To the Families & Friends of Scam Victims: Understanding Primary & Secondary Trauma
Supporting Family Members of Scam Victims
The devastation of a scam can echo far beyond the primary target scam victim, reverberating into the lives of their loved ones and close friends.
Family members become unwitting secondary victims, navigating the shock, confusion, and emotional fallout alongside their affected relative or friend. While the primary scam victim grapples with the direct consequences of the fraud, you, their family or friend, face a different struggle – understanding the complexities of their trauma and offering unwavering support, but also understanding that trauma is contagious, and you can be affected profoundly too.
This is especially true for spouses and the children of scam victims. Understand how these crimes work and then what to do to help as you watch the primary scam victim suffer is very difficult and should not be minimized.
The Ripple Effects of Scams & Deception
Scam artists are expert puppeteers, grooming, manipulating, and controlling their targets through emotional hooks and calculated deceit. This leaves victims feeling violated, ashamed, and questioning their own judgment. Witnessing these stark changes in your loved one, the confusion, the withdrawal, the emotional turmoil and profound trauma, and not knowing what happened or what to do can be deeply unsettling. It’s natural to feel helpless, frustrated, and even angry. Remember, these are normal reactions to an abnormal situation.
Dear Family & Friends of Scam Victims,
We understand that the aftermath of a scam can be a traumatic experience for the primary scam victim, but it is important to recognize that the family members or friends of the victim are also secondary victims and may experience discomfort and trauma as well. The family members or friends of the victim are often left to deal with the emotional and financial fallout of the scam, while trying to understand what has happened to their loved one.
According to a report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans reported losing a record-breaking amounts to fraud per year. The impact of these crimes goes far beyond drained bank accounts. Two-thirds of scam victims in a 2015 FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) survey reported experiencing negative emotional consequences specifically as a result of the fraud. These consequences ranged from severe anxiety, sleep disorders, depression, complex grief and even PTSD.
It is important to recognize that the family members or friends of the primary scam victim may also experience similar emotional consequences. They may feel a sense of shame or self-reproach, or even blame the victims, which in full effect can lead to their own depression. Shame or guilt may also cause secondary scam victims to withdraw socially, isolating themselves and making their emotional distress worse. This is a double-blow because isolation forces all victims to bear the full burden of the loss while simultaneously denying themselves the social support they need to get better.
If you are a family member of a scam victim, it is important to seek help and support. You are not alone in this experience. There are many resources available to help you cope with the emotional and financial fallout of the scam. You can reach out to SCARS support groups, counseling services, and organizations like SCARS that specialize in helping scam victims and their families.
Remember, it is important to take care of yourself and your loved one or friend during this difficult time. Do not hesitate to seek help and support when you need it. We are here to help!
Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. [SCARS]
Watching Your Family Member Struggle
In the wake of a scam, the impact often transcends the primary victim. While the direct victim grapples with the aftermath of deceit and manipulation, the ripple effect touches the family and friends, igniting a wave of secondary trauma and distress.
The journey through a scam is a harrowing experience, not just for the individual directly targeted, but for their loved ones too. As families, you may find yourselves navigating through a maze of emotions, from shock and disbelief to anger and profound concern for your affected family member, and not being equiped to understand how this happened or what to do to help.
Secondary Scam Victimization
It’s essential to recognize that the trauma inflicted by scams doesn’t confine itself solely to the direct victim. Secondary victims—family members and close friends—can undergo a similar emotional rollercoaster, albeit from a different vantage point. Witnessing a loved one grapple with the aftermath of a scam can be deeply distressing.
The Impact on Family Members The distress and confusion experienced by the primary victim trickle down to family members, fostering a shared sense of helplessness and frustration. You might be confronted with a myriad of questions: How did this happen? What could we have done differently? How can we help them recover?
Feelings of Powerlessness Witnessing a loved one fall victim to a scam can evoke a profound sense of powerlessness. You might feel unable to shield them from harm, leading to a profound sense of guilt or self-blame, despite the scam being beyond your control.
Strained relationships and trust can strain familial relationships, friendships, and trust. Family members may find it challenging to understand the complexities of the scam or empathize with the victim’s experience, leading to rifts or strained connections.
Navigating the Emotional Terrain In the face of such adversity, it’s crucial to acknowledge and navigate through the emotional upheaval collectively. Here are some vital steps to support both the primary victim and yourselves as secondary victims.
The trauma doesn’t stop with the primary victim. You, the family members, and even friends, become entangled in the aftermath, absorbing the emotional waves from the primary scam victim’s pain. You bear witness to their struggles, their sleepless nights, their shattered trust, grief, and profound trauma. This constant proximity to their trauma can take its toll, leading to:
- Vicarious Trauma: Experiencing similar emotional and psychological symptoms as the primary victim.
- Emotional Fatigue: Feeling drained and overwhelmed by the ongoing emotional demands.
- Family Tension: Misunderstandings and frustration can strain relationships within the family unit.
- Lack of Understanding and Victim Blame: Most families or friends of scam victims do not understand how these crimes work. How they can capture, manipulate and control the victims to such an extent that they do whatever the scammers want. This leads to misunderstandings about the victim’s responsibility and results in negative judgment and blame of the victim. It often leads family members or friends to view the primary victim as somehow contagious and that they might infect you too.
- Guilt and Self-Blame: You might question your role, wondering if you could have done something to prevent this. And are you contributing to the worsening situation.
Family & Friends Were Betrayed Too!
When scam victims are under such total control of these criminals that they will often say and do anything to satisfy the needs of their relationship. They will not only give their own money away but often the family’s money too. They may borrow money from friends, telling them lies about what it is for and why it is needed. A parent scam victim may take the college money or savings for their children or drain family bank and retirement accounts.
Married scam victims, in effect, are also involved in infidelity against their spouses and this too can have a massive impact on marriages. But it has to be understood and factored in, knowing this did not just affect the primary victims but the spouse and family as well.
How Can You Make It Better?
Immediately start with:
- Acceptance: It begins with understanding that this was not the primary victim’s fault. Their only mistake was talking to a stranger online, after they said hello, they lost control and the criminals had it after that. They did not intend any of this to happen and were powerless to stop it, such is the power of the grooming, manipulation, and control.
- Start Talking: Hard as it is, you all need to start talking. Try to foster an environment where open dialogue about the scam is welcomed. Listen empathetically without judgment, allowing the victim to share their experience and emotions.
- Validate Emotions: Acknowledge and validate the range of emotions experienced by both the direct victim and yourselves. It’s normal to feel a mix of anger, fear, and confusion in such situations. The primary victim will need time before they can even understand that damage this did to them, plus the damage it did to the family and friendships.
- Seek Support: Demand the primary victim to seek professional support and consider therapy or counseling for yourselves as well. Professional guidance will provide coping mechanisms and tools to navigate the emotional aftermath. SCARS also offers free support groups for family and friends of scam victims – go to support.AgainstScams.org to sign up. Just remember that support and counseling are not optional, they are a requirement for any reasonable recovery.
- Educate and Protect: Use the experience as an opportunity to educate yourselves and others about the signs and red flags of scams. You all have much to learn about how these crimes work, their power over the brain, and what it takes to recover. Knowledge is a powerful tool in recovering and preventing future victimization.
- Rebuilding Trust: Work on rebuilding trust and fostering a supportive environment for the victim’s recovery. It’s essential to let them know that they’re not alone and that your support is unwavering. Understand that this is now going to be your life for the next year or two – it takes that long to recover from these crimes.
- Self-Care: Take care of your own mental health. Engage in activities that bring comfort and peace. Lean on your support network and practice self-compassion.
Understand that these crimes destroy marriages, families, and friendships. Most marriages will not survive a relationship scam (based on SCARS experience with over 9 million victims.) However, with completely understanding, communications, and patience you all can make it through this and come out stronger.
Offering Effective Support
Remember, you are not alone. As a family, you can navigate this challenging situation together. Here are some crucial steps to support your loved one and navigate your own emotional journey:
- Open Communication: Talk to your loved one openly and honestly, creating a safe space for them to share their experiences. Listen without judgment and validate their feelings. But also everything has to be on the table, everyone needs to learn from this experience.
- Education and awareness: Research the specific type of scam and its potential impact. This knowledge can help you understand the complexities of their experience and better anticipate their needs.
- Seek professional help: If you, or your loved one, struggle to cope with the emotional burden, consider seeking professional support from therapists or counselors specializing in trauma recovery.
- Focus on family unity: Strengthen your family bonds by offering understanding, compassion, and practical support. Remember, you are a team, and healing happens together.
- Take care of yourself: Prioritize your own well-being. Engage in self-care activities, talk to trusted friends, and don’t hesitate to seek support for your own emotional needs.
Don’t forget the children. Remember that they are affected too. They will have seen the scam in action and the aftereffects. Make sure their needs for counseling are also addressed.
Moving Forward Together Recovery from the trauma of a scam is a collective journey. By fostering understanding, empathy, and a supportive environment, families can navigate through the aftermath while standing united. Remember, the road to healing might be challenging, but together, you can emerge stronger and more resilient.
Stay vigilant, support one another, and seek solace in the bonds that tie you together as a family. In unity lies the strength to overcome the challenges posed by these distressing experiences.
The road to recovery may be long and winding, but with open communication, empathy, and shared resilience, you can navigate this storm together. Remember, you are not just secondary victims; you are a vital support system, guiding your loved one towards healing and rebuilding their trust in the world.
As families, you must stand together, not just against the deceptive schemes of these scammers, but also in the aftermath of their emotional wreckage. Together, you can ensure that even in the darkest moments, the unwavering love and support of family shines through, offering solace and paving the path towards light and healing.