make the decision yourself?Well then, let me share just such information that puts to question the truthfulness of one of the greatest religions in the world! I am agnostic by choice, but if any person can make explanations to clear these "errors" I will be glad to hear them.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Politically Retarded : Why Kalonzo is a 25 year old adolescent

This weekend has seen an interesting mutation to the political discussion surrounding the draft constitution. The Rift Valley King Pin, or maybe just Pin, found himself lonely when his other two K’s seemed to desert him and to back the draft. Worse, his darling from the coast determined that for his political survival, voting against the draft would be disastrous! So one man called Najib was at pains to explain to no one in particular why his backing of the draft did not in any way bear on his romance with Ruto. But Ruto is not at a complete loss. Kalonzo remains a schizophrenic coward who at least for half the time will be on his side. At a time when the son of Tseikuru was celebrating a quarter of a century as a member of parliament, he seems to still be an adolescent when it comes to matters politico.

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