Abstinence for Scam Victims – A Requirement For Healing

By Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

The Crucial Role of Abstinence for Scam Victims: Navigating the Path to Recovery

Introduction to Abstinence

The prevalence of scams has risen to alarming levels – of course, scam victims all know that already.

Scammers are constantly devising new and sophisticated ways to exploit unsuspecting individuals, leaving their victims emotionally and financially devastated. They are especially out looking for previous victims since they are even more vulnerable than they were before their first scam. This is a major reason why abstinence is so important during recovery. Not just to avoid being scammed again, but to avoid the even worse trauma that comes with additional scams.

For those who have fallen victim to scams, the journey through recovery is a process of healing wounds and making informed choices to ensure future well-being.

One such vital choice is the practice of abstinence – a conscious decision to avoid any contact with potential scammers or platforms where they abound, such as dating websites.

Let’s delve into the importance of abstinence for scam victims and highlight why prematurely re-entering the realm of dating can disrupt or destroy the recovery process.

What Does Abstinence Mean?

What does abstinence mean for scam victims while they are recovering emotionally after a relationship scam?

In recovering from a relationship scam, “abstinence” refers to avoiding any further engagement or interaction with the scammer or any similar potentially harmful individuals. But even a real person met through a dating website can be harmful to a recovering scam victim.

It implies not only refraining from communicating, responding to messages, or participating in any activities initiated by the scammer but also returning to looking for a new romantic partner. During recovery, you should not introduce any strangers into your life.

This concept is borrowed from addiction recovery terminology, where abstinence means avoiding the substance or behavior that caused harm in the first place.

For scam victims, emotional recovery is crucial, and part of that process often involves detaching from the scammer and the toxic relationship they created. Abstinence in this sense helps the victim break free from the previous psychological hold the scammer may have had, and it gives them the space and time they need to heal, rebuild their self-esteem, and regain control over their life. But equally important is the recognition that after the first scam, victims are traumatized and poorly equipped to make good emotional decisions, especially when it comes to new relationships. Any such activity can lead right back to another scam, or even if it is with a real person to other lasting emotional harm.

During this recovery period, it’s important for scam victims to seek support from friends, family, victims’ assistance providers, or mental health professionals who can provide guidance and help them navigate the complex emotions and vulnerabilities that arise. Abstinence is just one aspect of the recovery process, but it can be a vital step in regaining a sense of personal agency and moving forward toward a healthier emotional state.

Let’s Look At Scam Victims

Scam victims are emotionally devastated after their relationship scam (including romance scams, pig butchering scams, etc.) They are usually traumatized and in great need to process their grief! They are also cognitively impaired for at least the first months to a year.

Is that the mindset that has the capabilities to make good relationship decisions? No, it is not. In fact, it is yet another disaster waiting to happen.

The vast majority of victims that return to dating in their first 9 months are scammed again – at least once.

But what happens if they actually do find a real person to date?

Our own Debby Montgomery Johnson (a SCARS Board Member) is the exception to the rule. She found another suitable person early after her scam ended and together they became their support structure. But the majority do not.

In fact, going back into dating before even becoming emotionally stable can lead to things like significant attachment issues, and seeking a savior. There are plenty of undesirable prospects out there that are ready to capitalize on just such vulnerabilities.

From abusers to narcissists, to psychopaths. Scam victims are extraordinarily vulnerable to domineering potential partners – in other words to being manipulated and controlled again – by criminals or real people.

Understanding Abstinence in the Context of Scam Recovery

Abstinence, commonly associated with refraining from addictive substances or behaviors, takes on a new significance in the aftermath of a scam. It is an intentional act of self-preservation that involves steering clear of individuals, situations, and places that could potentially expose victims to further harm.

In the context of scam victim recovery, abstinence entails a commitment to avoiding any contact with scammers, cutting ties with fraudulent schemes, and being vigilant about online interactions. All of which could lead to new risks because of increased vulnerability. That includes trying to return to dating, regardless of how safe a victim thinks they can be.

The Lure of Dating and Scam Vulnerability

All scam victims who are not already married want to find the right person for them. After all, for many, it was that search for a perfect partner was how they encountered the scammers, to begin with. But that did not work out so well that last time, did it?

Online dating platforms have transformed the way people connect, offering convenience and opportunities to build meaningful relationships. However, these platforms have also become a breeding ground for scammers who exploit individuals seeking companionship or romance. Scammers choke these platforms, on some, there may be as many as 90% fake profiles.

All relationship scam victims know what scammers are capable of doing to a person from their experience the first time through. Now just imagine how much more vulnerable and fragile they are after the first scam.

Returning to dating after being a scam victim can be a complex and challenging process for scam victims. While each individual’s experience is unique, there are several psychological and emotional factors that may contribute to the lure of returning to dating. However, the single major factor is the inability to properly evaluate their need for recovery and risk avoidance in their impaired mental state.

Because victims have not recovered they are easily swayed by emotional decision-making that causes a return to magical thinking and the inability to recognize risks properly:

  1. Loneliness and Isolation: Scam victims typically have experienced a significant loss of trust and connection in their lives. The feeling of loneliness and isolation can drive them to seek companionship and emotional connection through dating.
  2. Desire for Validation: Scammers are skilled at manipulating victims’ emotions and creating a false sense of intimacy. Victims may crave validation and affirmation that they are worthy of love and attention, leading them to seek out new relationships.
  3. Reclaiming Identity: Scam victims usually have experienced a loss of self-esteem and identity during the scam. Returning to dating could be seen as a way to regain a sense of self-worth and reclaim their identity as a desirable partner.
  4. Hope and Healing: Engaging in a new romantic relationship might symbolize hope for a brighter future and a way to move past the trauma of the scam. Victims may believe that a healthy relationship can help them heal and restore their faith in love.
  5. Normalcy and Routine: Reentering the dating scene can provide a sense of normalcy and routine in the aftermath of a scam. It may offer a distraction from the pain and disruption caused by the scam.
  6. Social Pressure: Society often places emphasis on romantic relationships as a marker of success and happiness. Scam victims might feel societal pressure to “get back out there” and start dating again.
  7. Emotional Vulnerability: Scam victims might find themselves in a vulnerable emotional state, making them more susceptible to forming new connections quickly as a way to cope with their feelings.
  8. Cravings: Many victims report craving the feeling of closeness and intimacy they experienced in the previous fake relationship. They want to recapture it again.

Each of these is an example of how scam victims have not restored their emotional stability and are acting impulsively. They are understandable in the desire to get the scam behind them, but it takes considerable time to heal from such an experience and rebounding is never advisable. In fact, giving in to these impulses can lead a victim into becoming a serial victim.

While these reasons may be understandable, it’s important for scam victims to avoid dating for their first 9 months, and then after that to approach dating cautiously and mindfully. Even after a victim’s recovery is well established, it’s advisable to take time for self-reflection, healing, and rebuilding emotional resilience before entering into a new romantic relationship. Seeking support from friends, family, or professionals who understand the complexities of post-scam recovery can be instrumental in making healthier and more informed decisions about dating and relationships.

Importance of Abstinence

Protecting Emotional and Financial Well-being:

  • Emotional Healing: Scam victims experience a range of emotions, including shame, guilt, anger, and betrayal. Not to mention significant trauma and grief. Engaging with scammers or strangers or platforms again will trigger these painful memories, hindering the healing process. Abstinence provides a safe space for victims to focus on their emotional recovery without the added stress of potential scam/stranger encounters. Additionally, the increased vulnerabilities following the first scam can make victims more likely to be victimized again.
  • Rebuilding Trust: Scams erode a victim’s ability to trust others, which can have lasting effects on their future relationships. Abstaining from interactions with scammers/strangers or similar platforms allows victims to rebuild their trust in a controlled environment, surrounded by genuine friends, family, and support networks. Most scam victims say they will never trust anyone again – is this really the mindset that someone needs to go out looking for a new relationship?
  • Financial Security: Financial losses resulting from scams can be devastating. Abstinence from further interactions with scammers or even strangers helps to prevent victims from falling into the same traps and helps them regain control of their finances. It also encourages victims to seek legal recourse and engage with financial professionals to rectify the damage. After the first scam ends, there are a significant number of serious decisions to be made about finances, taxes, possible bankruptcy, and maybe even legal actions – being distracted by even the idea of a new romance can derail the focus that will be needed to navigate these actions.

Simply put, reverting to online or any form of dating for scam victims in their first 9 months (and potentially longer) is an avoidance or negative coping mechanism, it allows a victim to ignore their pain and trauma, by living yet another fantasy.

They are very likely to latch onto the first possible candidate because that person checks all of their boxes: security, belief in happily ever after, support, and validation, but also allowing them to set aside the need for recovery.

Recovery is hard, but jumping back into someone’s arms is easy. It just bypasses everything that would be needed for recovery. But it also buries the trauma and avoids the work that is needed to recover.

‘Doing the same thing again and expecting different results’ is the mantra of a victim that jumps back into dating without adequate time in recovery.

The Risk of Prematurely Re-entering Dating

While the desire for companionship and love is natural, prematurely re-entering the world of dating after a scam can disrupt or completely stop the recovery process. And potentially create significant mental health issues for years to come.

Here’s why:

  • Vulnerability to Manipulation: Scammers are skilled at identifying vulnerable individuals. Scam victims, still grappling with the aftermath of their experience, will overlook red flags or be more susceptible to emotional manipulation. But even real people can exploit victims’ vulnerabilities for any purpose they choose, and victims are not prepared to see it. But it isn’t just scammers that manipulate vulnerable people – there are predators galore out in the dating world and victims are poorly equipped to spot and avoid them.
  • Unresolved Emotional Triggers: Prematurely engaging in dating can expose victims to situations that trigger unresolved emotions, potentially leading to further psychological distress. This would especially have a very negative impact on any relationship with whoever they are dating.
  • Heightened Anxiety: Interacting with strangers anywhere can exacerbate anxiety, especially for those who have been victimized. This anxiety can wreck the recovery process and stall emotional healing.
  • Deepening Trauma: Dating is a maze of hidden dangers emotionally. Just imagine the trauma that could come with another betrayal of any kind, real or imagined.
  • Promote Development of Mental Disorders: The negative consequences of dating for unprepared and unhealed scam victims can be significant, including the development of disorders that can be even more debilitating. These can include attachment issues, anxiety, depression, and many more.

Healing is needed before jumping back into situations that can cause more injuries. This would seem obvious, but for many scam victims, the desire to avoid the pain of recovery overrides all other considerations.


Abstinence plays a pivotal role in the recovery journey of scam victims. It empowers individuals to protect themselves emotionally, psychologically, socially, and financially, allowing them to focus on healing and rebuilding their lives. While the allure of happily-ever-after dating may be strong, it is essential for scam victims to resist the urge to re-enter dating prematurely.

By prioritizing abstinence and giving themselves the time they need to heal, victims can pave the way for a healthier and more secure future.



PLEASE NOTE: Psychology Clarification

The following specific modalities within the practice of psychology are restricted to psychologists appropriately trained in the use of such modalities:

  • Diagnosis: The diagnosis of mental, emotional, or brain disorders and related behaviors.
  • Psychoanalysis: Psychoanalysis is a type of therapy that focuses on helping individuals to understand and resolve unconscious conflicts.
  • Hypnosis: Hypnosis is a state of trance in which individuals are more susceptible to suggestion. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including anxiety, depression, and pain.
  • Biofeedback: Biofeedback is a type of therapy that teaches individuals to control their bodily functions, such as heart rate and blood pressure. It can be used to treat a variety of conditions, including stress, anxiety, and pain.
  • Behavioral analysis: Behavioral analysis is a type of therapy that focuses on changing individuals’ behaviors. It is often used to treat conditions such as autism and ADHD.
    Neuropsychology: Neuropsychology is a type of psychology that focuses on the relationship between the brain and behavior. It is often used to assess and treat cognitive impairments caused by brain injuries or diseases.

SCARS and the members of the SCARS Team do not engage in any of the above modalities in relationship to scam victims. SCARS is not a mental healthcare provider and recognizes the importance of professionalism and separation between its work and that of the licensed practice of psychology.

SCARS is an educational provider of generalized self-help information that individuals can use for their own benefit to achieve their own goals related to emotional trauma. SCARS recommends that all scam victims see professional counselors or therapists to help them determine the suitability of any specific information or practices that may help them.

SCARS cannot diagnose or treat any individuals, nor can it state the effectiveness of any educational information that it may provide, regardless of its experience in interacting with traumatized scam victims over time. All information that SCARS provides is purely for general educational purposes to help scam victims become aware of and better understand the topics and to be able to dialog with their counselors or therapists.

It is important that all readers understand these distinctions and that they apply the information that SCARS may publish at their own risk, and should do so only after consulting a licensed psychologist or mental healthcare provider.


The opinions of the author are not necessarily those of the Society of Citizens Against Rleationship Scams Inc. The author is solely responsible for the content of their work. SCARS is protected under the Communications Decency Act (CDA) section 230 from liability.







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