The Common Cognitive Distortions Of Scam Victims

Helping Scam Victims Understand Cognitive Distortions and Irrational Thinking

Primary Category: Recovery Psychology

•  Vianey Gonzalez B.Sc(Psych) – Psychologist, Certified Deception Professional, Psychology Advisory Panel & Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

About This Article

Cognitive distortions, prevalent in scam victims, are faulty thinking patterns that amplify negative perceptions and hinder recovery. These distortions, including ‘what if’ thinking, overgeneralization, and black-and-white reasoning, perpetuate anxiety and helplessness, leading to emotional turmoil.

Scam victims often engage in catastrophic hypotheticals, imagining worst-case scenarios that fuel distress and immobilize them. To manage these distortions, victims must recognize and challenge their validity, shifting focus from imagined threats to practical solutions.

Seeking support from trusted individuals, support providers, and mental health professionals is crucial in gaining perspective and developing coping strategies. Through mindfulness and self-reflection, victims can gradually break free from distorted thinking patterns, reclaiming control over their thoughts and emotions.

With perseverance and support, victims can navigate the aftermath of scam victimization, fostering resilience and facilitating healing.

SCARS Recommended Books

SCARS COBALT BOOK - A Scam Victim's Guide to Mindfulness - NEW 2024
SCARS GREEN BOOK - The SCARS Self-Help Self-Paced Scam Victim Recovery Program Guide
The Common Cognitive Distortions Of Scam Victims - 2024 - on SCARS - The Magazine of Scams Fraud and Cybercrime

A Note About Labeling!

We often use the term ‘scam victim’ in our articles, but this is a convenience to help those searching for information in search engines like Google. It is just a convenience and has no deeper meaning. If you have come through such an experience, YOU are a Survivor! It was not your fault. You are not alone! Axios!

Understanding the Common Cognitive Distortions of Relationship and Investment Scam Victims

In psychology and scam victim recovery, cognitive distortions are prevalent thinking patterns that can significantly impact one’s perception of reality, particularly in times of heightened fear and vulnerability.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, these cognitive distortions can play a significant role in their experiences and responses to the deception they have endured.

What are Cognitive Distortions

First, understand that Cognitive Distortions are not the same as Cognitive Dissonance – that is another thing, though it does affect a person’s cognition (thinking.)

Cognitive distortions are patterns of thinking characterized by irrational or biased (cognitive biases) interpretations of reality, often stemming from underlying psychological factors. These distortions can manifest in various forms, such as black-and-white thinking (seeing situations as all good or all bad), catastrophizing (exaggerating the negative outcomes of events), or personalization (attributing blame to oneself for events beyond one’s control).

In terms of brain activity, cognitive distortions typically involve regions associated with emotion regulation, perception, and decision-making. Research using neurological imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shown that cognitive distortions can be linked to alterations in neural circuits involved in emotion processing, such as the amygdala, which plays a central role in the brain’s response to threat and fear. Additionally, distortions in cognitive processing may involve changes in activity within the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for higher-order cognitive functions such as reasoning, judgment, and decision-making, which can also be affected by the amygdala.

During cognitive distortions, there may be heightened activity in brain regions associated with negative emotions, such as the amygdala, coupled with decreased activity in areas involved in logical reasoning and perspective-taking, such as the prefrontal cortex. This imbalance in neural activity can contribute to the amplification of negative thoughts and emotions, leading individuals to perceive situations in a distorted or exaggerated manner. Over time, repeated engagement in cognitive distortions can reinforce neural pathways (neuroplasticity) associated with maladaptive thinking patterns, making it more challenging to break free from negative thought cycles.

Understanding the neural basis of cognitive distortions highlights the complex nature of cognitive processes and emotional regulation in shaping individuals’ perceptions of reality. By recognizing these patterns and their underlying neurobiological mechanisms, individuals can develop strategies to challenge and reframe distorted thinking patterns, ultimately promoting healthier cognitive and emotional functioning.

Examples of Cognitive Distortions in Scam Victims

Here are just a small number of examples of cognitive distortions:

Catastrophizing or Magnification

One common cognitive distortion experienced by scam victims is catastrophizing, where individuals magnify the negative consequences of their experiences and imagine worst-case scenarios. In the aftermath of a scam, victims often (at least initially) catastrophize about their financial ruin, social isolation, or loss of trust in others. These exaggerated fears can lead to heightened anxiety and difficulty in coping with the aftermath of the scam.

This type of thinking can lead to increased anxiety and a sense of helplessness, as the person perceives minor setbacks as major disasters. This tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy since it impairs thinking and makes it very difficult to think their way out of situations.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, magnification can significantly impact their recovery process. After experiencing a scam, they might magnify their mistakes, viewing the incident as a defining failure rather than an unfortunate event. For example, a victim of a relationship scam might believe that their inability to spot the deceit signifies a fundamental flaw in their judgment. Similarly, a victim of an investment scam might view their financial loss as catastrophic, fearing they will never recover financially or make sound financial decisions again.

In the brain, magnification involves heightened activity in the amygdala, which processes fear and emotional responses, and reduced activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for rational thinking and decision-making. This imbalance leads to an overemphasis on negative emotions and a diminished ability to assess situations logically.

Addressing magnification involves recognizing and challenging these exaggerated thoughts. Cognitive-behavioral techniques can be effective, such as writing down catastrophic thoughts and then systematically evaluating their realism. For instance, victims can ask themselves if the situation is truly as dire as they perceive or if there are more balanced ways to view the event.

Selective Attention

Selective attention is a cognitive process in which individuals focus their awareness on specific aspects of their environment while ignoring others (tunnel vision.) In the context of scams, victims may selectively attend to manipulative messages from the scammer that reinforce their emotional vulnerabilities while dismissing warning signs or red flags in the beginning. This is an example of how being scammed can increase vulnerability, since after a scam victims tend to focus on the pain and fear, ignoring everything else allowing new dangers to approach without apparent warning.

Scam victims may exhibit selective attention by focusing disproportionately on their financial loss and need for revenge, or chasing justice, while paying no attention to the emotional and psychological trauma injury or their duty to report the crime.

Neurologically, selective attention is associated with the activation of brain networks involved in attentional control, such as the dorsal and ventral attention systems. These networks regulate the allocation of attentional resources based on the salience and relevance of incoming stimuli. In the context of scam victimization, heightened emotional arousal may further bias attention toward stimuli that evoke strong emotional responses, such as financial loss or betrayal.

To address selective attention as a cognitive distortion, victims must learn to cultivate greater mindfulness and metacognitive awareness. Cognitive-behavioral interventions, such as attentional training and cognitive restructuring, can help individuals recognize their attentional biases and consciously redirect their focus toward more relevant and objective information.

Mental Filters

Similar to catastrophizing, mental filtering is another cognitive distortion where an individual focuses solely on the negative aspects of a situation while ignoring or dismissing any positive elements. This selective attention to negative details acts like a mental “filter” that skews perception and leads to an overly pessimistic view of reality as a whole. For example, a victim of an investment scam might fixate on the financial loss and feelings of betrayal, filtering out any supportive relationships or personal strengths that could help in their recovery.

Neurologically, this distortion is associated with increased activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is involved in self-referential and reflective thinking. When mental filtering occurs, the brain’s negativity bias, which prioritizes potential threats and adverse experiences, becomes more pronounced. This bias can cause the prefrontal cortex, responsible for rational thinking and decision-making, to become overwhelmed by negative information, leading to a distorted worldview.

Recognizing and addressing mental filters is essential for scam victims, as it helps them to develop a more balanced perspective. By consciously identifying and challenging these negative thought patterns, individuals can begin to see the full picture, including the positive aspects of their lives that can support their recovery and resilience.

Emotional Reasoning

Scam victims of relationship and investment scams often experience emotional reasoning, where they believe that their emotions reflect objective reality. In the wake of a scam, victims struggle to separate their intense feelings of betrayal, shame, and guilt from the factual evidence of deception, leading to further distress and confusion, leading to cognitive dissonance.

This type of thinking can lead to misinterpretations and skewed perceptions of situations, as emotions are often influenced by personal biases and past experiences rather than the present facts. After a scam, victims desperately need logical thinking to solve their various problems, but emotional reasoning makes that extremely challenging – a clue that this is happening is the tendency to overthink problems.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, emotional reasoning can significantly hinder their recovery process. After falling victim to a scam, they may feel intense shame, guilt, or worthlessness. Through emotional reasoning, they might conclude that because they feel these negative emotions, they must inherently be foolish, unworthy of love, or incapable of making wise decisions. These feelings can then solidify into their self-perception, perpetuating a cycle of low self-esteem and hopelessness.

In the brain, emotional reasoning is often associated with heightened activity in the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, which is involved in processing emotions. Concurrently, there is decreased activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for logical thinking and reasoning. This imbalance makes it difficult for individuals to separate their emotions from the objective reality of their situation.

Overcoming emotional reasoning involves recognizing that emotions are not always reliable indicators of truth. Cognitive-behavioral strategies can be effective in this regard. Victims can benefit from challenging their automatic emotional responses by asking themselves whether their feelings accurately reflect the facts. For example, feeling worthless after a scam does not mean they are actually worthless; it simply means they are experiencing a normal emotional response to a traumatic event. Axios!

By learning to identify and counteract emotional reasoning, scam victims can begin to disentangle their emotions from their self-worth and decision-making abilities. This shift can foster a healthier self-image, reduce emotional distress, and support their journey toward healing and empowerment.

Personalization and Blame

Scam victims often engage in personalization, blaming themselves for the scam and internalizing feelings of inadequacy or foolishness.

Personalization is a cognitive distortion where individuals attribute external events or the behavior of others to themselves, even when there is no logical connection. In the context of scams, victims often engage in personalization by assuming responsibility or blame for the actions of the scammer. They may believe they deserve to be scammed due to perceived personal flaws or mistakes, such as trusting too easily or being too naive.

This self-blame perpetuates feelings of shame and undermines the victim’s sense of self-worth, making it challenging to seek support or recover from the trauma of the scam. Personalization also makes it very hard for scam victims to turn away from the crime and the criminal and focus on their own immediate needs.

Blame is closely related to personalization but involves assigning responsibility for negative events exclusively to oneself or others. Scam victims usually blame themselves entirely for the scam, ignoring the deliberate deceit and manipulation employed by the scammer. This self-blame leads to feelings of guilt, shame, and diminished self-worth, worsening the psychological impact of the scam.

Neurologically, personalization and blame activate regions of the brain associated with self-referential processing and negative emotions, such as the medial prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. This heightened self-focus and emotional arousal reinforce the distorted belief that the victim is solely responsible for the scam, hindering their ability to objectively evaluate the situation.

To address personalization and blame, victims must challenge the distorted belief that they are at fault for being scammed. Therapeutic techniques such as cognitive restructuring can help individuals identify and challenge irrational thoughts related to self-blame. By examining the evidence objectively and considering alternative explanations for the scam, victims can develop a more balanced and compassionate understanding of their role in the situation.

By recognizing personalization and blame as cognitive distortions and challenging these patterns of thinking, victims can reduce the psychological burden of self-blame and begin to heal from the emotional trauma of the scam. This process promotes resilience and empowers victims to rebuild their sense of self and trust in others.

Discounting the Positive

Discounting the positive is a cognitive distortion where individuals reject or minimize positive experiences, accomplishments, or feedback, often believing they do not count or are unimportant. For scam victims, this distortion can be particularly damaging, as it can lead to a persistent sense of failure and inadequacy. Even when they receive support, praise, or evidence of their worth, they may dismiss these positives as flukes, irrelevant, or unimportant compared to the negative experiences they have endured.

In the brain, this distortion can be linked to the amygdala, which processes emotions, and the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in decision-making and moderating social behavior. When someone discounts the positive, the amygdala signals threat or stress responses more strongly, overshadowing the prefrontal cortex’s ability to incorporate positive feedback into their self-perception. This imbalance can perpetuate a cycle of negative thinking and low self-esteem.

Addressing this distortion involves deliberately acknowledging and valuing positive experiences and achievements. For scam victims, this means recognizing their strengths, resilience, and the support they have received. By intentionally focusing on these positives, they can begin to break the cycle of negativity, fostering a healthier and more balanced self-view. This shift is crucial for rebuilding confidence and moving forward after the trauma of being scammed.


Overgeneralization is a common cognitive distortion where individuals draw broad, sweeping conclusions from a single event or a limited amount of evidence. This pattern of thinking leads to the erroneous belief that a single negative experience or outcome will inevitably repeat itself across similar situations.

For example, someone who has been deceived in a relationship scam may conclude that all future romantic partners will also be untrustworthy, thereby preventing them from forming new, healthy relationships.

This distortion stems from the brain’s tendency to create general rules based on past experiences as a way to predict and navigate the world. However, in overgeneralization, this mechanism becomes maladaptive, as it leads to unrealistic and overly pessimistic views. The brain’s fear and anxiety centers, particularly the amygdala, can become hyperactive during these thought processes, reinforcing the negative emotional responses and further entrenching the distorted thinking. Understanding and challenging overgeneralization is necessary for all scam victims as it helps them to see each new situation on its own merits, rather than through the lens of past trauma

Confirmation Bias

Scam victims of scams may fall prey to confirmation bias, seeking out information or opinions that validate their experience while discounting contradictory viewpoints. This bias can impede victims’ ability to recognize real factual information after the scam ends. They are very often drawn to urban legends and completely false information because it tends to fit with what they feel. It inhibits their ability to seek help and their willingness to report the crime.

Learn more about this here: SCARS Manual Of Cognitive Biases – 2024 (

Black-And-White Thinking

Black-and-white thinking, also known as dichotomous thinking or all-or-nothing thinking, is a cognitive distortion characterized by viewing situations in extremes, with no middle ground or shades of gray. In scams, victims may engage in black-and-white thinking by perceiving themselves or the situation as either entirely good or entirely bad, without considering nuanced perspectives or alternative explanations.

This polarized thinking prevents victims from acknowledging the situation’s complexities and hinders their progress toward healing and recovery. Even though scam victims are not to blame for scams, there are significant consequences to these crimes, including also making their family members into victims. Coming to grips with the consequences of the situation and their own actions during the scam is essential for both their recovery and the restoration of their relationships.

For scam victims, black-and-white thinking can manifest in various ways. Scam victims may view the scammer as either pure evil or entirely innocent, overlooking the complex motivations and circumstances involved in perpetrating the scam.

Neurologically, black-and-white thinking is associated with heightened activity in brain regions involved in emotional processing, such as the amygdala, and reduced activity in regions responsible for cognitive flexibility, such as the prefrontal cortex. This neurobiological imbalance reinforces rigid, polarized thinking patterns and inhibits the ability to consider alternative viewpoints or gray areas.

To counteract black-and-white thinking, victims must learn to recognize and challenge their tendency to perceive situations in extremes. Cognitive-behavioral techniques, such as cognitive restructuring and mindfulness, can help individuals identify irrational thoughts and replace them with more balanced and realistic perspectives. By acknowledging the complexity of human behavior and accepting the inherent uncertainty of life, victims can cultivate greater resilience and emotional well-being.

By addressing black-and-white thinking as a cognitive distortion and learning to embrace ambiguity and complexity, victims can gradually overcome the rigid thinking patterns that contribute to their distress. This process promotes psychological flexibility and empowers victims to navigate the challenges of recovery with greater resilience and self-awareness.

Jumping to Conclusions or Making Assumptions

Jumping to conclusions is a cognitive distortion where individuals make interpretations or predictions (often negative) without sufficient evidence to support them.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, jumping to conclusions can exacerbate feelings of mistrust and insecurity. They might assume that everyone they meet has ulterior motives or that their future financial endeavors are doomed to fail. This can severely impact their ability to form new relationships or make sound financial decisions, trapping them in a cycle of fear and hesitation.

In the brain, this distortion can be linked to the amygdala’s role in processing fear and anxiety, which can override the prefrontal cortex’s more rational and evidence-based reasoning. When the brain is in a heightened state of stress or fear, it can more easily default to negative assumptions as a protective mechanism, even when those assumptions are unfounded.

Overcoming this distortion involves practicing mindfulness and evidence-based thinking. Victims need to challenge their automatic thoughts by asking themselves if there is concrete evidence for their conclusions. They should also consider alternative explanations or outcomes that are more balanced and realistic. By slowing down their thought process and seeking out factual information, scam victims can reduce the frequency and impact of jumping to conclusions, sustaining a more accurate and less fearful worldview. This is essential for rebuilding trust in themselves and others, enabling them to move forward from their traumatic experiences.

Mind Reading

Mind reading is a cognitive distortion where individuals assume they know what others are thinking, often projecting their fears and insecurities onto others without any real evidence. This can lead to misunderstandings, increased anxiety, and strained relationships, as the individual believes they can infer others’ thoughts, motives, or intentions based on little or no factual basis.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, mind reading can be particularly damaging. After experiencing betrayal, they might become hyper-vigilant and assume the worst about others’ intentions. For instance, a scam victim might believe that a new romantic interest is only interested in exploiting them, or that a financial advisor has ulterior motives. This distortion can make it extremely difficult for victims to trust others and build healthy, supportive relationships. This also leads to victims distrusting those trying to help them.

In the brain, mind reading is often linked to the heightened activity of the amygdala, the region involved in processing emotions like fear and anxiety. This heightened emotional response can overshadow the more rational and evidence-based reasoning of the prefrontal cortex. When someone has been traumatized, their brain becomes more attuned to potential threats, real or imagined, as a survival mechanism.

Addressing mind reading involves developing awareness of this cognitive distortion and actively challenging these assumptions. Victims need to practice direct communication, asking questions and seeking clarification instead of assuming they know what others are thinking. Cognitive-behavioral techniques, such as journaling thoughts and examining the evidence for and against them, can help individuals recognize and alter these distorted thinking patterns. Building self-awareness and engaging in open, honest communication with others can help scam victims move past fear-driven assumptions and build more realistic and trusting relationships.

Predictive Thinking or Fortune Telling

Predictive thinking is a cognitive distortion where individuals make predictions about the future based on little or no evidence, often focusing on negative outcomes. This type of thinking can lead to heightened anxiety and a sense of hopelessness, as the person expects bad things to happen and may believe that they are powerless to change the course of events. It is also related to Overoptimism!

For victims of relationship and investment scams, predictive thinking can deepen the trauma experienced. After being deceived, they can start predicting future failures and betrayals in their personal and financial lives. For example, a victim of an investment scam might become convinced that all future investments will fail, leading them to avoid any financial opportunities out of fear. Similarly, a victim of a relationship scam might predict that every new romantic interest will inevitably result in betrayal, causing them to withdraw from potential relationships.

In the brain, predictive thinking is an essential part of its functioning and involves the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. The amygdala, which processes fear and emotion, can become overactive, sending distress signals that overpower the rational thought processes of the prefrontal cortex. This imbalance can make it difficult for individuals to assess situations logically and realistically.

To address predictive thinking, it is important for victims to recognize this distortion and actively challenge their baseless predictions. Cognitive-behavioral strategies can be helpful, such as identifying and questioning the evidence behind their predictions and considering alternative, more positive outcomes. Victims can also benefit from mindfulness practices, which help them stay focused on the present moment rather than worrying about the future.

‘Should’ and ‘Must’ Statements

‘Should’ and ‘must’ statements are cognitive distortions where individuals impose rigid, unrealistic expectations on themselves or others. These statements often reflect an internalized set of rules or standards that can be overly demanding and inflexible. When these expectations are not met, they can lead to feelings of frustration, guilt, and inadequacy.

For victims of relationship and investment scams, ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements can expand their emotional distress. They might think, “I should have known better,” “I must not be so naive,” or “I should never trust anyone again.” These self-imposed rules do not account for the sophisticated tactics employed by scammers, which can deceive even the most cautious individuals. The result is an unfair self-criticism that overlooks the complexity of the scam and the manipulative skills of the scammer.

In the brain, ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements activate areas associated with self-regulation and moral judgment, such as the prefrontal cortex. However, when these statements are rigid and self-critical, they can lead to heightened activity in the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, causing stress and emotional distress. This combination can create a powerful cycle of negative self-assessment and emotional turmoil.

To combat this cognitive distortion, it is crucial for victims to recognize and challenge their ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements. In effect, they need to listen to what they say and think. Cognitive-behavioral techniques can help individuals reframe these rigid expectations into more flexible, compassionate thoughts. For example, instead of thinking, “I should have known better,” a more balanced thought might be, “I did my best with the information I had at the time.”

Therapeutic approaches, such as CBT, can guide individuals in identifying these distortions and developing healthier ways of thinking. This process involves questioning the validity and helpfulness of ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements and replacing them with more realistic and supportive beliefs.

By addressing ‘should’ and ‘must’ statements, scam victims can alleviate unnecessary self-blame and foster a more forgiving and understanding relationship with themselves. This shift not only aids in emotional recovery but also empowers them to approach future relationships and decisions with greater confidence and resilience.


Labeling is a cognitive distortion that involves assigning a fixed, global label to oneself or others based on a single event or behavior. This type of thinking can be particularly damaging because it reduces the complexity of human behavior and identity to a simplistic, often negative, descriptor. For example, if someone makes a mistake, they might label themselves as “stupid” or “a failure,” ignoring the broader context of their abilities and achievements.

In relationship and investment scams, labeling can significantly impact victims’ self-perception and emotional well-being. After being scammed, a victim might label themselves as “gullible,” “foolish,” or “incompetent.” This self-labeling not only deepens feelings of shame and guilt but also undermines their self-esteem and confidence. Similarly, victims might label all online relationships as “dangerous” or all financial opportunities as “risky,” leading to an overly cautious or distrustful outlook on life.

Neurologically, labeling engages brain areas related to self-referential processing, such as the medial prefrontal cortex. Negative labels can also activate the limbic system, particularly the amygdala, contributing to emotional distress and reinforcing a negative self-concept. Over time, these labels can become deeply ingrained, making it challenging for individuals to view themselves or their circumstances in a balanced and nuanced manner.

To counteract labeling, it is essential to recognize when it occurs and challenge its validity. Cognitive-behavioral strategies can be particularly effective in this regard. For instance, instead of thinking, “I am a fool for falling for that scam,” a more constructive thought might be, “I made a mistake, but that doesn’t define my overall intelligence or worth.” This approach involves separating specific actions or events from one’s overall identity, allowing for a more accurate and compassionate self-assessment.

By addressing labeling, victims of scams can reduce the psychological burden of their experiences and foster a more positive and resilient self-image. This shift not only aids in emotional healing but also empowers them to rebuild their lives and trust in themselves and others.

‘What If’ Thinking or Absolute Hypotheticals

For scam victims, ‘what if’ thinking can become pervasive as they grapple with the aftermath of their victimization.

Victims of scams often find themselves trapped in a cycle of ‘what if’ scenarios, imagining a cascade of consequences stemming from their experience. These scenarios may range from financial ruin and social ostracization to personal humiliation and legal repercussions on the negative side. But also on the positive side, what ifs focus the victim’s attention on what might not have happened, instead of on what really happened. Each ‘what if’ question serves to amplify anxiety or denial, feeding into a sense of impending doom or fantasy.

The impact of ‘what if’ thinking on scam victims is profound and complicated. Firstly, it perpetuates a state of heightened anxiety and distress in the case of negative what-ifs, as victims continuously ruminate on imagined threats to their well-being. This chronic state of worry can lead to sleep disturbances, difficulty concentrating, and a sense of emotional exhaustion.

Also, ‘what if’ thinking can engineer a sense of helplessness and paralysis, as victims become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of potential negative outcomes. Instead of taking proactive steps to address their situation, they may feel immobilized by fear, unable to move forward or make informed decisions.

While ‘what if’ thinking may be a natural response to the trauma of scam victimization, victims need to recognize its detrimental effects and actively work towards breaking free from its grip.

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are inherent tendencies in human cognition that lead to systematic deviations from rationality and logical reasoning.

Biases often arise from mental shortcuts or heuristics that the brain uses to process information quickly and efficiently. However, they can also result in cognitive distortions, which are errors in thinking characterized by skewed perceptions of reality or irrational beliefs.

Cognitive biases influence how individuals, and especially scam victims perceive, interpret, and remember information, leading to patterns of thinking that are inaccurate or illogical.

For example, confirmation bias causes individuals to seek out information that confirms their existing beliefs while ignoring contradictory evidence, reinforcing cognitive distortions, and hindering objective decision-making.

Overall, cognitive biases can distort perceptions, influence judgments, and contribute to maladaptive behaviors, highlighting the importance of recognizing and mitigating their impact on cognitive processing.

Learn more about cognitive biases here: SCARS MANUAL OF COGNITIVE BIASES (

How Can Scam Victims Manage These Distortions

Managing cognitive distortions is important for scam victims to regain control over their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

Here are some strategies to help victims navigate and mitigate these distortions:

Awareness and Recognition

The first step in managing cognitive distortions is to become aware of them. Victims should familiarize themselves with common distortions, such as black-and-white thinking, overgeneralization, and personalization. Recognizing when these distortions occur can empower individuals to challenge their validity and accuracy.

Reality Testing

Once aware of cognitive distortions, victims can engage in reality testing to evaluate the accuracy of their thoughts and perceptions. This involves examining evidence and alternative explanations to challenge distorted beliefs. For example, if a victim is catastrophizing about the consequences of falling for a scam, they can gather information about potential solutions and support resources to counteract their catastrophic thinking. A good way to do this is to write all problems on a piece of paper along with your solution and then check for false information or outcomes.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring involves actively challenging and modifying distorted thought patterns. Victims can reframe negative thoughts and beliefs by replacing them with more balanced and realistic alternatives. For instance, instead of catastrophizing about their financial losses, victims can acknowledge the difficulty of their situation while also recognizing their resilience and capacity for recovery.

Mindfulness and Grounding Techniques

Practicing mindfulness can help victims cultivate present-moment awareness and reduce rumination on negative thoughts. Mindfulness techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation, can help scam victims ground themselves in the present and disengage from distorted thinking patterns.

Seeking Support

Victims should seek support from trusted friends, family members, support providers, or mental health professionals who can provide validation, perspective, and encouragement. Support providers for scam victims can offer a sense of community and understanding, reducing feelings of isolation and shame.

Education and Empowerment

Educating oneself about the psychology of scams and the tactics used by scammers can empower victims to recognize manipulation and deception more effectively. Learning about cognitive biases, psychological vulnerabilities, and red flags can enhance victims’ critical thinking skills and resilience to future scams.

This kind of information will be included in SCARS Survivor’s School™ courses.

Setting Boundaries

Establishing healthy boundaries in their life, both with toxic judgmental people and those who may exploit or manipulate them is essential for protecting oneself from further harm. Victims should assertively communicate their boundaries and refuse to engage with anyone who disregards or violates them.


Finally, practicing self-compassion is essential for scam victims to move forward in the emotional aftermath of victimization. Victims should be gentle with themselves, acknowledge their vulnerabilities, and remind themselves that they are not to blame for the actions of scammers. Cultivating self-compassion can help victims cultivate resilience and foster a sense of worthiness and self-acceptance.

By implementing these strategies, scam victims can effectively manage cognitive distortions, reclaim their sense of agency, and embark on a journey of healing and recovery.


Cognitive distortions play a significant role in shaping the experiences of relationship and investment scam victims, influencing their perceptions, emotions, and behaviors in the aftermath of deception. Recognizing and addressing these distortions is essential for empowering victims to navigate their recovery journey, rebuild trust in themselves and others, and ultimately reclaim agency over their lives. Through education, support, and therapy, victims can learn to challenge these distorted thinking patterns, cultivate resilience, and emerge stronger from their traumatic experiences.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit or join SCARS for our counseling/therapy benefit:

If you need to speak with someone now, you can dial 988 or find phone numbers for crisis hotlines all around the world here:

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at

SCARS Resources:

Psychology Disclaimer:

All articles about psychology and the human brain on this website are for information & education only

The information provided in this and other SCARS articles are intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

Note about Mindfulness: Mindfulness practices have the potential to create psychological distress for some individuals. Please consult a mental health professional or experienced meditation instructor for guidance should you encounter difficulties.

While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

Additionally, any approach may not be appropriate for individuals with certain pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma histories. It is advisable to seek guidance from a licensed therapist or counselor who can provide personalized support, guidance, and treatment tailored to your specific needs.

If you are experiencing significant distress or emotional difficulties related to a scam or other traumatic event, please consult your doctor or mental health provider for appropriate care and support.

If you are in crisis, feeling desperate, or in despair please call 988 or your local crisis hotline.

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.







This content and other material contained on the website, apps, newsletter, and products (“Content”), is general in nature and for informational purposes only and does not constitute medical, legal, or financial advice; the Content is not intended to be a substitute for licensed or regulated professional advice. Always consult your doctor or other qualified healthcare provider, lawyer, financial, or tax professional with any questions you may have regarding the educational information contained herein. SCARS makes no guarantees about the efficacy of information described on or in SCARS’ Content. The information contained is subject to change and is not intended to cover all possible situations or effects. SCARS does not recommend or endorse any specific professional or care provider, product, service, or other information that may be mentioned in SCARS’ websites, apps, and Content unless explicitly identified as such.

The disclaimers herein are provided on this page for ease of reference. These disclaimers supplement and are a part of SCARS’ website’s Terms of Use

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