MONTERREY: Looking For Love (Or Likes!) In All The Wrong Places

Debbie Monterrey
March 05, 2018 - 7:20 pm

by Debbie Monterrey, [email protected]

Many of us have a love-hate relationship with social media, and with good reason.

Social media has given us the world at our fingertips--news and information on demand, the ability to keep up with friends around the country, state opinions, share jokes, even meet people.

On the other hand, it's shown us sides of people we'd rather not see. People get ugly quickly online.  It sets us up with unrealistic expectations and a constant sense that others have more than us, are happier than us, that we're lacking. And sometimes, people are vulnerable online, leaving them wide-open for getting scammed.

Recently, the Better Business Bureau held a news conference in coordination with the U.S. Attorney's Office of Southern Illinois. The topic? Romance scams. A big-time scammer was prosecuted in Fairview Heights and ended up pleading guilty. 

Debbie Monterrey

Olayinka Sunmola, a Nigerian operating out of South Africa, is thought to be responsible for scamming hundreds of women out of  $700,000. He would target them on dating sites like eHarmony. According to Nathan Stump, Assistant U.S. Attorney, Sunmola would quickly move a "fish" he caught to email or texting or instant messaging where he would spend weeks or months developing a relationship. 

The playbook is pretty typical for this scam industry that's netted about $1-billion over the past few years. In fact, there are even scripts. Sunmola (and his ring) would typically portray themselves as an American who is overseas, either in the military or government contractor (that helps explain why they can't meet up); often widowed (because that's sympathetic) and maybe with children (what a guy!); and they often claim to be religious (can be trusted!). 

Debbie Monterrey

Once the "fish" is fully hooked, the requests for money come. Maybe he's having money troubles and can't afford the ticket to come visit, maybe it's a medical emergency. If the woman didn't have any money, they might get pulled into some illegality, like unwittingly cashing counterfeit checks or being part of a reshipping scam. One of Sunmola's victims ended up being prosecuted for bad checks, another area woman was taken for $90,000 forcing her to go back to work after she'd retired. Three women filed for bankruptcy. Two women were blackmailed with pictures Sunmola either hacked from their computers or urged them to send him. 

But aside from the loss of money is the heartbreak and embarrassment. Stump says most people never report these crimes because it's so humiliating and those who did report it didn't necessarily want to go to court and tell the world what happened. These women suffered profound emotional trauma, says Stump. They thought they'd found true love. One woman, even after she knew she'd been scammed, still wanted to keep in touch with Sunmola. The relationship was so real to her, it felt like a death or a divorce to let it go.

While it may be hard for many of us to imagine getting scammed like this, it can happen to anyone. It happens to men as well, and it's not a scam relegated to dating sites. I get friend requests on Facebook often from men whose profiles say they are a) overseas b) widowed c) in the military d) want to get to know me better. I immediately reject those. 

We've become a society that now prefers to meet and communicate through a screen rather than in person.

What's that doing to us?

According to Dr. Tim Bono, professor at Washington University, the more time college students spend on Facebook, the less happy they are. More time on social media is associated with lower self-esteem, less optimism, less motivation and less sleep. And mental illness is on the rise.

In Bono's book, "When Likes Aren't Enough: A Crash Course in the Science of Happiness," he notes that from 2007 to 2015, the suicide rate for teenagers increased 31% for boys and more than doubled for girls. One in two college students rates their mental health below average or poor. Universities are facing unprecedented numbers of students needing counseling or mental health help. 

Addiction to our smartphones (and the social media apps on them) is pervasive. It's an everyday occurence to see a group of friends sitting together in public, all with their faces in their phones, not interacting with each other. When Bono asked his students to do an experiment--sit quietly for six minutes--many couldn't do it or found it excruciating. Just six minutes, sitting quietly alone with our thoughts, has become impossible for many of us. 

Our smartphone/social media addiction also finds many of us no longer enjoying the experience. Instead, that event has become something to photograph, roll video on, put through a filter and get up on Instagram or Facebook or Tweet it out because we NEED other people to know, "Look where I am! See what I'm doing?" And then we spend the rest of that event checking how many likes we got on our posts. Each like is a little jolt of adrenaline and dopamine. It says, "I'm loved, I'm interesting, I'm relevant." Few or no likes means exactly the opposite. Cue the sad violin music.

Social media isn't going away any time soon. But armed with knowledge we can try guarding against its ill-effects and guard our wallets and hearts from unscrupulous people who would take advantage of us.

And next time, instead of reaching instantly for your phone while you're waiting in line somewhere, why not people watch? Or take a few deep breaths and practice mindfulness? Or carry a book with you to read in downtimes?

You can train yourself to be more happy and more positive. Dr. Bono writes about it in his book. One of the easiest things: gratitude. Think of the things in your life for which you are grateful. Do it every day. Make it a habit. Write it down (or post it on Facebook!). Because social media increases what we want. We see what other people have and we want it. We want we want we want and it's making us miserable.

The formula for happiness, according to Bono, is not more money or losing weight or a better job. It's a simple equation:

Debbie Monterrey


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