Motivation & Scam Victims

Understanding What Motivates Scam Victims During and After the Scam

•  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

The article delves into the intricate web of motivations that drive individuals, particularly scam victims, exploring both intrinsic and extrinsic drivers such as emotional connection, financial gain, and the quest for achievement and power.

It explaions how scammers exploit these motivations, weaving deceptive narratives to manipulate victims during and after the scam. By understanding the psychological underpinnings of victimization, individuals can recognize red flags, reclaim their power, and embark on a path to recovery.

The article emphasizes the importance of awareness, empowerment, prevention, and resilience in navigating the complex terrain of scams, offering insights into how victims can heal and protect themselves from future exploitation.

Exploring Psychological Motivational Forces in Relationship Scams and Their Impact on Victims

Understanding what Motivation Actually is and How It Can Affect Scam Victim Recovery

Motivation is the driving force behind our behaviors, actions, and goals. It encompasses the internal and external factors that initiate, regulate, and sustain our behavior toward achieving a particular objective. In essence, motivation is what compels us to act in a certain way to fulfill our needs, desires, or aspirations.

In the brain, motivation involves complex interactions between various neural circuits and neurotransmitter systems. The brain’s reward system (Striatum,) primarily centered around the mesolimbic dopamine pathway, plays a crucial role in motivating behavior. When we engage in activities that are associated with pleasure, reward, or positive outcomes, dopamine is released in the brain, reinforcing those behaviors and increasing the likelihood of repetition. Conversely, when we experience discomfort, pain, or negative outcomes – including trauma – dopamine levels decrease, discouraging certain behaviors.

Additionally, other brain regions, such as the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hypothalamus, contribute to motivation by processing information related to goals, rewards, emotions, and decision-making, thereby influencing our motivational state and guiding our actions. Overall, motivation is a multifaceted phenomenon shaped by biological, psychological, and environmental factors, with its mechanisms intricately woven into the fabric of brain function and behavior.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs outlines a theory of human motivation that categorizes needs into five levels, arranged in a hierarchical order. These levels are physiological needs, safety needs, love and belongingness needs, esteem needs, and self-actualization needs. Each level represents different types of human needs that individuals strive to fulfill, with lower-level needs taking precedence over higher-level ones.

While Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and the types of motivations discussed here share some similarities in addressing human desires and drives, they are not exactly the same. Maslow’s hierarchy focuses on the progression of human needs from basic survival needs to higher-order psychological and self-fulfillment needs. In contrast, the types of motivations, such as intrinsic, extrinsic, achievement, power, and affiliation motivations, delve into the psychological factors that drive human behavior and decision-making.

While Maslow’s Hierarchy provides a broad framework for understanding human motivation based on the fulfillment of needs, the types of motivations offer a more nuanced exploration of the underlying psychological drivers that influence behavior. In essence, Maslow’s hierarchy provides a foundational understanding of human needs, while the types of motivations delve deeper into the intricacies of human desires and motivations in various contexts, including relationships and scams.

Motivational Basics

The Psychological Types of Motivation are each driven by Different Underlying Factors

  1. Intrinsic Motivation: This type of motivation arises from internal factors, such as personal enjoyment, curiosity, or a sense of accomplishment. Individuals engage in activities for the inherent satisfaction or pleasure they derive from them.
  2. Extrinsic Motivation: Extrinsic motivation stems from external rewards or consequences, such as money, praise, or recognition. Individuals are motivated to perform a task to obtain a desired outcome or avoid punishment.
  3. Achievement Motivation: This refers to the desire to excel or succeed in competitive situations. Individuals with high achievement motivation are driven by goals and strive for mastery or accomplishment.
  4. Power Motivation: Power motivation involves the desire to influence or control others, assert authority, or achieve positions of leadership. Individuals with high power motivation seek to exert control over their environment and others.
  5. Affiliation Motivation: Affiliation motivation pertains to the need for social connections, belongingness, and interpersonal relationships. Individuals with high affiliation motivation are driven by the desire to connect with others and maintain social bonds.

These types of motivation can interact and vary in strength depending on individual differences, context, and situational factors.

Scam Victim Motivation during a Romance or Relationship Scam

In romance or relationship scams, perpetrators often exploit the 5 various types of motivations to manipulate and deceive their victims:

  1. Intrinsic Motivation: Scammers may initially appeal to the victim’s intrinsic motivation by building emotional connections, sharing personal stories, and expressing love or affection. Victims may feel genuinely drawn to the scammer due to the emotional connection they perceive.
  2. Extrinsic Motivation: Scammers use extrinsic motivators such as promises of financial gain, gifts, or future rewards to entice victims into the scam. Victims may be motivated by the prospect of receiving money, gifts, or other benefits from the scammer.
  3. Achievement Motivation: Scammers manipulate victims by appealing to their desire for success or achievement in the relationship. They may promise a future together, marriage, or financial stability, appealing to the victim’s aspirations and goals.
  4. Power Motivation: Scammers often exert control and influence over their victims by portraying themselves as dominant or authoritative figures in the relationship. Victims may feel powerless to resist the scammer’s advances or requests.
  5. Affiliation Motivation: Scammers exploit victims’ need for social connection and belongingness by creating a sense of intimacy and belonging in the relationship. Victims may become emotionally attached to the scammer and seek validation and acceptance from them.

During the scam, victims may experience a range of emotions and behaviors influenced by these motivations. They may feel emotionally invested in the relationship, hopeful for a positive outcome, and reluctant to question the scammer’s intentions. Victims may also overlook red flags or warning signs due to their desire to believe in the authenticity of the relationship. Ultimately, manipulating these motivations can lead victims to engage in risky behaviors against their normal better judgment, such as sending money or personal information to the scammer.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation refers to the internal drive or personal satisfaction that individuals derive from engaging in an activity or pursuing a goal. In the context of romance or relationship scams, intrinsic motivation plays an important role in how victims become emotionally invested in the scam.

Here’s how intrinsic motivation manifests in such situations:

  • Emotional Connection: Scammers adeptly craft messages and interactions to create and grow a sense of emotional connection with their victims. They express affection, empathy, and understanding (or all of them,) creating a bond that fulfills the victim’s need for emotional intimacy and companionship. This is a standard human desire.
  • Validation and Affirmation: Victims often seek validation and affirmation from the scammer, especially if they feel lonely or vulnerable. The scammer’s attention and compliments can fulfill the victim’s need for recognition and positive reinforcement, reinforcing their attachment to the scammer but can quickly turn into manipulations through either love bombing or gaslighting.
  • Fulfillment of Emotional Needs: Victims may believe that the scammer genuinely cares for them and fulfills their emotional needs (a form of projection or transference.) This sense of emotional fulfillment, whether real or perceived, motivates victims to continue investing time, energy, emotions, and money into the relationship.
  • Hope and Optimism: Intrinsic motivation fuels the victim’s hope and optimism about the relationship’s future. Despite any doubts or warning signs (which victims usually cannot see,) victims may cling to the belief that the scammer’s intentions are genuine, driven by their desire for love, happiness, and fulfillment.
  • Sense of Purpose: The relationship with the scammer gives victims a new sense of purpose or meaning in their lives, especially if they feel unfulfilled or lacking direction. Believing in the authenticity of the relationship can provide victims with a sense of identity and belongingness.

Overall, intrinsic motivation compels victims to invest emotionally in the scam, even when faced with doubts or suspicions. The emotional rewards and fulfillment derived from the relationship outweigh rational considerations, making it challenging for victims to break free from the scammer’s influence.

However, this often lingers after the scam has been discovered and results in profound denial.

Examples of intrinsic motivation in scam victims during and after the scam include:

  • Emotional Fulfillment: During the scam, victims may experience a sense of emotional fulfillment or gratification from the perceived attention, affection, or companionship provided by the scammer. They may feel valued, appreciated, or loved, which motivates them to continue investing time, energy, and resources into the relationship. After the scam, victims may struggle to let go of the emotional attachment they formed with the scammer, despite knowing that the relationship was based on deception.
  • Personal Growth: Some victims may view their involvement in the scam as an opportunity for personal growth or self-improvement. They may believe that overcoming challenges or obstacles presented by the scammer will help them develop resilience, perseverance, or other positive traits. After the scam, victims may reflect on their experiences and use them as learning opportunities to become more cautious, discerning, or assertive in future interactions.
  • Curiosity and Exploration: Scammers often lure victims into engaging with them by presenting enticing opportunities or novel experiences. Victims may be motivated by curiosity or a sense of adventure to explore new possibilities or take risks in pursuit of potential rewards. During the scam, victims may rationalize their involvement as a form of exploration or experimentation, driven by a desire to discover what the scammer has to offer. After the scam, victims may grapple with feelings of regret or disillusionment as they come to terms with the consequences of their actions.
  • Psychological Needs: Scammers may exploit victims’ underlying psychological needs, such as the need for autonomy, competence, or relatedness, to manipulate them into compliance. Victims may be motivated by a subconscious desire to fulfill these fundamental human needs, which are intrinsic to their sense of well-being and fulfillment. After the scam, victims may experience a sense of loss or emptiness as they realize that their needs were not authentically met by the scammer, prompting them to seek alternative sources of satisfaction or fulfillment.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to the drive to engage in an activity or behavior to attain some external reward or avoid punishment or consequences, rather than for the inherent satisfaction or enjoyment derived from the activity itself. Unlike intrinsic motivation, which arises from internal factors such as personal interest, curiosity, or satisfaction, extrinsic motivation is fueled by external incentives or consequences.

Common examples of extrinsic motivators include monetary rewards, grades, praise, recognition, awards, and social approval. These external factors can influence behavior by providing tangible benefits or consequences that individuals perceive as valuable, desirable, or undesirable.

Extrinsic motivation can be effective in prompting certain behaviors or achieving specific outcomes, especially in situations where clear incentives or consequences are present. However, reliance solely on extrinsic motivators may lead to dependence on external rewards and diminished intrinsic motivation over time, as individuals may become less interested in the activity itself once the external incentives are removed.

In relationship scams, extrinsic motivators can play a significant role in both perpetrating the scam and influencing the behavior of the victim.

Scammers often exploit extrinsic motivators such as financial gain, social status, or emotional validation to manipulate their victims into complying with their demands or engaging in deceptive practices. Victims may be lured by promises of financial rewards, romantic affection, or social acceptance, leading them to overlook red flags and rationalize their actions in pursuit of the perceived benefits. As the scam progresses, victims may become increasingly reliant on external rewards or validation from the scammer, making it difficult for them to break free from the manipulative influence of the scam.

Overall, while extrinsic motivation can be a powerful driver of behavior, it is important to recognize its limitations and potential pitfalls, especially in situations where external incentives may be used to exploit or manipulate individuals for nefarious purposes.

Examples of extrinsic motivation in scam victims during and after the scam include:

  • Financial Gain: During the scam, victims may be motivated by the promise of financial rewards or profits offered by the scammer, this is especially true in fake cryptocurrency investment scams. They may believe that participating in the scam will lead to substantial financial gains, such as receiving a large inheritance, winning a lottery, or securing a lucrative business opportunity. After the scam, victims may continue to pursue financial recovery or restitution as a form of external motivation, seeking compensation for their losses through legal means or restitution programs. This helps make them vulnerable to both the original scam but also to money recovery scams after the scam is over.
  • Social Approval: Scammers often use manipulative tactics that appeal to victims’ desire for social acceptance or approval. Victims may be motivated to comply with the scammer’s requests to maintain their perceived social status or reputation within their social circles. After the scam, victims experience feelings of embarrassment, shame, or social stigma, leading them to seek validation or support from others as a form of external motivation to cope with the aftermath of the scam.
  • Emotional Validation: Scammers manipulate victims by providing emotional validation or affection as a means of gaining their trust and loyalty. Victims are often motivated to engage in the scam to fulfill their need for emotional connection, companionship, or romantic validation. After the scam, victims may continue to seek emotional support or validation from the scammer, despite knowing that the relationship was based on deception and manipulation as a form of denial.
  • Avoiding Punishment: Scammers may use threats or coercion to intimidate victims into complying with their demands, instilling fear of negative consequences if they refuse to cooperate. Scam victims may be motivated to avoid punishment or retaliation by complying with the scammer’s instructions, even if it means engaging in illegal or unethical behavior. After the scam, victims may experience ongoing fear or anxiety about potential repercussions, motivating them to take action to protect themselves or seek legal assistance to mitigate the consequences of their involvement in the scam. But this can also turn into denial and isolation based on the belief that they are ashamed of any illegal acts they performed and desire to avoid reporting because they mistakenly believe that nothing will happen to them.

Achievement Motivation

Achievement motivation in the case of relationship scams can manifest as a strong desire for personal accomplishment or success within the fabricated narrative presented by the scammer. Scam victims driven by achievement motivation may be motivated to excel in the perceived challenges or goals set by the scammer, such as overcoming obstacles, proving their commitment, or meeting financial expectations.

This more often shows up in scams that involve financial components, such as 419 financial scams, Lotto scams, black money scams, gold and inheritance scams, and others where financial gain is important.

During the scam, victims with high achievement motivation may view the relationship as a journey or adventure where they strive to meet the scammer’s demands, whether it’s sending money, sharing personal information, or engaging in other compromising activities. The achievement of these tasks, as outlined by the scammer, provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose for the victim.

Another example of where this may play a strong role is in sextortion scams. Where the victim is eager to participate because of the anticipation of receiving the reward in the form of the other party’s sexually explicit images.

After the scam, victims may experience a range of emotions related to achievement motivation. If they believe they successfully met the scammer’s expectations, they might initially feel a sense of accomplishment and the resultant reward in their mind. However, as the deception unravels, victims often confront the harsh reality that their achievements were based on false premises, leading to feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, and disappointment.

In some cases, victims may redirect their achievement motivation towards recovery and personal growth but can just as easily direct it towards revenge fantasies and other negative behaviors. They may seek support, engage in self-reflection, and work towards overcoming the negative impact of the scam. Achieving resilience and learning from the experience can become a new set of goals for victims with a strong achievement orientation. Or they may engage in scam baiting and other forms of vigilante activities that ultimately cause more harm than good.

Examples of achievement motivation in scam victims during and after the scam include:

During the scam:

  • Meeting financial demands: Victims may feel motivated to send money to the scammer in the belief that meeting their financial requests will solidify the relationship or lead to a promised reward.
  • Accomplishing tasks: Scammers often assign tasks or challenges to victims, such as obtaining loans, transferring funds, or providing personal information. Victims may feel compelled to complete these tasks to demonstrate their commitment and trustworthiness.
  • Overcoming obstacles: Victims may view the obstacles presented by the scammer, such as logistical challenges or financial barriers, as opportunities to demonstrate resilience and determination.

After the scam:

  • Seeking justice: Victims may be motivated to seek restitution or legal action against the scammer or financial institutions involved in the fraud, driven by a desire to right the wrongs committed against them. They may also be motivated to seek revenge and engage in vigilante activities that will prove harmful and increase their trauma.
  • Rebuilding trust: Victims may set goals related to rebuilding trust in themselves and others, such as learning to recognize red flags in future relationships or seeking support from trusted individuals.
  • Advocacy and awareness: Some victims may channel their experiences into advocacy efforts, raising awareness about romance scams and supporting other victims. This may involve speaking out publicly, participating in support groups, or volunteering with anti-scam organizations. However, here again, this motivation can turn toward the dark side as it motivates victims to act in their own self-interest fard beyond their skill, knowledge, and professionalism that can harm others.

Power Motivation

Power motivation in relationship scams involves the desire for control, influence, and authority, both over others and one’s own circumstances. This is most typically the motivation of the criminal scammer or fraudster.

In the context of scams, power motivation can manifest in various ways:

  • Dominance over the victim: Scammers almost always use manipulation tactics to exert power and control over their victims. They may employ psychological techniques to gain compliance, instill fear, or exploit vulnerabilities, ultimately seeking dominance in the relationship. Scam victims can sometimes detect this as a domineering and controlling relationship.
  • Deception and manipulation: Scammers leverage power motivation to deceive scam victims into believing false narratives or complying with their demands. They exploit the victim’s trust or emotional vulnerabilities to maintain a position of authority and control.
  • Financial gain and exploitation: Power motivation drives scammers to exploit victims for financial gain, using tactics such as grooming, manipulation, coercion, blackmail, or threats to manipulate them into sending money or disclosing sensitive information.
  • Psychological manipulation: Scammers almost always employ tactics such as gaslighting, emotional manipulation, or love bombing to exert power and control over their victims’ emotions and behavior. They seek to undermine the victim’s confidence, independence, or decision-making abilities to maintain dominance in the relationship for their criminal purpose.

After falling victim to a trust-based scam, individuals will experience a shift in power dynamics as they confront the deception and manipulation perpetrated by the criminals. They can reclaim their power by accepting they are a scam victim, reporting the crime to the police, joining a support group and seeking counseling and therapy to rebuild their confidence and self-esteem, and taking steps to protect their identity, accounts from takeover, and themselves from future exploitation.

Affiliation Motivation

Affiliation motivation in relationship scams pertains to the innate human desire for social connection, belongingness, and intimacy. Scammers often exploit this motivation by leveraging emotional manipulation and deception to establish a false sense of intimacy and connection with their victims.

Here’s how affiliation motivation manifests in the case of relationship scams:

  • Emotional bonding: Scammers use tactics such as love bombing, flattery, and romantic gestures to invent a sense of emotional intimacy and connection with their victims. They may claim to share similar interests, values, or life experiences to create a false sense of compatibility and rapport – all learning during the grooming phase of the crime.
  • Relationship development: Scammers invest time and effort in grooming their victims, gradually deepening the emotional bond and attachment. They may engage in lengthy conversations, share personal stories, and express affection to cultivate a sense of trust and closeness.
  • Fulfillment of social needs: Victims of relationship scams may be motivated by a desire for companionship, love, and validation, making them susceptible to manipulation by scammers who exploit these needs for their own gain.
  • Vulnerability to exploitation: Affiliation motivation can make individuals more susceptible to manipulation and deception, as they may overlook warning signs or red flags in favor of maintaining the perceived connection with the scammer. This vulnerability can be further exacerbated by feelings of loneliness, isolation, or low self-esteem.

After discovering the deception of a romance scam, victims may experience profound feelings of betrayal, grief, and loss as they come to terms with the betrayal of trust and the loss of the perceived relationship. Over time, they may seek support from friends, family, or support groups to rebuild their social connections and recover from the emotional impact of the scam.

Understanding Motivation for What It Is!

Understanding the different types of motivation and how they are exploited in scams is survival knowledge for scam victims for several reasons:

  • Awareness: Recognizing the psychological tactics employed by scammers can help victims become more vigilant and discerning in their interactions, reducing the likelihood of falling prey to similar schemes in the future.
  • Empowerment: Knowledge of how manipulation works can empower victims to break free from the emotional hold of the scam and regain control over their lives – during or after the scam ends. By understanding the underlying motivations behind their actions, victims can begin to unravel the deception and take steps towards recovery.
  • Prevention: Armed with awareness of common scam tactics, victims can (hopefully) educate others and raise awareness in their communities to prevent others from falling victim to similar schemes. Sharing their experiences and insights can help protect vulnerable individuals from exploitation.
  • Recovery: Understanding the psychological impact of the scam can aid victims in their recovery journey by providing insights into their own emotions and behaviors. By acknowledging the role of motivation in their victimization, individuals can seek appropriate support and resources to heal from the trauma and rebuild their lives.
  • Resilience: Ultimately, understanding how manipulation works can help scam victims develop resilience and protective strategies to safeguard themselves against future scams. By learning from their experiences and adopting proactive measures, victims can better protect themselves from falling prey to similar tactics in the future.

Important Information for New Scam Victims

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

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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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