Flip it!

What are we referring to here?  Photos.  Some scammers will flip the stolen photos they use so they’re not found by image search sites.  If you’re doing an image search, try flipping it around and doing a second search.  It may just show you the true identity of the person in it.

It seems I need to repeat myself.

The steps we advise for blackmail/sextortion victims is based on our years of experience with scammers and from dealing with thousands of cases.  We are the #1 place to come to for help, yet people still insist on ignoring what we say.  Deactivating FaceBook for 2 weeks is the most important step, but the one most people ignore.  Why?  Seriously, why?  Some days it feels like we’re banging our heads against a wall.

iDate conference 2015 – Some random thoughts.

To finish off discussing the iDate conference in Las Vegas, here are a few random thoughts about the experience.

Firstly, the toilets in America freaked me out to start.  The water level in them is much higher than those in the UK.  The first time I flushed one, I thought it was going to overflow!  In fact, the first one I saw, I thought was blocked so moved to a different one.  I had to check three to make sure they were all at the same level.

I didn’t have to tip anywhere near as much as I thought I would.  My mother had advised me to take lots of dollar bills, but I barely used a quarter of them.  American money is tough to get used to as well.  All the same size and similar colours.  I had to double check every time I paid for something.

When you’re in a plane, it seems to be moving much slower than it actually is.  I completely understand why people pick the window seat.  The view is quite breathtaking.  Airline food isn’t as bad as people make it out to be either.

How much did I lose on the slots?  About $30.  I also still don’t fully understand the rules of craps despite Marc explaining them to me repeatedly.

Drinks at the bars can be expensive.  Really expensive.  Food, not so much.  If you want a few brewskis in your hotel room, go find a shop that sells them.  You’ll save a fortune.

The Strip is full of people trying to hand you flyers for hookers.  And beggars.  And people trying to sell you their CD and/or book of poetry.  And lookalikes.  And performance artists.  Word of advice.  Standing there wearing a crap, badly fitting Hello Kitty costume that looks like it was dragged out of a costume shop’s bin isn’t going to encourage anyone to give you money.

Every casino looks the same once you’re inside.  All gaudy carpets and wall to wall slots.  Even the Venetian.  But it is worth checking it out for the fake sky effect they have and the gondolas.

We saw a recently married couple posing for photos on the road and holding up the traffic.  Luckily, under the circumstances, no one seemed to mind.

Why is it, the more expensive the hotel, the more white linen and towels they use?  Maybe it’s to show they’re clean?

People were more than happy to hand me their camera and ask to take photos of them.  Maybe I have an honest face, or they just figured they could outrun me if I tried to make a dash with it.  Yeah, probably that one.

The police officers I saw had these cool little electric trike things to get around with.

Bring a book or MP3 player with you.  Those waits at the airports are tedious.  Long flights are hell on your backside too.

And finally, would I go again?  Maybe.  It’s easy to get bored very quickly there if I’m honest.  If I did go again, I’d definitely not do it alone.  The next conference I’ll be attending will be in London.  It’s a short drive along the M4, and I can bring plenty of drinks with me in the car.  Plus there’s the advantage of no jetlag!

 

 

iDate conference 2015 – part 4.

The final day of the conference arrived, and I spent the morning jumping between shaking hands with people and chilling in my room.  Being so close to the conference was a great thing.  I’m not a people person, so having somewhere I could go to when things got a little too much was a godsend.  Lunch was OK.  Not as good as the day before, but once again I got to chat with people about what we do on the site.  At 2pm I was sitting on the stage ready for the panel.  Marc Lesnick introduced everyone and gave me a glowing introduction.  He described me as a hero, explained that we do this purely to help people and told everyone to listen to what I had to say as I knew more about scammers than they did.  I do have a bad quality video of it that will be put up here as soon as possible.  This panel went really well.  Much more questions came my way, and I got to answer then with an air of someone who knew what they were talking about.  Afterward I was approached again with more questions by site owners about how to find if they were reported on our site.  After that was the final panel.  Eight of the biggest names in the dating industry sat on the stage for an hour and answered questions.  Now the conference was over and I could relax.

Elisa and I had arranged to meet for something to eat before the party that night.  Guess what I had.  Yup, another burger.  The party itself was a let down.  Most people had already left at that point, so a few of us went back to the Tropicana for drinks instead.  There I got to meet Svetlana Mukha, a matchmaker from Ukraine.  She was an absolute joy.  Passionate about what she does, and practically beaming as she showed me photographs from the weddings of people she had matched.  Marc joined us and even offered to drive me around the strip when he found out I’d hardly seen any of Vegas in my time there.  In the end it was agreed that Elisa and I would walk the strip the next day.  The night ended with Elisa and I in Marc’s hotel room discussing the dating industry until around 6am.

My final day was spent checking out the sights of Vegas.  We had a wonderful time taking in the view, avoiding the peddlars and generally soaking in the atmosphere.  We ate at Pin-up Pizza (no burger for me this time) and must have wandered around for 5 or 6 hours.  Then finally it was time for me to get my flight home.  The flights are a blur.  I dozed off a lot, almost fell asleep in Newark airport and spent the next 24 hours making my way back home.

So here I am, 2 days after landing, still jetlagged but otherwise back to normality.  There are a bunch of people I should thank for making Vegas such a pleasure.  Firstly Marc Lesnick for making sure I got there, Elisa Mclean for being such wonderful company, Scamalytics for being cool guys, Svetlana for showing me the good side of internet dating, all the people at the conference who made me feel welcome and the staff in the hotels and shops who shattered my illusions of the force smiled “have a nice day” I was expecting.  The next conference I’ll be attending will be in London, and I’m already looking forward to it.

 

iDate 2015 – part 3

So the day of the conference arrives, and I’m up fairly early all things considered.  My room is less than 2 minutes from the conference, so I can nip in and out as I please.  It also meant I could keep the rest of the site staff updated on what was happening.  One of the exhibitors was a company called VerifiedByCam.  It’s a great idea where a person makes a video to prove their identity as a way to stop scammers from joining sites.  Simple and effective and I wish I’d thought of it.  I also spent an hour chatting with Steven Baker of the FTC about romance scams.  One alarming fact he shared with me is that the number of people in Australia who take their own life after being the victim of a romance scam is higher than the number of people murdered.  That really shook me up!

Lunch was great.  That’s all I really have to say about that.  In case you’re interested, I had the salad, potato salad and chicken.  I managed to talk to a few people during that too, explaining what we are and what we do.  People were genuinely interested, but seemed confused when I explained we don’t do this for profit.

2pm came, and it was time for me to be on my first panel.  To be honest, most of the questions were for the legal guys, but I did manage to answer a few questions.  Upon leaving the stage I was approached about writing a blog entry by Charly Lester of timeout.  After that, more mingling, more getting our name out and more trips back to the hotel room to keep everyone up to date on events.

The iDate awards ceremony was that night.  Tickets were over 100 bucks, but Nick from Scamalytics offered to pay for one for me.  It was a kind offer, but I refused.  If you’re interested, you can see the winners at http://www.idateawards.com/nominations-las-vegas-2015.php  I’m jumping ahead of myself a little here, but the next day I was told by Marc that he’d quite happily have gotten me in for free if I’d wanted to go.

So finally the Pinball Hall of Fame.  The conference laid on free buses there, and had free drinks.  Now, I love pinball.  I suck at it, but I love it.  We drank, played pinball, chatted, laughed and had a great time.  In fact, one person who shall remain nameless (not me!) practically had to be dragged out he was having so much fun reliving his youth.  Midnight struck, and it was my birthday.  I managed to celebrate my birthday in the Pinball Hall of Fame.  I also spent a long time discussing the castles in Wales with the owner.  After that, a few of us went back to the bar for a nightcap and a meal.  Another burger for me.  Are you sensing a trend here?  2am saw me off to bed, the first day over.

In the next entry, we’ll discuss the second day of the conference.

iDate 2015, part 2.

As I stated in my previous blog post, my first full day in Vegas started off pretty miserably.  I was tired, emotional and had a stomach that was doing its best impression of stormy seas.  Checkout was at 11am, so I packed up, handed in my keys and set off for the Tropicana.  As bad as the other two hotels were, this made up for it times ten.  The place was HUGE!  It was bright, gaudy, loud and I loved it.  Check in wasn’t for another hour, so I chilled by the bar and had a few non alcoholic drinks.  One interesting thing for the Brits.  You can smoke in the hotel bar and around the slot machines.  That was quite the culture shock for me.  Once checked in, I had to walk through the casino, up the escalator, along another long hall to the conference center, in the elevator to the 12th floor, along another hallway and to my room.  By the time I’d done that it felt like I’d walked from the UK to the US!  Once unpacked, it was time to hit the shops for presents.  This became a major part of the next two days.  I never really travelled far from the hotel.  Everything I needed was within a mile circle of the hotel.  Walk to the shops, do some shopping, walk back to the hotel room, chill out for a while, then repeat.  During one of these trips, I bumped into a familiar face and accent.  Elisa Mclean from Queek’d is someone I’d met a few months earlier in Manchester when I was up there filming.  We’d discussed working together on some stuff for her app, and I’d written a long piece about scammers for her.  She was meeting the guys from Scamalytics the next day and invited me along.  I’d met Scamalytics at the Germany iDate conference the year before and we’d been working with them on some stuff too.

The evening can be described with one image:

IMG_20150119_212354

Yep, there was a fire at the hotel!  Sorry scammers, your assassination attempt failed.  You picked the wrong floor.  Better luck next time 😛

So, after all that drama I finally managed to get a good night’s sleep.  The meeting was at 12:30, so I snuck off to do some more shopping.  Let me say that everyone I spoke to was incredibly friendly.  Not fake friendly, but genuinely friendly.  I even had a 20 minute conversation with one lady working in a shop about flights and the shows to see.  I finally ate too.  Just a banana, but it was a start.  The meeting with Elisa and Scamalytics went well.  After that I did some more strolling around before bumping into Elisa again and arranging to go get something to eat later on.  I had a burger and even found some hard cider to drink.  Company, food AND cider.  I was in heaven!  I was invited to a speakers party in Marc’s room, but by now I was tired so went to bed.

I’ll continue this story in the next blog post, when I meet lots more people and finally get to play pinball.

iDate 2015, part 1.

On December 18th last year, it was decided that I’d attend this year’s iDate conference in Vegas.  This was a BIG thing, not just for the site, but for me personally as I’ve never wanted to fly before.  This would be the first time I’ve ever been on a plane, and I was really not looking forward to it.  Scared would be an understatement.  At 4pm on the 17th of January I started my journey.  I had to get a bus to Swansea, then one to London, stay in a hotel overnight and be at the airport at around 8am.  On the bus to London I started having second thoughts.  I really didn’t know if I could do it, and seriously considered getting the next bus back home.  My mood wasn’t raised when I saw the hotel room I was staying in.  It was right next to the airport and boy, could you hear those planes taking off!  I spoke to Marc Lesnick, the conference organiser to let him know I was on my way.  I think he was genuinely relieved to hear I hadn’t backed out, as he knew just how scared I was about the whole thing.  As this was my first flight, and it was a long flight, I decided to upgrade my seat.  Nothing fancy, just from economy to economy plus.  It meant I’d hopefully have the seats either side free, so wouldn’t feel confined for the 11 hours it would take to get to Los Angeles and hour to Vegas.  Luckily my gamble paid off for the first flight, and when I got on the plane I had the entire set of 3 seats to myself.  The valium my doctor had given me helped too.  I felt kind of numb in the head, but wasn’t having a panic attack,which was my main worry.  Food was OK, even if the combinations were a little odd to me.  The staff were pleasant and were constantly coming around with drinks.  The in flight entertainment was good as well.  In the end, that flight was actually pretty pleasant.  So far, so good.

After an uneventful flight to LAX, I met up with an old friend who’d offered to meet me and take me for food.  You’ll know him from the site as HillBilly.  Well, we went for food once we managed to find his car anyway.  We went to the In-N-Out burger nearby, but I couldn’t eat much.  My stomach was swirling and my brain was telling me “It’s midnight.  How the hell can you be eating burger and fries at midnight damnit!”.  What I did eat of it was pretty good though, I do have to admit.  Getting back into the airport meant having to go through the body scanner.  I had three 10p pieces and my mobile phone in my pockets, which I’d forgotten to remove.  A quick pat down by security and I was free to go.  My cunning plan of upgrading didn’t work so well this time.  The flight was packed and there were no empty seats next to me.  Luckily it was only a short flight, and soon I was in Vegas.   I knew Vegas was all about gambling, but I didn’t expect to see them in the airport too.  They really were everywhere.  At around 9pm Vegas time, I was finally out of the airport and got to experience the bright lights, albeit briefly.  After around 10 minutes in a shuttle bus, I arrived at my first hotel.

The hotel the conference was in – the Tropicana – was full that first night, but I had an early book in time the next morning.  I’d booked myself into a cheap room to start.  It was in a real dive of a hotel.  I logged onto my computer and had a message from Marc inviting me to breakfast the next morning if I was up to it.  My stomach decided on my behalf that there was no way I was going to be eating for the next 48 hours.  I checked in with family, made sure all was good at the site and hit the shower before getting some well earned sleep.  I woke up the next morning feeling utterly wretched.  Here I was, thousands of miles from home, all alone and really feeling completely out of my depth.  Luckily that wouldn’t last for much longer.

Stay tuned for part 2, when I meet friends old and new, attend the conference and celebrate my birthday by playing pinball.

What a week!

I’m finally home from Vegas, after 24 hours of sitting in airport lounges, sitting on planes, sitting on buses and sitting in cars.  Once my brain and my backside recover, I’ll post up a review of how it all went.

The dating sites need to do more.

We do all we can to help those who’ve been scammed, but without the help of the dating sites it’ll always be an uphill struggle.  Hopefully in the future we can work closer with the sites in educating their members on the ways to fight the scammers.  Until then, we’ll do all we can.