Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fleecing as an Example of Repeating Trauma (and the limitations of "knowing" people via the internet)

A recent article in the Economist provoked an interesting discussion in my home the other day. As the subject of the compulsion to repeat and reenact trauma has been a matter of discussion, my husband thought this recent article, in some ways, presented a real life example of the phenomenon. In what has been termed affinity fraud, it seems that Christians are easy targets for fleecing. People in churches are taught to give and they're manipulated to give through a host of pressures.

Sometimes, it's also a matter of giving in order to get something. Sometimes, it is a type of religious obligation, and Christians are encouraged to show themselves repeatedly as easy targets. We recalled several examples of the pressures we've endured in churches and the people who have been manipulated and used, over and over again. Trust and generosity become measures of spirituality, and spiritually abusive groups keep tabs. It's certainly a good example of Cialdini's Weapons of Influence, but for trusting Christians, it can and does become a repetitive trauma.

From Fleecing the Flock in the current edition of The Economist:
Why do such people let their guard down? “Everyone is looking for a shorthand way to judge character, and affinity settings offer that, at least in theory,” says Jeff Robinson, head of the Utah County Attorney’s investigations bureau. Tribal ties foster trust, which is usually a good thing (see article). But it can be abused.

Another factor is the rise of “prosperity theology”, or the belief that God wants Christians to be rich as well as good. This idea has taken root fastest in black and Hispanic churches. The problem is that it puts pressure on congregations to invest successfully, which makes them more vulnerable, says Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation, which investigates church fraud.
[Blog host note: Ole Anthony is an excellent example of such fraud. He's one of the biggest offenders. Read more about him and the Duncans' experience in Anthony's own mind control cult HERE.]

Social media make affinity fraud quicker. Bonds that used to take years to establish can be forged in days on Facebook or Twitter. Fraudsters read potential victims’ online profiles, and use the information they glean to refine their pitches. In a recent case, the SEC won a restraining order against a scam targeting users of chat sites popular with the deaf. . .

Investigators face strong headwinds. One is that victims are often reluctant to come forward. Some cannot admit to themselves what they have lost. Others don’t want their families to know: older victims often fear being deemed unable to manage their lives and shoved in a home. In religious cases, there is often an unwritten rule that what happens in church stays there, with disputes handled by the church elders or the minister. Many frauds are dauntingly complex. One Ponzi, at the Baptist Foundation of Arizona, used 120 shell firms to extract $590m from members.

10Apr12 Addendum: More about finding unsuspecting victims on the internet. 

Social media and communication with people that one does not meet in real life can put people at risk because of the limited amount of information that one can learn about a person. It is much easier to create a facade and mask elements of one's personality when communication is largely limited to electronic communication avenues, be they through online chatting or through email. Even if you add telephone contact, people can still conceal significant facts about themselves.  Be careful!

A fellow blogger has recently posted (see here) about a woman he's been working with who professes Christ. She was severely abused by her ex for 37 years, and left him about a year ago. In that short time, she has very nearly connected with two more full-blown psychopaths. How? The internet. Specifically through “Christian” chat channels. After some strong 'wake up calls' from her pastor and other survivors, this woman has now ditched the man who could so easily have become her next abuser.