How Magical Biased & Delusional Thinking Enslaves Scam Victims

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

The Enchanting Deception: Unraveling How Delusional Thinking Entraps Scam Victims

The Shackles of Fantasy (Magical Thinking):

In a world filled with the allure of magic and fantasy, it is easy to be captivated by extraordinary promises and grand illusions – this is the root of Magical Thinking.

Unfortunately, this same allure can become a dangerous trap, leading individuals into the realm of delusional thinking. In the case of scams, the intertwining of magical and fantasy delusions with unrealistic beliefs can enslave victims, making it challenging for them to recover from the emotional and financial devastation.

This article examines the psychological mechanisms at play, shedding light on how magical delusional thinking plays a pivotal role in perpetuating the cycle of deception.

The Appeal of Magic and Fantasy on Scam Victims

Magical and fantasy elements have always been a part of human culture, captivating our imaginations and offering an escape from the mundane realities of life. From ancient myths and legends to contemporary movies and books, people are drawn to stories that depict extraordinary powers and wondrous realms. This attraction often spills over into our desires for extraordinary lives filled with riches, success, and happy endings.

Remember, The Truth May Be Harsh But It Keeps You Grounded!

Believing in fantasy (magical thinking) can be easier than believing in real life because fantasy offers an escape from the complexities and uncertainties of reality. There is very little that is certain in real life!

In the realm of fantasy, people can create idealized versions of themselves and their surroundings, where they possess extraordinary abilities, experience magical adventures, or attain limitless success. This provides comfort and relief from the challenges and limitations they face in the real world. That includes fantastical relationships where everyone lives heavily ever after too!

Fantasy also offers a sense of control and wish fulfillment. In real life, we all encounter uncontrollable circumstances and disappointments, leading us to feel powerless. Embracing fantasies allows us to envision a world where we have complete control over our destinies, where our dreams and desires come true without hindrance.

Fantasy lacks the constraints of logic and plausibility that bind real-life experiences. It allows people to indulge in wild and imaginative scenarios without worrying about the consequences or practicality. This lack of boundaries can be enticing, as it frees the mind from the restrictions of reality. This is a piece of the larger puzzle of how scammers lure in their victims.

In reality, life can be harsh and unpredictable, demanding critical thinking, resilience, and facing uncomfortable truths. Accepting reality means acknowledging flaws, uncertainties, biases, injustice, and limitations, which can be emotionally challenging.

Fantasy, on the other hand, offers a refuge from such harsh realities and provides a comforting escape into a world of limitless possibilities and enchantment.

But as wonderful as fantasy (and magical thinking) can be, it is just not real!

Now is the time to let go of the fantasies, especially those that are shared by others!

Reality is where we all have to live!

The Birth of Delusional Thinking in Scam Victims

Delusional thinking occurs when individuals hold onto false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. With scams, this delusion manifests when victims become convinced that their dreams of wealth or happiness (or both) are within reach. Scammers skillfully manipulate this desire, crafting an illusion of magical opportunities that prey on vulnerable individuals’ predispositions and beliefs (magical thinking.)

The relationship between denial and delusional thinking lies in their shared tendency to distort reality and avoid uncomfortable truths. Denial is a defense (or coping) mechanism where individuals refuse to acknowledge or accept reality or a situation that causes distress or threatens their self-image. It is a way of protecting oneself from emotional discomfort or cognitive dissonance.

Delusional thinking, on the other hand, involves holding onto false beliefs despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. These beliefs can be grandiose, paranoid, or fantastical, often disconnected from reality.

While denial is a broader psychological defense mechanism used to cope with distress, delusional thinking is a more extreme manifestation of this denial. Delusional individuals not only deny specific aspects of reality but create elaborate alternative belief systems to rationalize their distorted perceptions. We often see this in victims that refuse to accept that they are being scammed.

Both denial and delusional thinking involve a reluctance or inability to accept objective reality. They may be driven by fear, shame, guilt, or a desire to maintain a certain self-image. Over time, the reinforcement of these defense mechanisms can lead individuals deeper into a state of delusion, preventing them from acknowledging or addressing the underlying issues that fuel their distorted beliefs. As a result, they may become increasingly detached from reality, causing significant disruptions to their personal lives, relationships, and overall well-being.

The Role of Psychological Vulnerabilities

Scam victims are not inherently weak-minded (naive or gullible;) rather, they are often facing significant psychological vulnerabilities. Loneliness, financial stress, lack of self-esteem, and a desire for quick solutions to their problems can all contribute to the susceptibility of falling for scams. Scammers identify and exploit these vulnerabilities, presenting themselves as benevolent guides ready to lead their victims toward a better life.

See more about vulnerabilities here.

The Fantasy of “Too Good to Be True”

Scams often promise unattainable love and relationships, rewards, such as guaranteed high returns on investments, miraculous weight loss products, or instant fame and success, etc. etc. etc. These promises feed into the fantasy of “too good to be true,” triggering a sense of (hormonal & neurotransmitter) euphoria that blurs rational judgment. Victims, entranced by the prospect of realizing their deepest desires, willingly suspend skepticism and embrace the illusion.

Magical Thinking and Cognitive Biases

Magical thinking, a cognitive bias wherein one believes in the possibility of influencing outcomes through thoughts alone, plays a significant role in perpetuating delusional beliefs. Scammers capitalize on this by encouraging victims to visualize their dreams and believe that the universe will deliver their desires. By promoting magical thinking, scammers further cement their victims’ beliefs in the legitimacy of the scam, making it more challenging for them to break free from its grip.

Magical thinking is a cognitive bias that involves attributing causal relationships between unrelated events or believing that one’s thoughts, actions, or wishes can influence the outcome of unrelated events. It is characterized by a belief in supernatural or mystical powers, often defying rational or scientific explanations. People engaging in magical thinking may believe in luck, superstitions, or charms, convinced that certain rituals or behaviors will bring about desired outcomes or protection from harm. While magical thinking can serve as a source of comfort or a coping mechanism, it can also lead to unrealistic beliefs and decisions based on unfounded connections between events, making individuals susceptible to exploitation and deception.

The Emotional Bond Between Scam Victims and Scammers

Scammers often establish emotional connections with their victims, exploiting their loneliness and desire for human connection into strong durable relationships through manipulation and control. They shower their victims with attention, affection, and understanding, creating a false sense of trust and loyalty. This emotional bond becomes a powerful tool for scammers, as victims are less likely to question the deception, fearing the loss of this newfound connection.

The Cycle of Sunk Cost Fallacy

As the illusion begins to unravel, victims may start to question the scam’s legitimacy. However, the psychological trap deepens as the victims grapple with the sunk cost fallacy – the belief that they have invested so much (time, money, emotions) into the scam that they must continue to pursue it, hoping to recoup their losses. This cycle perpetuates delusional thinking and prevents victims from acknowledging the scam’s reality.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy is a cognitive bias in decision-making where individuals continue investing time, resources, or effort into a particular endeavor solely because they have already invested a significant amount in it, regardless of the likelihood of success or the diminishing returns. In other words, they let their past investments, which are already irrecoverable or “sunk,” influence their future decisions.

This fallacy can lead to irrational behavior as people prioritize recouping their past losses over making rational choices based on the current situation. They become trapped in a cycle of commitment, fearing that giving up now would mean all their previous efforts were wasted.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy can be observed in various contexts, from personal relationships and business ventures to financial investments and even trivial decisions. It can hinder individuals from cutting their losses and moving on to more beneficial alternatives, perpetuating a chain of poor decisions.

Recognizing and overcoming the Sunk Cost Fallacy is essential for making rational and sound decisions, unburdened by the weight of past investments, and prioritizing the best course of action based on the present circumstances.

The Cost of Magical or Delusional Thinking

the consequences of delusional thinking on scam victims and the importance of raising awareness to prevent such exploitation.

The Devastating Consequences of Delusional Thinking

  1. Emotional Trauma: Scam victims undergo significant emotional trauma as they grapple with feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, shame, guilt, and self-blame. The realization that they were manipulated and deceived can lead to a profound sense of shame and loss of trust in others. Some victims may even isolate themselves from friends and family, exacerbating their emotional distress.
  2. Financial Ruin: One of the most immediate and severe consequences of falling victim to scams is financial devastation. Scammers often extract money through fake relationships, investments, fraudulent business opportunities, or pyramid schemes. Victims may invest their life savings, take out loans, or incur substantial debts, only to realize later that their money is gone, and the promises were nothing but an illusion.
  3. Prolonged Vulnerability: Delusional thinking, fueled by cognitive biases and emotional manipulation, leaves victims susceptible to further exploitation. Once scammers identify an individual who has fallen for their tactics, they may continue targeting them with new scams or share their information with other criminals, leading to a cycle of victimization. Victims can also make things worse through unhealthy coping or avoidance mechanisms leading to denial and further cognitive dissonance.
  4. Legal and Social Consequences: In some cases, victims of scams unknowingly become involved in illegal activities orchestrated by scammers. Law enforcement agencies may view these individuals as accomplices rather than victims, making it difficult for them to seek legal recourse or support. But reporting the crime and declaring themselves innocent victims is essential!
  5. Health Impacts: The stress and emotional toll of being scammed can negatively impact victims’ physical and mental health. Anxiety, depression, sleep disturbances, and other stress-related health issues may emerge, further hindering the recovery process. This is why professional support and counseling are so important.

Breaking Free: Overcoming Delusional Thinking

Escaping the clutches of magical and fantasy delusional thinking is a challenging journey.

However, recovery is possible with the right professional support and understanding. Recognizing and addressing underlying psychological vulnerabilities is crucial. Seeking professional counseling or support groups can help victims process their experiences and rebuild their lives.

The Role of Awareness and Education

Raising awareness about scams and the psychological tactics used by scammers is crucial in preventing delusional thinking and victimization. Educating the public about common scams, warning signs, and red flags can empower individuals to spot and avoid potential threats. The SCARS Encyclopedia of Scams contains the knowledge every victim needs!

Key aspects of awareness and education include:

  1. Recognizing the Warning Signs: By understanding the typical tactics employed by scammers, individuals can identify suspicious behavior or offers. For instance, promises of new romantic relationships, guaranteed high returns with little to no risk, requests for upfront payments, and pressure to make quick decisions are common red flags.
  2. Encouraging Open Conversations: Breaking the stigma surrounding scams can help victims feel more comfortable sharing their experiences and seeking help. By openly discussing scams and their consequences, we create an environment where victims are more likely to come forward and share their stories.
  3. Promoting Critical Thinking: Encouraging critical thinking skills can help individuals analyze and evaluate offers from strangers objectively. Understanding the principles of sound decisions and avoiding too-good-to-be-true schemes can protect people from falling into the trap of delusional thinking.
  4. Empowering Support Systems: Families, friends, and professional organizations can establish support systems for scam victims. These can offer a lifeline to those who have fallen victim to delusional thinking. Look for SCARS resources below to provide emotional support, guidance, and avenues for seeking help or reporting scams.


The allure of magic and fantasy can captivate the human spirit, but it can also ensnare vulnerable individuals in the web of delusional thinking, especially in the context of scams.

Scammers exploit psychological vulnerabilities, promote magical thinking, and establish emotional connections to maintain control over their victims. Breaking free from this enslavement requires a conscious effort to confront delusional beliefs and seek support from those who can competently guide victims toward a path of healing and recovery.

By shedding light on the mechanisms of delusional thinking, we can empower individuals to resist the allure of unrealistic promises and protect themselves from falling prey to scams.



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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