Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Speaking of willful ignorance

The S.O. and I started watching the "Dr. Phil" show yesterday. We had some time to kill and there wasn't much else on tv. Apparently Dr. Phil has gotten into investigating catfishing, you know, chasing down people who have fake identities on the Intertubes. Yesterday's episode was about a 79 year old lady who'd fallen for a scammer she met through Facebook.

It was unreal. This elderly woman allowed herself to be sweet-talked by a dude who said he was about 20 years younger than she was. Pretty soon they were "dating," a term I find questionable -- how do you "date" someone you've never actually met face to face and with whom your only contact is electronic? He sent her flowers, poetry, occasional cheap little gifts, all to demonstrate how smitten he was.

And then the requests for "loans" began. Over a period of several years, the lady gave the man $76,000. She wiped out her savings. She got in trouble with the IRS. She was basically bankrupt, but she was still trying to raise money by selling off her "collectibles" (which appeared to be a box of Beanie Babies -- good luck with that one, lady) to send the dude more money. He'd basically sucked her resources dry incrementally -- $1,000 here, $500 there -- but was still trying to get more out of her. She'd become estranged from her adult children. Her son and daughter kept telling her she was being scammed but she refused to believe it. She actually wrote to Dr. Phil begging him to help her prove to her children that the love of her life was real.

What struck me as the most unbelievable part was the fact the man had managed to dodge face-to-face meetings for several years. In emails and chats he'd promise they'd get together "soon" but whenever it was supposed to happen there'd be some last minute glitch. On at least one occasion she was actually in the same city where he supposedly was but bad luck conveniently intervened. And it was always something happening to him, of course, like a sudden illness or a missed flight connection. For multiple years and $76,000! 

Unfortunately, we did not see the entire show. I'm now tempted to go looking for that episode online. It had just gotten to the point where Dr. Phil was looking at physical evidence, stuff the dude had sent to the woman to prove he was being honest, and pointing out to her how documents like a cancelled check had been tampered with by having amounts or dates changed. It was pretty obvious the lady had been scammed, but Dr. Phil hadn't gotten around to revealing yet just what they had learned about the scammer or scammers -- because fairly often the catfishing that involves ripping people off will be a team effort. Several con artists will work together to string along multiple victims while they empty bank accounts before moving on. The one unusual thing about this particular case was that the scammer hadn't quietly disappeared once the victim told him she was totally broke, her resources exhausted, and close to losing her house. Once you've sucked all the blood out of the turnip, why linger?

It's a mystery. Although in a way the part of the episode we did see answered one of the questions I sort of had about Facebook. Every so often I'll get a friend request from someone I've never heard of, no mutual friends, just a total and complete stranger. I know there are some people who collect "friends" the same way some people collect Hummel figurines IRL -- we all know people who will talk about having hundreds of Facebook friends when they don't actually know more than a handful as more than a name -- but I've never been into doing that. Unless someone is either someone I know in the real world or a friend of a friend (and most of the time not even then), I ignore friend requests. In any case, I'd wonder why some dude would bother sending me a friend request when we'd never even interacted in a comments thread. After watching Dr. Phil, though, I find myself thinking that some of those random friend requests were probably from scammers fishing for a victim. All the more reason, I guess, to hit the Ignore option whenever one pops up. 


  1. Some folks are just interested in what you have to say. So it is called cat fishing? Oh, well, I've never asked anyone on the web for money.

  2. I can understand people doing friend requests if their virtual paths intersect in comments threads or if they have mutual friends, but someone approaching out of the blue with no previous interaction or any mutual acquaintances? That reeks of catfishing. I'm not sure where the term comes from, but it's been in use for awhile to describe fake personalities built online usually for purposes of romance. It doesn't involve money or financial scams. Sometimes it's just lonely people pretending to be someone they're not. There was a documentary movie that looked at a specific catfishing incident a few years ago, and I think the guys who did the movie have a series called "Catfish" on one of the cable networks now. I've never seen either the movie or the series, but every so often I'll stumble across an interesting article about someone getting catfished. In the case on Dr. Phil there were so many warning signs that it amazes me the lady let herself be so thoroughly conned. She was really desperate for someone to love her.

  3. Desperation and loneliness often result in stupid outcomes. The young and numb and the forgotten old are prime fish to dangle bait in front of.

  4. Wow. There is a special place in Hell for people who con little old ladies out of their life savings.


My space, my rules: play nice and keep it on topic.