When veteran David meets a woman, based in the Philippines, on a dating app he feels he’s made a real connection. While not romantic, over the course of a year they develop a deep friendship. One day she comes to David with a problem: She needs some help dealing with a property owned by her ailing grandmother. It starts with a small loan, but as the issues pile up, David exhausts his personal resources and borrows money from family and friends. His life spirals out of control when he loses his home, and the discovery of the scam causes friends and family to turn their backs on him. With the help of a support group, David finds healing and begins to rebuild his life and help others facing the same challenges.
[00:00:00] Bob: This episode includes discussion of suicide. If you are in crisis or you know someone who is, please call or text 9-8-8, a free nationwide service where professionals can listen and get you the help you need.
[00:00:16] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.
[00:00:18] David Andreas Brown: Ultimately, I was evicted from my condominium because I couldn't pay the rent. And uh, I had my two sons living with me at the time, and I had to tell them that I'd lost our place to live.
[00:00:34] Bob: What was it like to have to tell your sons that? That sounds just awful.
[00:00:38] David Andreas Brown: Probably uh, the hardest thing I ever had to do.
[00:00:46] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I’m your host, Bob Sullivan.
[00:00:51] Bob: We all know the phrase; I get by with a little help from my friends. And friends, well they can come from unexpected places. In today's episode, we're going to hear from a man who was the victim of a scam that went on for years. It cost him almost everything. He was forced to live in his car. He was abandoned by friends and family, but he was able to find help when he reached out and joined a support group. And he found healing when he started to help others facing the same kind of rock bottom. Well, it turns out there is a movement of support groups for victims of scams, and in a little while we're going to talk with one of the people who started that movement. But first, let's find out what happened to a man who calls himself David Andreas Brown, that's his pen name, when he met a woman online, he thought he might want to date.
[00:01:50] David Andreas Brown: My name is David Andreas Brown, and I'm based in Denver, Colorado.
[00:01:55] Bob: And this relationship began the way so many relationships do nowadays. He went online looking for love on a dating website.
[00:02:04] David Andreas Brown: So we started exchanging text messages, exchanging pictures, and it started out as a mutually interested relationship that might develop into something romantic. Ultimately, that did not happen, and we became friends.
[00:02:20] Bob: She was in the Philippines, so it was a long-distance friendship and they chatted about everything that friends do.
[00:02:28] David Andreas Brown: Oh, my gosh, She told me about her family. I would tell her about my family. She would tell me about her work and I would tell her about my work. She claimed she worked for Dell of all companies, and, and I had been in--, involved in technology, so I was very familiar with Dell and I frankly thought, oh man, it's great, I met somebody that's, you know, that has a meaningful job and we talked about pretty much anything that you would talk about with your neighbor really. And again, it was a, it seemed like a complete friendship.
[00:03:00] Bob: But after a year of chatting, something goes wrong.
[00:03:05] David Andreas Brown: At that point she explained that she'd had a problem in her, in her life, and was wondering if perhaps I could help. And I said, well, explain it to me. Well the first thing had to do with her grandmother falling ill, and she claimed that she needed the money for hospital expenses for her grandmother.
[00:03:26] Bob: She said she needed about $100 at first.
[00:03:30] Bob: So but you, obviously she's your friend, and she wants a little bit of help and that's not a lot of money, so, so you send it, um, and then did she ask for more money a day later or a month later?
[00:03:44] David Andreas Brown: No, it was probably a couple of weeks later because her, initially her grandmother's illness became more severe as I recall. And then ultimately, her grandmother had to move in with her.
[00:03:59] Bob: After Grandma moves in, things get complicated fast.
[00:04:04] David Andreas Brown: She claimed her grandmother had left a property behind, now in the provinces. This was in the Philippines and they describe sort of the, that country as the provinces. And it was a piece of land that was valuable, that had some value and it might even have commercial value and being in a country like that, there were problems with the title and problems with, that needed to be straightened out.
[00:04:29] Bob: And if David would help with straightening out the paperwork, if he would lend the family some money, just $1000, they would pay him back with interest.
[00:04:41] David Andreas Brown: In fact, we had a contract written up and drawn up as a loan document and, and that loan document then was updated consistently thereafter. So it was intended to be a loan, not, not intended as a, something I just gave away.
[00:04:57] Bob: In fact, it was more than a loan. If the land deal proceeded, David would end up with an interest in the property.
[00:05:05] Bob: Okay, so you sign the loan papers, you keep your copy, you, you transfer $1000 or so to her, and then what happens after that?
[00:05:15] David Andreas Brown: Well, so after that, well as part of the loan, I received documentation about the property. This happened to be a, a description of the land and appraisal. I received a letter from the bank, I received and, and then the issue was, okay, now we need to get approvals from the Philippine government. That's when the serious money requests began to come in.
[00:05:43] Bob: Serious money requests come in because David is told, the government paperwork is taking a lot longer than it should. Things are complicated, and COVID makes things even more complicated.
[00:05:58] David Andreas Brown: Well there were, the way the request was presented was that there are ministries within the government and the appraisal and the documentation needs to be sent in and needs to be approved. And there are fees associated with those approvals within the Philippine government. And so the money that ultimately, that began to grow was to pay those, pay for those fees to the government, and those fees were, as I recall, based on the value of the property. So that, that's where the, the fees started and that's when the money became more serious.
[00:06:46] Bob: And, and so what kind of money are we talking about?
[00:06:49] David Andreas Brown: Maybe $10,000. Maybe 5,000, I don't recall right now, but it got into multiple tens, multiple, well over $10,000. And then it, it grew from there. One of the things that happened really was COVID. Because of COVID, the difficult, it became more difficult to communicate, and it became more and, and so there were problems with the government. Everything seemed to be getting delayed, and then there were penalties and other fees, or I would wire things and then they, they wouldn't get there, and I'd have to cancel a wire and wire them again. And now more fees accrued.
[00:07:29] Bob: But at this point, David is determined to help his friend.
[00:07:34] David Andreas Brown: Yes. There were a couple of things. Number one, yes, I would have an interest, the interest rate on the, the loan was quite attractive, so I felt I would get paid back and I would make money on the deal, so that was good. And the other part of this and, was that in my business career, I had been a problem solver. I'd always been a problem solver. That's what I did, that was my entire career. And so this became a problem for me to solve. I took ownership of this and it, it became, well it, looking at it from my perspective I'd say I was trying to help someone, a friend, solve a problem using all of the skills that I could bring to the table.
[00:08:19] Bob: But when the loans grow and grow, helping his new friend becomes a matter of, well, getting his old friends involved.
[00:08:28] David Andreas Brown: Well, I used my money probably to the 80 to the $100,000 range, maybe more than that. And then, then I went to friends and, and asked for money because there was this investment, there was a friend I was trying to help, and so not only did I, you know use my business analytical skills, but also my sales skills on behalf of this to, to help this friend and to help them solve their problem.
[00:09:00] Bob: And during the course of the next two years or so, a lot of money changes hands. Ultimately, about a half million dollars.
[00:09:10] Bob: How many different transactions do you think you sent over the course of this, this sort of intense, now it sounds to me like it was like kind of an intense two-year period of sending money from 2018 to 2020 or so. How many transactions do you think?
[00:09:25] David Andreas Brown: A hundred.
[00:09:27] Bob: A hundred? Yeah, so almost, almost one a week or so.
[00:09:30] David Andreas Brown: Yes.
[00:09:32] Bob: By now, David has exhausted all his personal resources. He's borrowed from family and friends and his own financial life starts to spiral out of control.
[00:09:44] David Andreas Brown: Well, I'd sent them money on the promise that this, it was always a promise that this was going to finish. All we needed was to do one more thing and it would finish. And so I had money from my business that I thought would be paid back, and so I gave them that money and, and that was the money that I needed to pay for my condominium. And so ultimately, I was evicted from my condominium because I couldn't pay the rent. And uh, I had my two sons living with me, with me at the time, and, and I had to tell them that I'd lost our place to live. And uh, and then uh they wouldn't talk to me for the better part of a year, just another loss, and I ended up living in my car for a, a probably six months and then it got too cold here in Colorado, so one of my sons did take me in.
[00:10:51] Bob: Wow. What was it like to have to tell your sons that? That sounds just awful.
[00:10:55] David Andreas Brown: Probably uh, the hardest thing I ever had to do. Because I kept thinking that it was going to get paid, right? They kept telling me, it's okay. You’re going to get your money. And so ultimately, it was like Saturday and I had to tell my sons that on Monday the sheriff is coming and we've got to get our stuff out of here. So we moved everything into a storage locker, and then uh, and then I didn't talk to them for the better part of a year.
[00:11:31] Bob: How old were your sons at this point?
[00:11:32] David Andreas Brown: They were in their 20s, early 20s at that point.
[00:11:36] Bob: Even still, he's convinced he's going to get his money back, so convinced that he keeps sending money to the Philippines.
[00:11:45] David Andreas Brown: And so uh, as I was homeless, I was contributing my Social Security checks, 'cause that was really the only income I had. Um, and I would continue to search out for friends or people that I'd known that uh, that didn't know I was homeless and asked them for money, and they helped me. Uh, and I sent this all to these, to these people.
[00:12:13] Bob: And then finally, one day David's whole world really comes crashing down.
[00:12:21] Bob: Okay, so August 12th, 2020, right?
[00:12:24] David Andreas Brown: Yes.
[00:12:24] Bob: Everything changed? What changed?
[00:12:26] David Andreas Brown: A friend of mine had, had given me $13,000 for this. And I went back to him and said, "Look, the attorney says we need more." And he said, "Wait a minute." So he actually hired a private investigator and then on the 12th we had a meeting and uh, he told me the private investigator had come back and said that it was all a lie. The property didn't exist, the uh, all the documentation didn't exist. The law firm didn't exist. The banking documents were all, were all fraudulent that we had received. And so and he told me it was just a, it was all a lie.
[00:13:13] Bob: And that news sends David into a deep spiral.
[00:13:18] Bob: But I, I mean I'm now picturing how could you not collapse and start crying, or I mean that moment must have been awful.
[00:13:25] David Andreas Brown: It was. So over the next few days I thought about uh, so, I thought about, I thought, I was very serious about taking my own life because I'd lost my family, I'd lost my friends, I'd lost my business, I'd lost all my money, I'd lost all my friends' money. I lost all my business relationship, I lost my career, I lost my sense, I lost my faith in myself, my belief in what I could do and my strengths. Um, I yeah, I was, and so I was uh, I was they, they have different ways that they describe committing suicide and, and one of the, one of the more advanced ones is, is if you are actually planning the methods to take your own life. And I was into the planning the methods phase. I, I guess inside deep down I didn't want to do it, so I ended up calling the VA crisis hotline because I'm a veteran, and the lady talked to me on the VA crisis line and uh, managed to get my address out of me and, and the police showed up uh, and took me to the hospital.
[00:14:46] Bob: Thank God someone from the VA picked up the phone and talked to you, right?
[00:14:50] David Andreas Brown: Yes, yes, I have nothing but praise for the people on crisis hotlines because if you, if you are thinking those kinds of thoughts, those people are just amazing. I, I just, I can't say enough about them.
[00:15:07] Bob: And so with help from the VA, David starts to take steps to help himself.
[00:15:13] David Andreas Brown: Well, I mentioned I'm a veteran and so the VA provided me with mental health support. They gave me medication that kind of settled me down. I, I didn't know what to do. I was gone but and I was introduced to a 12-step group where, well, uh, it's called Debtors Anonymous. It's for people that accumulate debts or run into severe financial problems in their life and don't know how, what to do about it. And, and so I started talking to those people and going to meetings, and learning about how to uh really, really um, how to take charge of my financial life and how to live when I had almost nothing. I had to relearn that. I had to learn what it's like to be, and what happens is you're thrown back to the time when you were 20 years old, you didn't have any money and you got to do what's necessary in order to make it day to day. That's what we have to do. That's what I learned.
[00:16:38] Bob: And it is in that 12-step program that David starts to work through the issues that brought him to this place in his life. But it isn't easy.
[00:16:48] David Andreas Brown: Well, it took a long time. I mean literally I would, I would go places and I would just cry. I, I mean not, not just, I mean literally I could be anywhere, I could be, go... I, I remember going to the dentist and you know the dentist asked me how I'm doing, you know and I'd just break down right there in the chair and don't know what to say. Explained to them what happened to me, right, and just cry and sob for, and I did that in I don't know how many places. I would just break down, or I would be driving my car, and something would remind me and I’d have to pull off to the side of the road and just cry. I mean I didn't know what else to do.
[00:17:32] Bob: The real change comes, David says, when he learned one big factor to moving past all that had happened to him.
[00:17:41] David Andreas Brown: Throughout my life I've practiced meditation. And uh, it, it became, meditation became kind of a life saver for me. I found a meditation about forgiveness. And for six weeks, every single day, at least once I listened to this guided meditation about forgiveness, and it, and it was about 45 minutes long, so this is not a small commitment of time. But over the course of six weeks, I was able to go through, kind of go through everything that was sitting in my brain and kind of dispense one thing at a time. And so that forgiveness, once, so that's what I had to do. It, and, and the way I knew that worked was that when I was driving down the street, I no longer had to pull over and cry. But then I got a job, and then I got another job, and then it, it got better over time. But it all started with forgiveness of myself and, and everybody else, but, but what I forgave everybody else for was nothing near what I had to forgive myself for.
[00:18:57] Bob: And when David starts working, well the kind of work makes a difference too.
[00:19:03] David Andreas Brown: I got a job as a substitute teacher.
[00:19:06] Bob: Hmm, oh wow.
[00:19:07] David Andreas Brown: And, you know, and it just so happens, just so happens that I started to work in a school and I took care of special needs kids. I was glad to be able to go home at night. And I worked that every day and that, that brought me back to the discipline of doing something every day which I had to come back to because for a long time I would just, you know, all I'd want to do is sit and reflect and, and cry. So, so that, that brought me back and then I got another teaching job.
[00:19:38] David Andreas Brown: And David makes another big decision. He decides he wants to help people who are struggling with the same issues that he did.
[00:19:47] David Andreas Brown: I tried to go back to my old career, and I just wasn't, I just couldn't do it anymore. And I'd, I'd burned so many bridges and, and everything I'd done, and I was just sick of it and didn't want to think about that anymore. So I decided uh to start to write, and I decided to, and I thought about what did I really know about and I, I knew about money and I knew about how I'd recovered, so I decided to write a book called "From Despair to Dollars." The intent is that, is that I can help other people who have suffered like I have. And hopefully prevent them from suffering, but if they do find themselves at really, at really their life's bottom, particularly financially, that there's a way back. There's a way out of that. It takes time and it takes work, but there is a way out. Part of my recovery, if you will, and, and I do think of this as a, a recovery, part of my recovery is I started helping others with personal finance matters. And I do think, frankly, if you're in this, if you're in the deep hole like I was, you can't get out of it yourself. You've got to reach outside of yourself. And so if you're willing to do that, then ultimately other people will help you and then you grow to help others. And, and that's kind of the process. You've got to learn the tools, learns the practices, learn what it takes to help other people, and then you kind of jump in and start helping others.
[00:21:25] Bob: And it is in helping others that brings him back from the darkest of places.
[00:21:33] David Andreas Brown: When I was at my bottom, I mean I had nobody had any use for me. I didn't even have any use for myself. You know, the, the thought, I mentioned that I was, I was contemplating ways to take my own life, and it wasn't, the reason was is because I thought the world would be better off without me. I thought that the world has no use for me, I have, I have no reason to, I have no reason to live, essentially. And maybe that, you know, that's another thing for perhaps the people listening to this podcast is that yeah, you've got, you've got to come back... again coming back to that idea of being a 20-year-old. You've got to recreate your life. You've got to create a vision for your life that, that you want to grow into. Just saying I don't want to be where I was is, that's only half the solution. You've got to say, okay, I have a reason to live. I want to help others. I want, I want to do something with my life, and, and more, I want to have a better life. You know I want to have; I want to live in a nice place again. I want to, I want to be able to have nice clothes, I want to be able to... my, I, I lost my hobby of, of ballroom dancing. I want to go dancing again. I want to go skiing again. I've been a skier all my life, and I want to go skiing again. So it's having that belief that, that the future is full, and that yeah, you've got, you know you've got maybe two or three years that it's going to be pure hell, but there is, there is goodness on the end of that and you've just got to keep, keep fighting for it.
[00:23:11] Bob: You've got to keep fighting for it. And a big part of that fight might mean reaching out to get help. Victims of crimes often have much more than money stolen from them. As you heard with David, his faith in himself, almost his very will to live, had been stolen from him. So to get help in a place like that support groups can play an important role. And no one knows more about crime victim support groups than Debbie Deem, who started setting up groups for online scam victims more than a decade ago. Debbie is special because, well, how many people do you know who worked at the FBI with a master’s in social work degree?
[00:23:53] Debbie Deem: I am actually a retired, but I call myself unleashed, victim specialist re--, retired from the FBI for about four years now, and in that time after that, I've been really finding myself and having this wonderful ability to again be unleashed and work in the field of elder fraud, especially in working on these transnational technology facilitated crimes and assisting victims and hopefully helping to affect policies, you know get a hold of decision makers and make some changes in how these invisible victims are treated.
[00:24:29] Bob: How long did you work for the FBI?
[00:24:32] Debbie Deem: I was with the FBI, I think it was about 16, 17 years, and before that, I worked for the US Attorney's Office in two different places doing victim assistance for victims of federal crimes there.
[00:24:43] Bob: I asked Debbie what she thought of David's recovery.
[00:24:48] Debbie Deem: I guess my immediate reaction was what resiliency and strength that in the tough times he must have gone through to get to that stage that he is at now where he is, you know, rebuilding his life and it sounds like in a very rewarding way, but a way that he didn't anticipate his life direction going. I think that's what I was most impressed with.
[00:25:09] Bob: Debbie saw the need to connect online crime victims with each other many years ago.
[00:25:15] Debbie Deem: Actually it was based on an idea, again, my work in doing groups for part of my Master's with grief and, you know, child behavior issues and things like that, but about 10 or 12 years ago, we actually started one in Ventura County for victims of international frauds that was in person, and it went really well. So I had lottery fraud victims, and these were all older adults that I had worked with through the FBI or else were referred to me while I was still working for the FBI, I kind of was doing everything I could for these international fraud victims even then. And we found a VA counselor who had some time, and she volunteered her time.
[00:25:49] Bob: Online transnational crimes are complicated because victims often don't have any hope of seeing their criminal brought to justice. They rarely get that kind of closure.
[00:26:02] Debbie Deem: And there's not a perpetrator to arrest, just that there are serious needs for these victims. So one of the ways that I've learned, I've, I've got a master’s in social work, and I did a lot of group kind of group work kind of stuff when I was working on that master’s and recognized the power of support groups in helping folks. And, and we see it every day. I mean AA is certainly, you know, one classic example, but throughout our history, or at least in the last few years people have gone to grief groups of all kinds. Um, there's groups for codependency, and in this case I, I understand the man used a debtor's group. There's domestic violence and sexual assault support groups, so the power of that group can be I think a major, major factor in, in helping people both help each other as learning, as well as learning to help them trust themselves again.
[00:26:54] Bob: How do victim support groups work?
[00:26:58] Debbie Deem: It will start out with a phone call to the facilitator of that group, and you know, so you might fill it out in an online application, or it might be a phone call if it's a referral to that facilitator. They're going to check that person out and make sure they're not a fraud criminal or they're not a reporter or really what their story is, and making sure that the, you know, there's not mental health issues, that might not be the best place for them. And if that's the case, they'll help refer them to more appropriate kinds of counseling or programs, but so they'll do that kind of initial interview. So in the beginning it might be just interjections, and there might be people more willing to share their stories, and others that are just kind of, you know, stay back and aren't willing to share in the beginning. But they'll go over what the basics of the fraud crime was for most people, and some information, usually on how to enrich a report and why that's critical. And then going more into the kinds of things that your victim shared his story about, you know, what the impact of those fraud crimes can be, the different feelings that people go through kind of, you know, the shame and the depression and the grief and the, the dealing with lost relationships or harmed relationships. Those kinds of things are discussed. And then there's usually a section for resources. Where do you go to get that kind of help? You know where is there bankruptcy resources, where are the resources on, if you don't have money, everything's been taking from you, how do you get your computer cleaned, because we know that's an important thing to do. And so talking about some of those kinds of measures and things can be important. And then going more into I think computer safety and living safer in this high-tech world that we're all in; these are some of the things that people, you will, will be sharing with each other and what the facilitator will be sharing. And like I said, in most cases, the ones I'm aware of, they do involve a licensed counselor, so that any mental health issues that do come up that might require additional counseling, those are usually provided for folks. And again, this is, these are no charge. There's no charge to the groups.
[00:29:07] Bob: The meetings are often virtual, run something like Zoom, participants can show their face or not as they feel comfortable, and in addition to practical topics like cleaning your computer, there are more emotional topics discussed.
[00:29:23] Debbie Deem: And the manipulation methods used by these fraud criminals, that might be the first two or three sessions. How to deal with relationships that they're in. You know, for some of these folks they're married and involved in these kinds of things, and so dealing with that, or how to deal with your children, your neighbors, your, your work situations. All these kinds of things can be relevant to that situation. And then just reconnecting again with the world. Again, dealing with the results of that isolation that that perpetrator has put you in and how to move on from that both financially and emotionally and spiritually and, and having a reason to get up in the morning again. I think for, for many, many victims, that's almost the worst thing's been taken from them is just not having that life meaning again. And I think what our victim showed is that you can have a life again, and you can have an important life, and you can have a life that is important to others and where you're doing good things.
[00:30:19] Bob: One of the things that is surprising me about what you're telling me is that the, there, while there’s a ton of emotional support, there's also an awful lot of very practical things that are discussed in these sessions.
[00:30:30] Debbie Deem: Yes, and I think a lot of times these, the sessions are led by what the victims want to discuss. So again, when you have a facilitator, sometimes they're just facilitating what it is the group wants to cover.
[00:30:42] Bob: And, and I'm sure naturally in the middle of that, um, comes up um how, how you're doing, how you're feeling, that sort of stuff, right?
[00:30:49] Debbie Deem: Exactly. And that's where, I think having the licensed counselor on there is very helpful, and in all the situations that I'm aware of, that is the case and it's certainly one of my recommendations so that you can get into those kinds of issues as well for those that feel comfortable in sharing that. And even if you're just hearing it, if you're not ready to share those things yourself, I think these groups or these programs can be very helpful in hearing what others go through, and then you can kind of assess yourself and, and learn from others if you have, it's, if you're not ready to share, these programs usually are very receptive to having you as well.
[00:31:24] Bob: And when it comes to emotional support, that's why the group process is so helpful. There really is nothing like hearing from someone else whose been in a similar situation.
[00:31:36] Debbie Deem: So support groups I think are one of many ways, um, it's a really effective way and a needed way um, I think for victims both to help each other and to understand that this happens to good people. Um, I think that's a power as well because when you're isolated and alone in this, you think you're the only one that was duped or that you were stupid or all these words that we self-taught to each other that aren't right. Um, you made a mistake, but finding other good people that are vibrant, have wonderful jobs, you know, leaders in industry, school principals, lawyers, ex-mayors, um, all kinds of good decent folks have these kind of crimes happen to them, and to have support and see that they're living through this can be a great, great, great, great support for you in going through it yourself.
[00:32:24] Bob: I asked Debbie to describe a success story from one of her support groups.
[00:32:30] Debbie Deem: There was one victim in particular that she had, that I had made a referral to, and this woman was in very desperate, she was very, very outgoing, just one of those people that, you know, everybody just kind of gravitated to. But she ended up having her home stolen from her, and she had actually sold her car to help make, get money to help her fraud criminal come to the United States. So she was financially devastated, very much like the situation of, of your victim on this story. And I think through the power of the support program that she was in and talking to other people that had been through this, it, she at, at the point that I had met her, she was so depressed and so ashamed, she was not willing to tell her family, she didn't want anyone to know. She was basically renting a, a room in someone's home for, with what little money she had coming in from Social Security. But that person didn't want her there for a long time. She lived in a pretty wealthy community where there isn't a lot of cheap housing. But she, I was very, very concerned for her being suicidal and all, and not having the resources, and especially not being willing at that point to turn to the support that she had through family and community. And I think through the power of the support program that she was in, she actually got that courage, and she was able to step out. She actually found a part-time job that she really enjoyed, and she was probably 72 or 73 when this happened to her. She was able to find another place to live. She was actually was able to share her story with the support group, and from all I hear, she joined a singing group through her community that she really enjoyed and had kind of put behind her. So again, finding a new life for herself or kind of a new you, and again, that reason to get up in the morning is, is what that group provided her through this.
[00:34:24] Bob: And there's another critical role that joining a group after being a victim of a crime can play.
[00:34:31] Bob: You know we talk all the time about uh, the, one of the first things that criminals do is isolate the victim to try to get them away from their friends and family, anyone who might see what's really going on. And so this reengaging with community is sort of the antidote to the crime, isn't it?
[00:34:46] Debbie Deem: It truly is, and making connections every way you can.
[00:34:50] Bob: So, where can people find victim support groups?
[00:34:55] Debbie Deem: First of course is AARP's REST program. I really recommend that. You know I think that's a great one, both for family members as well as victims. Besides the REST program, fightcybercrime.org has a wonderful support group that goes on, it's a 10-week session. It's free. It's available for anybody of any age, and I really encourage people to look into that one. It is specific to people that are victims of romance imposter frauds. There's also a group that's been going on, it was actually the first group I helped get started and that's in Los Angeles. So if you're 50 years or older in Los Angeles, there's a group through Wise & Healthy Aging. There's also a great website called ScamSurvivorHealing.com that has all kinds of YouTube articles and things that people can do to heal from these kinds of problems.
[00:35:42] Bob: Social media has some good opportunities too, Debbie says.
[00:35:48] Debbie Deem: I'm probably on maybe 7, 8, 10 different Facebook groups for victims of romance imposter frauds and other kinds of scams. And it's amazing to me, because oftentimes there's family members, there's prior victims on there, and you've got to be careful when you go on some of these because there can be scammers lurking, but some of them do a very good job of vetting the programs, and I often will recommend these for victims, and I have specific ones that sometimes I will recommend that they just go on and kind of, we call it lurking... just go on for a while and just watch and read what you see other victims and family members posting, and the support that people can get, what I like about it is it's 24/7. No matter what time of day or night you're up, and we know night times can be particularly difficult for victims, instead of waiting for that text from your, that scammer, what you can instead do is just get on one of these support groups, and just start scrolling through the different things that people are saying. And real quick, just a quick thing, when you're looking to see which ones are good, I would go to the ones that have thousands of people participating that have been around for a really long time, and that seem to really vet the people that are on it, and also have rules that you do not go offline and private message anybody. So if someone private messages you from one of these groups if you're on it, stay away from that.
[00:37:12] Bob: Also important, people can get help from communities that aren't formal support groups, Debbie says.
[00:37:21] Debbie Deem: I have one woman that was a victim, and she tried a support group and it just didn't work for her. She said, "Debbie, I'm involved in three women's groups, we're doing all kinds of fun things, I volunteer at the senior center. My life is full again." I, or I know a man who was a university professor whose wife had died, and he was very lonely, and he got involved in one of these with a woman from the Philippines, and that he thought she was coming to live with him, and of course, you know, he almost had his home stolen from him, but he got involved with senior centers, and he became a fantastic dance partner, and he started going all around our county just enjoying the senior center dancers, and was quite a hit. And then he had a full calendar just finding things like that in a world that he just, you know, didn't know about or was just kind of afraid to go to. And it might be taking a friend with you for that first time to that senior center or to that library program or to that hiking. He joined a hiking club for seniors. So finding a friend to go with you on some of these kinds of community activities through your church or your synagogue or your mosque or you know wherever you can find. Or just taking that walk. I remember having a victim, he just started his life over by just taking walks through his trai--, trailer park, and just saying hello to people and petting their dogs and kind of reestablished a whole life that the fraud criminal had isolated him from during the period that he was kind of, you know, involved with that and thinking that that was going to be his future.
[00:38:46] Bob: But perhaps the biggest lesson of all from support groups is, while it's great to get help from a group, most people find that learning to reach out and help others is the most important part of their healing process.
[00:39:01] Bob: So you've mentioned is several times, the idea that the best way to help yourself is to help somebody else, and that's something I hear almost every interview we do for the podcast. People tell me they're willing to talk to me because if, if it stops one other person from becoming a victim, they feel like it's worth it. And, and it helps them heal. What is it about helping others that makes us feel better?
[00:39:25] Debbie Deem: I think it validates your, your reasons for, for being alive, uh in many cases.
[00:39:30] Bob: And Debbie was ready with an example of precisely that about a man, a smart businessman who ended up having $2 million stolen from him through a cryptocurrency scam. He told Debbie he would be willing to talk to other victims about his experience and she took him up on it.
[00:39:48] Debbie Deem: And so about a month later, I had a situation where a similar situation, it was taking texts, a man was married, over $700,000 stolen from him in one of these kind of investment frauds. And he was lost, but he was also still in touch with the fraud criminal, and one of the fraud criminals, the person that was texting him and just saying, "You just need to pay your taxes, you need to pay a little bit more and you can get all your money back." And he had kept believing this and getting in deeper and deeper in this. And I put him in touch with this other person who had said that he was willing to help anybody because that was one of the ways that he was going to help feel better about himself is if he could help someone. So he helped this second man realize that he needed to stop contacting immediately with this fraud criminal. And while I had given that message, the police had given that message to him, APS had given that message to him, the person that he really listened to was the person who had been through that experience who was a smart, determined, resourceful man, and I think that second person, that second victim said, "I want to be where you are. I'm not going to give any more money in this fraud. I'm going to believe you, and I'm going to move on to my life, and I want to do what you're doing in helping other people too, 'cause this has to stop."
[00:41:03] Bob: In the end, the second victim couldn't hear the message from anyone other than another victim. That’s not unusual.
[00:41:12] Debbie Deem: There are people who have gone that similar journey but there again can be people at different stages that you're at, so they can help you through that path in ways that, you know, whether it's professional or sometimes even a family member simply can't. They've, they've rode, they've traveled that road, and they know what's ahead for you or can help you in traveling it as well. And I think knowing that you're, you're not traveling it alone can be very helpful for someone. And again, it's part of your own recovery is to help someone else through theirs.
[00:41:41] Bob: Part of your recovery is to help someone else through theirs. Such a powerful message, and one that David fully agrees with.
[00:41:50] Bob: Would you recommend to victims of scams that they seek out support groups?
[00:41:55] David Andreas Brown: Yes, and I'm going to say especially 12-step groups. And the reason I say that is because these people don't want anything from you. And when you walk in the room and you start talking to people, you find out that you're just one story of many. They've all been there, you know and, and in some ways their, some of their stories are worse than yours. And it, it's great relief to be able to be honest and talk about this stuff honestly. It, if you hide it away, it just eats at you.
[00:42:32] Bob: So how are you today?
[00:42:33] David Andreas Brown: Things are pretty doggone good. I have, you know, when I, in, in, in, in 2020, on August 12th, 2020, I, I didn't think I had anything to live for. And now, you know I, I just see this abundant future for myself. And, and I, I feel good, I, honestly, I feel great. I'm sorry, you know, maybe this is hard for people to believe, but you know I, I'm excited, I mean I go to work every day, and I, I have, I now work, like I said, in three different jobs. And I'm excited about doing that. I mean some of those jobs get hard and I don't want to go, and on the other hand, you know I have, I'm, I can be entrepreneurial, I drive a bright red Mini Cooper now, around town. I drive it like a sports car, (chuckles) you know, uh, it, it's, it's great. I'm, you know, it's all right.
[00:43:30] Bob: What is it that you want people to know mo--, most about your story? What, what do you want them to take away from hearing you?
[00:43:37] David Andreas Brown: I'd say even at your lowest point, that's okay. You're okay right where you are. There are other people just like you and you just have to reach out. I guess that's the first one. Reach out for help. There are resources out there that can help you no matter how where you are.
[00:43:57] Bob: Of course, you can always reach out to the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360. Call or visit the AARP website at aarp.org/fraudsupport to learn more about the REST program that Debbie mentioned. That's REST, R-E-S-T, which stands for Resilience, Strength, and Time.
[00:44:29] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is: firstname.lastname@example.org, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us or just send us some feedback. That address again is: email@example.com. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Sarah Binney; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, Julio Gonzalez. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.
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