It’s a matter of trust

By Caitlin Kelly

From Seth Godin’s blog:

Traditional con men do their work one person at a time. It’s a laborious process, earning trust and the benefit of the doubt before ultimately ripping someone off.

Toward the end of my dad’s life, shameless/shameful phone salespeople did just this and stole his trust, his time and his money.

Like most things, industrialists want to do it faster and bigger.

Scammy direct mail used to be obvious even at a distance. The labels, the stamps, the typography–it all signaled that this wasn’t personal.

And the occasional phone salesperson, calling from a boiler room–we could tell.

Now, as data acquisition continues to scale and become ever more granular, the hustle is getting more personal.

It’s in an uncanny valley–almost real, but not quite. And of course, the distance keeps getting shorter.

So the mail merge, the phone spam, the faux intimacy of a stranger. They continue to blur the lines between personal and personalized.

The end result is going to be a shrinking of our previously-widening circle of trust.

The benefit of the doubt is priceless. I have no patience for people who want to take it away from us.

I think about trust a lot.

I grew up in a family much more comfortable expressing anger, verbally, or not discussing feelings at all. I spent my childhood between boarding school and summer camp, surrounded by strangers, some of who were horrible, some of whom became dear friends.

When you’ve seen that people don’t want to listen to you, or misuse and twist what you’ve shared with them, trust isn’t something you later just quickly hand over to everyone!

I’ve learned this the hard way.

So it’s left me very wary.

In my 20s, I made the fatal error of telling a few coworkers II thought were friends something potentially damaging to me personally who, of course, used it against me. I left Toronto and never went back.

In my late 30s, divorced and lonely and my self-confidence at a very low ebb, I met a charming, handsome man through a personals ad — remember those?!

He said he was a lawyer and had a business card and personal stationery that seemed legit and spent a lot of time on the phone arguing with his “partner.”

He was just a con man who had already rooked a bunch of women in Chicago, done time for his crimes, and was now picking off fresh prey in New York and a few other states at once.

It became the most frightening experience of my life because the police laughed at me when I realized what a victim I’d become and the district attorney laughed because “no harm was done.”

Riiiiight.

The breast cancer diagnosis I got in June 2018 (early stage, no chemo) finally broke me open. I had to trust a whole new medical team to be kind and gentle and skilled — from the tiny black dot tattoos they put on your skin to guide the radiation machine to the techs who lay me face down there daily for 20 days.

Journalism is an odd business — because my role is to win trust fast from total strangers.

How un-natural!

But I’ve learned how to do that and I’m good at it. Mostly it requires empathy. Really listening carefully without judgment.

There’s also now a very deep and widespread mistrust of journalists, which really upsets me. The monster who screamed FAKE NEWS at us for four years made sure of that.

So we’re really at a crisis point when it comes to trust.

I’m not at all sure how we re-build it.

How it happens…

 

IMG_5790By Caitlin Kelly

This isn’t a cheery holiday post, but a bit of personal history that the arrest of Ghislaine Maxwell has brought back up for me…

The authorities had been tracking Ms. Maxwell’s movements and had recently learned about her relocation to the New Hampshire home, an F.B.I. official said.

The indictment charged Ms. Maxwell with six counts, including transportation of a minor with intent to engage in criminal sexual activity. She also faces perjury charges for statements she made during a deposition in 2016 about her role in Mr. Epstein’s alleged sex trafficking operation.

“Maxwell enticed minor girls, got them to trust her, then delivered them into the trap that she and Epstein had set for them,” Audrey Strauss, the acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference on Thursday.

 

 

I was never — thank heaven — sexually groomed and victimized.

But I absolutely understand how it happens, and have written here before about this, so I won’t get back into all the grim details.

In 1998, I was a lonely, worried, isolated new divorcee, with no children, living in the suburbs of New York — an affluent place full of people with kids. This was back when we had and read weekly alternative newspapers, whose personal ads were still a thing, when the Internet was newer as a way to meet potential partners.

I answered an ad placed, it said, by a lawyer who liked to play tennis. “Integrity and honesty paramount,” it said.

But of course it did — placed by a convicted con man who had already victimized many people in Chicago, done time and moved to New York to start again.

He was, oddly, extremely kind and apparently generous, bringing me a pot of home-made soup when I was ill, “paying” for a plane ticket to Australia after I missed my flight (part of his set-up since he made me late), quickly cooing at me (which I found creepy and weird) how much he loved me.

It took me four long crazy months, and hiring a former NYPD detective turned private investigator to finally smoke the guy out, to realize what I had allowed to enter my life and terrorize me.

By then, he’d committed at least six more felonies, including opening my mail, activating a credit card in my name, using that card and forging my signature — in front of me.

And the police and district attorney laughed it all off, because it was “only” fraud.

My point?

Predators choose their victims carefully.

Maxwell, allegedly,  did her grooming very skilfully — finding young, vulnerable women who found her attention thrilling, at first.

What I learned very painfully, as an adult in 1998, is that being vulnerable and alone can leave one very easy pickings for people with nefarious purposes.

Nice isn’t always that at all.

After I recovered from my own experience, I joined a church, shored up my friendships and took a long time to trust again.

The book every girl must read is The Gift of Fear, by Gavin deBecker.

It is a brilliant analysis of all the many powerful ways girls and women are socialized to be delighted by attention and what appears to be affection.

To let a kindly stranger “help” us when we’re lonely and broke and scared.

Being vulnerable means being too open, too trusting, too quick to set aside our intuition that it’s time to flee.

From Wikipedia, and from the book, his useful warning signs that someone is grooming you:

  • Forced Teaming. This is when a person implies that they have something in common with their chosen victim, acting as if they have a shared predicament when that isn’t really true. Speaking in “we” terms is a mark of this, i.e. “We don’t need to talk outside… Let’s go in.”
  • Charm and Niceness. This is being polite and friendly to a chosen victim in order to manipulate him or her by disarming their mistrust.
  • Too many details. If a person is lying they will add excessive details to make themselves sound more credible to their chosen victim.
  • Typecasting. An insult is used to get a chosen victim who would otherwise ignore one to engage in conversation to counteract the insult. For example: “Oh, I bet you’re too stuck-up to talk to a guy like me.” The tendency is for the chosen victim to want to prove the insult untrue.
  • Loan Sharking. Giving unsolicited help to the chosen victim and anticipating they’ll feel obliged to extend some reciprocal openness in return.
  • The Unsolicited Promise. A promise to do (or not do) something when no such promise is asked for; this usually means that such a promise will be broken. For example: an unsolicited, “I promise I’ll leave you alone after this,” usually means the chosen victim will not be left alone. Similarly, an unsolicited “I promise I won’t hurt you” usually means the person intends to hurt their chosen victim.
  • Discounting the Word “No”. Refusing to accept rejection.

I admit it — I fell prey to numbers 4, 5 and 6.

 

I hope this is never your fate.

 

How it feels to get seriously scammed

 

IMG_20150107_102116080
Where’s Sherlock Holmes when you need him????

 

By Caitlin Kelly

Not good, guys. Not good at all.

Here’s a recent and truly shocking scam perpetrated in a world I know somewhat, that of photographers and other creatives:

It all started with an email from Wendi Murdoch. She claimed that she had found us through a personal recommendation from a senior editor at Conde Naste Traveler. We had just finished talking with Conde Nast Traveler about doing some Instagram featured work on both my (https://www.instagram.com/humminglion/) and Zory’s (https://www.instagram.com/zorymory/) accounts, so the timing made sense. Flattered, I kept reading her pitch about needing some up and coming photographers to help capture the essence of China for an upcoming exhibit centered around the Beijing Winter Olympics in 2022.

I had a rough idea of who Wendi Murdoch was: a Chinese American art philanthropist and shrewd businesswoman who made waves with an expensive divorce from media tycoon Rupert Murdoch.

The photographer flew from San Francisco to Jakarta — of course on her own dime and time — and ended up losing $7,500.

 

How can anyone be so stupid? So gullible?

 

Hah! Read a new book, Duped, by veteran journalist Abby Ellin about the liar she almost married. Ellin is nobody’s fool, but was also — and who hasn’t felt this way? — lonely and ready for romance with a handsome and accomplished man who wanted to marry her.

Her gut told her some of his stories felt really unlikely, but (and I know this feeling too, as a fellow career journalist), some stories are both unlikely and true. And no one really wants to keep cross-examining a man who professes love to you.

In 1998, I answered a personal ad in a local weekly newspaper from a man who said he was a lawyer. His “housekeeper” was on the phone with me, as was his (real) mother, Alma.

Here’s his story in the Chicago Tribune, where he deceived many local women before moving to New York and starting again; there, he pretended to be a doctor.

I dated him for four months before (thank God) randomly meeting a former NYPD detective-turned-private-eye who discovered within a day what a bad guy he really was. It was a terrifying experience as this guy stole my mail, used my credit card, forged my signature in front of me…and became so frightening I slept for a week at a friend’s house.

Best of all?

The cops wouldn’t take my case and the district attorney literally laughed it off as “no harm done.”

 

How do these creeps operate so effectively?

 

– Use some elements of checkable truth that victims will recognize and find comfortingly familiar

— Flatter victims by admiring something about them

— Learn their specific weaknesses and fears and exploit those

— Count on victims getting blamed for their stupidity and being too embarrassed to alert police and push for arrest and conviction

— Make sure much of it is deniable as a “he said/she said”

— Manipulate their emotions by confusingly flipping from loving and attentive behavior to aggressive and threatening, throwing victims into mystified anxiety and fear

— Threaten victims with retaliation

— Count on victim’s discomfort with appearing cynical and untrusting, even when red flags are flapping!

 

 

Have you ever been the victim of a scammer?

Avoid a predator — read “Dirty John”

 

trust-torn

By Caitlin Kelly

This is a must-read for any woman dating people she doesn’t know well or hasn’t met through people she completely trusts.

If she’s easily prone to being quickly wooed, beware!

It’s a new six-part series, and podcast, from the L.A. Times, by Christopher Gofford, and took more than a year to report.

It’s the true story of a multiply divorced California woman, a financially successful interior designer — desperately lonely — who was targeted by John Meehan, a con man.

It’s terrifying, compelling and an essential read to understand that:

— such men exist

— such men seek out victims and select them carefully

— such men groom their victims, love-bombing them with gifts and cards and “kindness”

— failing to ask why they’re so “kind” to someone they barely know is imprudent

— such men quickly insinuate themselves into their victims’ lives

— such men are sociopathic and vicious when exposed

— such men are professional liars and who, really, will others believe — them or you?

 

I know this because I’ve also been a victim of one.

 

In December 1997 I met a charming, handsome, intelligent man who — within a few weeks of meeting me — brought a pot of home-made soup to my door, bought me gifts and told me repeatedly how much he loved me.

He pretended to be a successful lawyer, a partner in a three-person downtown New York City law firm, complete with engraved stationery, business cards and other “evidence” of his false identity; in Chicago (where his exploits made front page of the Chicago Tribune) he’d posed as a doctor, using a business card with impressive initials that anyone who knows medicine would instantly know was fake.

He kept proposing marriage, sending dozens of emails and cards attesting to his immediate attraction and devotion, as did John Meehan, a standard MO for con men. (I found this weird and excessive, not romantic.)

It took me longer than it should have — (lonely and insecure = vulnerable) — to flee his clutches, at which point, like Meehan, he began threatening me and my family. Not with physical harm, as Meehan did, but in my case called my local district attorney to lie about me; as someone who lives in the U.S. as a resident alien (i.e. not a citizen) he knew this could make my solo life difficult. And knew, even irrationally, I feared that.

I was terrified by his screaming phone calls, and stayed at a friend’s home for a few days.

As did Meehan’s victim, I hired a detective, a former NYPD policeman, who quickly discovered and told me the sordid truth.

By that point, the guy had stolen and opened my mail, activated my new credit card and used it, forging my signature — all felonies.

The police and district attorney all laughed in my face. It was “only fraud” they said.

“No harm done,” they said.

Because “my” con man was careful to steal only a certain amount from each of his many victims, the banks didn’t care — it’s a cost of doing business to them.

Because the amounts were small enough, (typically $1,000 or less), the credit card companies also wouldn’t chase him and prosecute — and the costs of this fraud is built into our interest rates.

Because the women he victimized were so embarrassed and ashamed or police disbelieved them or DAs wouldn’t take on their cases, he was rarely arrested, prosecuted and convicted.

Because the women he chose to steal from should have known better, should have asked tougher questions, should have dumped him fast, their friends and family — like mine —  were furious at our stupidity and gullibility.

These men (and women!) lie for a living.

Like Meehan, the man I was victimized by is now dead. Thank God.

A book I highly recommend to every girl and woman is The Gift of Fear, written by a security expert, with a one page checklist of warning signs. It clearly explains how the way women are socialized to be “nice” and compliant can endanger us.

 

I urge everyone to read this series or listen to the podcast — and share it with women you know and care about.

 

It’s highly instructive and shows how to spot the warning signs of a similar predator.

If you recognize them, please flee, fast.

They’re out there.

He’s dead — and I’m relieved

By Caitlin Kelly

Time to let go, at last
Time to let go, at last

The world is divided into two groups: people who have become unwitting victims of crime, and those who have not.

It is further subdivided into those who have sought redress and action, from the police and their judicial system, and those who chose not to.

And, yet again, into those whom the judicial system offered recompense, in the form of an arrest, successful prosecution and conviction.

One description we all hope to avoid in this world is plaintiff.

In late December 1997, I met a man through a personal ad in a local weekly newspaper. “Integrity and honesty paramount,” it read. He said he was an athlete and a lawyer. He was slim, slight, dark-haired and dark-eyed, handsome and intelligent. He dressed well and wore crisp white button-down cotton shirts.

He had small teeth, like a child’s, and small hands, someone physically unimposing, someone you’d be silly to fear.

But someone you should.

He was, it became clear much later, a convicted con man who had wrought havoc in Chicago, defrauding local business — and several area women — before being arrested, convicted and serving time.

Then he picked up and moved to suburban New York, where he began again.

And found me.

I won’t bore you with the many arcane details of the four months this man was in my life, morphing , (or not, really), from attentive, generous boyfriend to threatening and emotionally abusive criminal.

When we met, I was planning to fly to Australia, alone, hoping to report a story for my first book, but I missed my connecting flight — costing me an additional $1,800 for a last-minute one-way ticket on Christmas Eve — then, as now, a huge sum for a self-employed writer. Purporting to be a wealthy and successful lawyer, he offered to pay my ticket — just as well, since his deliberate tardiness had made me late for that first flight from New York to Los Angeles.

Instead, it was the first of many traps he laid, his “kindness” a powerful form of entrapment-through-gratitude. He wove a web of obligation and connection, skilled from years of practice.

For years after I rid myself of him, and his ancient, wizened mother, Alma, who helped him in his schemes, I wondered who else he was targeting, cheating and lying to. I wondered if anyone would ever get him arrested and charged and convicted — my local police and district attorney literally laughed me out of their offices when I brought them evidence of the six felonies he had committed against me, including credit card theft and forgery of my signature.

I even wondered if another victim — as one friend also suggested — had killed him, as enraged as I had been once I realized how he’d manipulated and duped me.

So last week, I Googled him. And found a record of his New York City death, in 2007, at the age of 48.

I shook and slept very badly that night. Could it be that he truly was gone? How? When?

When I realized what he’d been doing to me — and to other women simultaneously, as it turned out — I confronted him. The man who had been proposing marriage and telling me “I love you” changed his tune with one phone call.

The next three words were somewhat different, after I asked him if he had stolen and used my credit card — as my issuer had alerted me.

“It’s not provable,” he said icily.

And it was not.

Since then, I refuse to visit the town he lived in, a fact I only discovered by hiring a private detective, a calm, gentle man in whose debt I will remain for life as only he  — a former New York City detective — truly understood the psychic devastation such vicious deception leaves in its wake.

My job as a journalist is discerning the truth in people, making intelligent judgments about their veracity.

For many months, I doubted this ability, terrified to trust any new man in my life. I lost any faith I once had in the police and judicial system to protect me from harm. I changed my locks and bank account numbers and got an additional unlisted phone number. My family and friends were furious with me for not figuring out who he was, quickly and easily.

It taught me, too, about my own vulnerability, how my isolation and sense of insecurity — like carrion in the road — had attracted his determined attention. I wised up.

It is hard to accept that he is no longer a threat to me or to anyone else.

But I am relieved.

My Con Man Wasn't Madoff — But Just As Ruthless And Deceptive

Jail cell in the Brecksville Police Department...
Where he belonged, but didn't end up...Image via Wikipedia

I left the first Madoff auction feeling shaken. The day was long and tiring, with packs of aggressive reporters everywhere competing for this major story. But that’s not why I felt a little ill.

Thinking all day about a man who deceived so many out of so much resonated because, ten years ago, I also became the victim of a con man. Dozens of other women in many states across the country have also become his fiscal and psychic feeding grounds, but I never knew them personally, only heard about them or read of them — later — in press accounts of our stories. Alone, we nurse(d) our wounds.

He was less skilled and sophisticated than Madoff, but no less vicious. He, too, had his moments of fame — appearing on “American Journal”, a television tabloid show, and on the front pages of Chicago newspapers; he had bilked many locals by posing as a physician, with a fake business card trumpeting his imaginary but clearly impressive credentials. Anyone who knew anything about medicine would have known at once he was a fraud. But he looked and sounded like someone successful and accomplished, and that was enough to persuade women to agree to marry him after a few dates, even to get a local car dealer to send over a sports car “on approval.”

The world is divided into two: those who have never become a victim of crime, and those of us who have.

That my local police and district attorney laughed at me and dismissed my case only cemented my isolation. A sociopath doesn’t always sound like the brutal thug s/he is. He may dress well, sport the reassuringly upscale trappings of wealth, (paid for by his victims),  and speak intelligently and persuasively to people with great power and wealth. Only after his carefully-laid trap has shattered your leg bone do you truly, viscerally understand what it feels like to be the victim of a predator for whom victim selection is normal behavior. Business as usual.

Con men succeed in their goals by winning our confidence. They behave with confidence, radiating energy, certainty, success. They are deeply, powerfully seductive in this respect.

We met when I answered his personals ad in a local weekly paper. “Honesty and integrity paramount,” his ad said. Indeed. Our four months together became a deeply disorienting, eventually frightening maze of  his relentless and complex deceptions and increasingly bizarre behavior.

At first, of course, he was charming, good-looking, funny and fun. He was, in fact, very good company. Until he wasn’t. Continue reading “My Con Man Wasn't Madoff — But Just As Ruthless And Deceptive”