Sunday, October 11, 2015

Has Fraud Touched Your Life: Sharon Armstrong in Conversation at the QLD Fraud Support & Recovery Group

It is an alarmingly ever rising number of people that are touched by fraud in its different forms. Many have a personal experience with scammers, and others know someone from their family, friends and acquaintances who have been victims of fraud. It is a devastating experience and many do not recover or it takes years of great effort and strength to move on in life.

Meet Sharon Armstrong, a very courageous woman, who was scammed into unknowingly carrying drugs for her scammer. She was arrested and spent two and half years in an Argentinian prison for a crime she was scammed to commit. Should she have known better?

After all she is an intelligent woman. She had previously held a high position in the New Zealand Public Service and had not for twenty years had time to think about dating with her busy life. This had been her own choice. Somehow, though, she suddenly fell for a charming man at the other end of the line and was convinced that it was her destiny to marry and spend the rest of her life together with this same man. For the sake of their future, she was ready to help him with money and later by picking up some papers and carrying them to London, where she would meet him. But this did not happen. Instead she was stopped by the customs in Argentina. She was told that she was carrying cocaine and that she would be arrested. Later she was sentenced and in the end spent two and half years of her life in the prison surrounded by other 'drug mules'. What was it that made her so vulnerable to scammers?

I am really interested in her story. It is yet another version of the Ghana scam, like mine was as well. It adds another more frightening, if not deadly dimension into the life of a victim of a scam. She talks about vulnerability but adds that maybe even saying that makes the person more vulnerable. And vulnerable people get caught in scams again and again. She prefers the term survivor just as I do. She is not sure that she has recovered, though. What is it that keeps the victims attached, I would ask.

An other woman who is listening to Sharon thinks that she would be too sceptical and this kind of romance scam just wouldn't happen to her. I doubt her statement. Media, who was very hash in the case of Sharon declared that of course it could happen to her; what else could she expect, because 'she is fat and plain'. I strongly disagree. And she is not that. Clearly she is attractive, intelligent and strong, otherwise she would not be putting herself forwards again and sharing her experience in order to educate and raise awareness for fraud and especially for the different forms of romance scams.

My research, packed by others shows that no, she could not have known better. There is no clear profile of a person who would fall for a romance scam. Everyone is a potential prospect. It is all in the scammers ability to catch the target at the right time and persuade her/his brain to act with the emotional 'lizard brain' instead of the rational frontal cortex. The experience of the continuous flooding of oxytocin to the brain keeps us attached and falling yet again and again. Sharon confirms this when asked about how she did go from loss to recovery. Her answer is that it was easier for her because she was 'locked up'. Otherwise, she says, 'it would have been hard for her to keep away from this man'. But what is it that contributed to her personal recovery when so many affected people cannot make the transition from a victim mode to the survivor strength?

Sharon Armstrong sits up and looks at the audience with confidence and lists her reasons:
- always having a positive outlook
- thinking and seeing that others had it tougher than her
- learning to appreciate little things
- learning to forgive
- her family's continuous and unwavering support

Her wisdom is profound. She states that forgiveness is not about others. It is about you. And learning to be grateful is a way to recovery. It is important to share your experience in order to fight the scams, to raise awareness. 'We must stop the shame', she says. I fully agree. It is crucial that there are people, just like Sharon who are willing to personally step into limelight to make the fight visible.

Sharon has started a campaign. It is called Standup2scams. It is everywhere on the social media but mostly on the Facebook and the Twitter. You can easily find it there. She has also recently been part of a two part documentary. It can be found through her pages as well. I am looking forwards to her new projects.

There is a book on the line in near future and also a possible documentary project. So there is much to come from her experience that will change your knowledgebase about romance scams and fraud.

Otherwise if you need help right now, please be aware that there is a QLD Police Fraud Support & Recovery group meeting every month. And similar groups are being planned and founded elsewhere as well. Here is a flyer for that: