Infinity War: Sugar Scams, Part 8
It will come as no surprise that on this, the eighth installment of my little miniseries,my adventure is coming to a somewhat prescriptive end.
At least, part of the adventure. I’m still looking into the significantly more genuine (and labour-intensive) financial domination world, but the sugar daddy-seeking side has gone about as far as I can take it.
For one thing, I’ve cracked the pattern of the scam. For another — after repeated sassy messages and interactions, I’ve noticed a sharp decrease in the reply rate of the so-called sugar daddies.
Now, anyone who started this series will be unsurprised to discover that not a single person calling themselves a sugar daddy proved to be genuine — but after weeks of investigation, I will admit that it did surprise me. Statistically speaking, you’d think at least one diamond would turn up in the grit — but it wasn’t the case.
Why care about sugar daddy scammers?
Long-time readers and personal friends may recall my oft-mentioned love of fairy tales and folklore. Admittedly, greed is one of those traits that often sees punishment in such stories. In the real world, greed is often rewarded, provided the greedy person has the right skin colour and personal background, but it can still sometimes earn infamy and disdain from the world at large.
As I’ve mentioned many times, and as most people of every age are aware, capitalism is very broken. It’s not greedy or sinful to want to live without starving and have one’s basic needs covered — nor is it morally dubious to expect such from either work situations, the government, or a combination of both.
The thing with sugar babies using fake photos to scam daddies is that in a way, it’s punching up. There’s quite a few scams — multi-level marketing companies come to mind — that rely on desperation and greed.
But preying on the hopeful, lonely, and impoverished requires a special kind of nastiness. That’s the thing about scammers who turn their focus to people with so little to give. Yes, a 419 scam works based on the hope of acquiring greater wealth in exchange for a small initial purchase, but the people who fall for such scams are generally the most vulnerable, not just some rich or comfortable middle-class person who won’t be financially crushed by the loss of a few thousand dollars.
That’s not to say middle-class people are impervious, especially in today’s economy — just to say that people who aren’t making a stable wage are even more vulnerable and endangered. As a result, the hope of any improvement of our circumstances tends to make us far more vulnerable than we would otherwise be.
Social engineering, the secret in the sauce
People who love hearing about scams and heists may already be familiar with multi-level marketing companies, but the high-pressure sales tactics, guilting, and clever argument strategies are also used in even more pernicious schemes.
Social engineering is one of those terms that gets people in the know nodding along, and the rest of us scratching our heads.
I was talking to a good friend of mine (who is also in a bad spot at the moment) about her fundraiser and explaining why I’d just been on the phone of the bank, and she turned out to know a lot more about social engineering and similar schemes than I’d expected.
“It was an old hacker technique,” she explained. “Back in the day, you used to have to call people and pretend to be someone official (IT person, Utilities worker, etc.) or a “customer”, tenant, etc. needing the router number or IP address, etc.” She explained a way to use payphones as the source of numbers — “You could glitch them out to get routed to an operator and get them to connect you to a number for unlimited free calls anywhere in the world. All you needed was any kind of audio playback device. People originally used tape recorders. It’s super easy.”
I was gobsmacked and impressed, because I know about as much as the next person about hacking — that is, I’m aware real hacking has nothing to do with The Matrix or teenagers with cool hair and a predilection for fishnets, but that’s about it. However, as anyone who’s followed the Russia investigation in US politics will be aware, modern fraudsters are a lot more sophisticated and organized than, say, a stray enterprising teenager or two trying to make a dubious but expedient dollar.
While MLMs make use of social pressure, guilt, and cult-like tactics, building on existing friendships and family relationships, scammers use fear, greed, and hope to stoke hunger and curiosity. But they aren’t just clever strategists. They’re organized, often working in call centres in overseas locations. My friend described it well — “Definitely, it’s organized groups. Usually run out of the shady version of a call centre where basically everyone even knows they’re contributing to a flat-out scam. Some just think they’re working for a company with semi-dubious sales/etc. practices.” Some of the organizations even run more than one scam at once, such as intricate investment gambling schemes that are basically guaranteed not to earn out. As I said, it was very clear that the “sugar daddies” talking to me had some kind of script they were following.
The scams get even nastier than that. As my friend put it, “A good example of scammers using SE are these shits who call elderly immigrants after their spouse dies, claiming their spouse owed a bunch of taxes, and they are going to be deported if they don’t pay up.” A friend of hers worked at the most office, and constantly had to tell little old ladies that the person who’d told them to send a money order was basically just extorting them. These scammers have no scruples or morals. Even widowed people with late-stage cancer were fair game. Given the age of some immigrants and newcomers to Canada, it’s not surprising that they make for easy targets.
What can we do?
There are several solutions. For one thing, we need better oversight and investigations of companies like Twitter. Yes, that can easily be exploited to concentrate governmental power, but in a world where the NSA already exists, why the devil isn’t the US government just using such branches to actually keep citizens safe?
Of course, relying on government action and oversight can be futile. In the meantime, sharing information about multi-level marketing’s dangers (and even just sharing silly Reddit read-aloud videos like the one linked above) does some actual good.
A third tactic (or second, I suppose) is educating ourselves about con artists who prey on the underbelly of society, and sharing that information with each other, free of judgement or condemnation. After all, one of the reasons these sugar parent scammers are so effective is that sex work is often socially condemned. Sugar babies and other kinds of online sex work sometimes escape the “ickiness” stigma because most of it doesn’t require physical contact, but that doesn’t mean it’s really outside the realm of erotic work.
So, if you want to keep yourself and your friends safe — don’t judge people for what they do when they’re desperate, share info about conners and scammers (like this article series!), and don’t assume that you, yourself are too smart to fall for social engineering — or that people who get caught in such traps are idiots or fools. Be kind and patient with others — but be vigilant with strangers.
Michelle Browne is a sci fi/fantasy writer and editor. She lives in Lethbridge, AB with her partner-in-crime and Max the cat. Her days revolve around freelance editing, knitting, jewelry, and learning too much. She is currently working on other people’s manuscripts, the next books in her series, and drinking as much tea as humanly possible.