Neurodivergent/Neuroatypical/Autistic Scam Victims and Manipulation in Relationship Scams

Neurodivergent Individuals face special challenges in both Avoiding Scams and Recovering from the Trauma they produce

Protecting Neurodivergent Individuals with Strategies to Avoid Scams and Fraud and How to Recover from Them

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

Neurodivergent individuals, including those with autism, are particularly vulnerable to scams due to unique cognitive and social challenges. Scammers exploit difficulties in social communication, trust, and decision-making, often targeting these individuals’ need for routine and connection.

Protecting neurodivergent adults requires tailored education about common scams, support networks to aid in decision-making, and practical safeguards like secure digital practices.

Recovery from scams should focus on specialized therapy to address trauma, rebuilding trust, enhancing executive functioning skills, and providing financial counseling.

By understanding these vulnerabilities and implementing comprehensive support, we can help neurodivergent individuals avoid scams and recover effectively if targeted.

Neurodivergent/Neuroatypical/Autistic Scam Victims And Manipulation In Relationship Scams - 2024

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!

Protecting Neurodivergent/Neuroatypical Individuals: Strategies to Avoid Scams and Fraud and How To Recover from Them

Adults with autism or those who are Neuroatypical or Neurodivergent are often considered more susceptible to scams, fraud, and deception due to several cognitive and social factors associated with their neurological development and functioning. Research in this area is very sparse and is still developing, but some key points highlight why adults with autism might be particularly vulnerable.

We apologize in advance if we use terms and phrases that may be triggering. Our intent is to explore the subject for those who are neuroatypical and for their families, to help them better understand their vulnerability to scams and special needs during recovery.

What is Neuroatypical?

For those who may be reading this and who may not understand these terms, let us explain briefly what this means.

The term “neuroatypical” refers to individuals whose neurological development and functioning are atypical or divergent or different from what is considered “neurotypical.” This encompasses a range of conditions including autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and other developmental, cognitive, and learning differences.

Other accepted or widely used terms for individuals who are neuroatypical include:

Neurodiverse: This term highlights the diversity of human brains and neurological variations. It is often used in the context of the neurodiversity movement, which advocates for understanding and acceptance of these variations as natural and valuable aspects of human diversity.

Neurodivergent: This term is often used interchangeably with neuroatypical and refers to individuals whose neurological development diverges from the norm. It includes those with conditions like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others.

Neurodiverse Individuals: This phrase is sometimes used to emphasize the inclusion of neurodivergent people within the broader context of human diversity.

While “neuroatypical” is understood and used in certain contexts, “neurodivergent” and “neurodiverse” are increasingly preferred within both academic and advocacy communities, as they emphasize the positive aspects of neurological differences and promote acceptance and inclusion.

Special Neurodivergent Vulnerabilities to Scams & Scammers

Easy to Locate and Target

Any group of people that share common interests or needs often aggregate in online groups and forums to be part of a community and share life experiences. This both provides support but also makes them an easy target. Scammer infiltrate such groups and target their membership.

Social Communication Challenges

Individuals who are Neurodivergent often experience difficulties with social communication and interpreting social cues. This can make it harder for them to recognize when someone is being deceitful or manipulative.

They often take people at face value and have a strong tendency to trust others, which scammers can exploit.

Theory of Mind

Many Neurodivergent individuals have challenges with the theory of mind, which is the ability to understand others’ thoughts, intentions, and perspectives. This can make it difficult to anticipate deceitful behavior or recognize ulterior motives.

Rigidity in Thinking

Neurodivergent individuals can exhibit rigid thinking patterns, making it harder for them to adapt quickly to new or unexpected situations, such as a scam attempt.

They might struggle with ambiguity and therefore rely on concrete information, which scammers can manipulate to appear legitimate.

Social Isolation

Many adults who are Neurodivergent experience social isolation and loneliness. Scammers often prey on individuals who are seeking social interaction or companionship, making those with autism potential targets for relationship scams.

Executive Functioning

Executive functioning difficulties, which are common in Neurodivergent Individuals, can impair an individual’s ability to plan, organize, and make informed decisions. This can lead to difficulties in assessing the risk of potential scams or recognizing warning signs.

Experience and Education

There may be a lack of targeted education and awareness about scams and fraud tailored to the needs of Neurodivergent adults. Ensuring that they have access to appropriate resources and training can help mitigate vulnerability.

Previous Victimization

Studies have shown that individuals who are Neurodivergent are more likely to have been victims of bullying or other forms of exploitation in the past, which can increase vulnerability and the likelihood of being targeted by scammers.

How Scammers Exploit the Autistic/Neuroatypical/Neurodivergent

Scammers can exploit victims who are Neurodivergent by taking advantage of their unique cognitive and social characteristics (as mentioned above.) While all of the items below apply to most victims, they are especially important to understand for neurodiverse individuals.

Here are several ways in which scammers may target and manipulate autistic individuals:

Exploiting Social Communication Challenges

Literal Interpretation: Neurodivergent individuals may interpret statements and intentions literally, missing subtle cues that signal deceit. Scammers can use straightforward, seemingly honest communication to gain their trust.

Difficulty with Nonverbal Cues: They may struggle to read nonverbal cues such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice on voice or video calls, which can make it harder to detect dishonesty or insincerity.

Manipulating Trust

Inherent Trust in Others: Many Neurodivergent individuals tend to have a strong sense of trust and may not readily suspect malicious intent. Scammers exploit this by presenting themselves as friendly and trustworthy.

Authority Figures: Scammers posing as figures of authority (e.g., law enforcement, military, government officials, financial advisors) can manipulate autistic/neurodiverse individuals who are taught to respect and obey authority.

Targeting Loneliness and Social Isolation

Seeking Companionship: Relationship scammers target Neurodivergent individuals who are seeking social interaction or companionship, exploiting their desire for connection. This is especially true in online groups intended for neurodivergent individuals.

Emotional Manipulation: Scammers can easily feign affection or friendship to create emotional bonds, making it easier to manipulate the victim.

Taking Advantage of Rigidity in Thinking

Routine and Predictability: Neurodivergent individuals often prefer routine and predictability. Scammers can exploit this by introducing scams that appear to fit into these predictable patterns.

Ambiguity Intolerance: Scammers provide clear, seemingly unambiguous instructions or offers, which can be appealing to someone who struggles with ambiguous situations.

Exploiting Executive Functioning Challenges

Decision-Making: Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with executive functioning skills like decision-making, planning, and assessing risks. Scammers exploit this by creating a sense of urgency, pressuring victims into making quick, uninformed decisions.

Overwhelming Information: Scammers may provide an overload of information, knowing it can overwhelm the victim and lead to compliance with the scam.

Leveraging Previous Victimization

Past Exploitation: Individuals who are Neurodivergent and who have experienced bullying or exploitation may have lower self-esteem and be more susceptible to further manipulation because of past trauma and triggers. Scammers exploit this vulnerability by presenting themselves as protectors or rescuers.

Using Technology

Online Interactions: Many autistic/neurodivergent individuals find online communication easier than face-to-face interaction. Scammers exploit this comfort by engaging them through social media, dating sites, or email. In other words, using the very things they find comforting against them.

Phishing and Malware: Autistic individuals may be especially susceptible to phishing emails or malware disguised as legitimate communications, exploiting their trust in digital interactions.

Example Scenarios:

Relationship Scam

An autistic/neurodivergent individual joins an online community seeking companionship. A scammer pretends to be a potential romantic partner, quickly building a close relationship. The scammer exploits the victim’s trust and emotional investment, eventually asking for money to help with a fabricated crisis. The victim, wanting to help their trusted partner, sends the money.

Investment Scam

An autistic/neurodivergent individual receives an email from someone posing as a financial advisor with a foolproof investment opportunity. The scammer provides detailed, seemingly legitimate information and a very structured plan, exploiting the victim’s difficulty in assessing the risk and urgency of the investment. Trusting the scammer’s authority and clear instructions, the victim invests their money and loses it all.

Protecting Against Exploitation

Education and Awareness: It is very important to provide Neurodivergent individuals with tailored information about common scams and tactics used by scammers. Friends and families should take extra care to help their neurodivergent family members and friends with information about these crimes, and specific actions they can take when presented with an ambiguous situation.

Support Networks: Encouraging them to discuss any suspicious interactions without shame or blame with trusted friends, family, or professionals before taking action.

Technology Use: Teaching safe online practices, such as verifying the authenticity of emails and websites. Using multi-factor authentication, and other procedures can help keep them safe.

Empowerment: Building self-esteem and critical thinking skills to better recognize and resist manipulative tactics. Make it clear that there are bad people in this world and that it is ok to say no!

By understanding these vulnerabilities and implementing protective measures, we can help reduce the risk of autistic individuals falling victim to scams and exploitation.

Avoiding Scams

Autistic and neuroatypical/neurodivergent individuals can take several steps to protect themselves from scams and fraud. These strategies involve enhancing awareness, leveraging support systems, and implementing practical measures to safeguard personal information and financial resources. Here are some key recommendations:

Education and Awareness

Understand Common Scams: Learn about different types of scams, such as phishing, lottery scams, investment fraud, and romance scams. Awareness of common tactics used by scammers can help individuals recognize red flags. is the place to start.

Stay Informed: Regularly read articles and updates from trusted sources about new and emerging scams. Government websites, consumer protection agencies, and autism advocacy organizations often provide valuable information.

Here are trustworthy information sources:

Communication and Social Support

Consult Trusted Individuals: Before making significant financial decisions or sharing personal information, consult with trusted family members, friends, or support workers. This can provide an extra layer of protection against impulsive actions.

Peer Support Groups: Joining support groups for autistic individuals can provide a safe space to discuss experiences and seek advice. Members can share tips on avoiding scams and provide emotional support.

Online Safety and Digital Literacy

Secure Personal Information: Avoid sharing sensitive personal information, such as Social Security numbers, bank details, or passwords, online or over the phone unless absolutely necessary and with trusted entities.

Verify Sources: Always verify the legitimacy of websites, emails, and phone calls. Check for official contact information and look for secure website indicators (such as “https://” in the URL).

Use Strong Passwords: Create strong, unique passwords for online accounts and use a password manager to keep track of them. Enable two-factor authentication (2FA or MFA) for added security.

Financial Safeguards

Monitor Accounts: Regularly monitor bank and credit card statements for any unauthorized transactions. Set up alerts for unusual activity.

Limit Financial Exposure: Use prepaid debit cards or dedicated accounts with limited funds for online purchases. This reduces the risk of significant financial loss if a scam occurs.

Freeze Credit: Consider placing a credit freeze on your credit reports to prevent scammers from opening new accounts in your name.

Behavioral Strategies

Pause and Reflect: Develop a habit of pausing and reflecting before making any financial decisions or responding to unsolicited offers. This can help prevent impulsive actions that scammers often exploit.

Trust Your Instincts: Encourage self-trust and intuition. If something feels off or too good to be true, it likely is.

Use Technology Wisely

Install Security Software: Use antivirus and anti-malware software to protect devices from cyber threats.

Regular Updates: Keep operating systems, browsers, and software up to date to protect against vulnerabilities.

Privacy Settings: Adjust privacy settings on social media and other online accounts to control who can see personal information and posts.

Training and Workshops

Attend Workshops: Participate in workshops and training sessions on financial literacy and scam prevention. These can be tailored to meet the needs of autistic individuals.

Role-Playing Scenarios: Engage in role-playing exercises to practice responding to potential scam scenarios. This can help build confidence and preparedness.

Legal and Professional Assistance

Legal Advice: Seek legal advice if you suspect you’ve been targeted by a scam. Legal professionals can provide guidance on next steps and how to protect yourself.

Financial Advisors: Work with a trusted financial advisor to develop a comprehensive plan for managing finances and avoiding fraud.


Recovering from scams can be particularly challenging for Neurodivergent individuals due to their unique cognitive and emotional profiles. It should be understood that neurodiverse people have a very broad range of capabilities. However, as a general rule, it is recommended that professionals trained in the specific needs of the neurodiverse should be their first line of support.

Here are some key considerations and strategies to support autistic scam victims in their recovery:

Emotional Support and Counseling

Specialized Therapy: Neurodivergent individuals can benefit from therapy provided by professionals experienced in both autism/neurodivergence and trauma. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) adapted for autistic and neurodivergent individuals can help address feelings of betrayal, anxiety, and depression.

Safe Space for Expression: Creating a non-judgmental and understanding environment where the scam victim can express their emotions is crucial. Autistic and neurodivergent individuals may have different ways of processing and expressing emotions, which should be respected and accommodated.

Building Trust and Social Connections

Rebuilding Trust: Neurodivergent Victims may struggle to trust others after being scammed. Gradually rebuilding trust through consistent, positive interactions with trusted individuals is essential.

Peer Support Groups: Connecting with others who have similar experiences can provide valuable support and reduce feelings of isolation. Autistic-specific support groups can be particularly beneficial. However, it is recommended that this option only be taken after consultation with a licensed mental health professional.

Cognitive and Behavioral Interventions

Addressing Cognitive Distortions: Therapy or counseling should focus on identifying and challenging cognitive distortions that may have been reinforced by the scam experience, such as overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking.

Developing Coping Strategies: Teaching effective coping strategies to manage stress and anxiety, such as mindfulness, relaxation techniques, and structured problem-solving.

Practical Assistance and Education

Financial Counseling: Providing guidance on financial management and recovery, including how to avoid future scams and rebuild financial stability is very important for anyone.

Education on Scams: Offering tailored education about common scams and red flags, using clear, concrete examples. Visual aids and/or step-by-step instructions can be particularly helpful.

Enhancing Executive Functioning Skills

Decision-Making Support: Teaching and practicing decision-making skills in a safe environment can help build confidence and reduce impulsivity.

Routine and Structure: Maintaining a structured daily routine can provide a sense of stability and predictability, helping to manage anxiety can also aid in recovery.

Technology and Online Safety

Digital Literacy: Providing education on safe online practices, including recognizing scams and phishing emails or messages, securing personal information, and using privacy settings on social media is very important.

Use of Trusted Software: Encouraging the use of antivirus software, password managers, and other tools to enhance online security is a must.

Family and Caregiver Involvement

Family Education: Educating family members about the impact of scams on autistic or neurodiverse individuals and how to provide support is essential, especially what to do in the event of an unknown or ambiguous situation.

Collaborative Approach: Working together with family, caregivers, and professionals to create a comprehensive support plan tailored to the individual’s needs is vital both for those recovering and in the event of future scams.

Example Recovery Plan for Neurodivergent Scam Victims

1. Initial Assessment:

Assess the emotional and psychological impact of the scam.

Identify immediate needs, such as financial assistance or crisis intervention.

2. Therapeutic Support:

Begin individual therapy with a focus on trauma and trust issues.

Join an autism or neurodiverse-specific support group for scam or crime victims (if available.)

3. Educational and Practical Support:

Attend workshops on financial management and scam awareness.

Work with a financial counselor to develop a financial recovery plan.

4. Skill Development:

Participate in decision-making and problem-solving skills training.

Engage in regular sessions to improve executive functioning.

5. Family and Social Support:

Involve the family in educational sessions to understand the victim’s needs and how to support them.

Establish regular check-ins with a trusted support network.


Efforts to protect Neurodivergent adults from scams include creating awareness about their specific vulnerabilities, developing targeted educational programs to teach them about common scams, and providing support networks to help them navigate social interactions safely. Additionally, having environments where autistic/neurodivergent individuals feel comfortable discussing their experiences and seeking help is paramount in preventing and addressing incidents of fraud and deception.

Recovering from scams is a multifaceted process that requires addressing the emotional, cognitive, and practical needs of the Neurodivergent victim. For Neurodivergent individuals, this means providing specialized support that acknowledges their unique challenges and strengths. By focusing on building trust, enhancing decision-making skills, and providing a supportive environment, we can help autistic scam victims regain confidence and resilience.

By adopting a combination of education, vigilance, and practical measures, autistic and neuroatypical/neurodivergent individuals can significantly reduce their risk of falling victim to scams and fraud. Leveraging support systems, enhancing digital literacy, and implementing robust financial safeguards are key strategies to ensure protection and peace of mind.

Neurodivergent/Neuroatypical/Autistic Scam Victims And Manipulation In Relationship Scams - 2024 - on SCARS - The Magazine of Scams Fraud and Cybercrime

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

Legal Notices: 

All original content is Copyright © 1991 – 2023 Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. (Registered D.B.A SCARS) All Rights Reserved Worldwide & Webwide. Third-party copyrights acknowledge.

U.S. State of Florida Registration Nonprofit (Not for Profit) #N20000011978 [SCARS DBA Registered #G20000137918] – Learn more at

SCARS, SCARS|INTERNATIONAL, SCARS, SCARS|SUPPORT, SCARS, RSN, Romance Scams Now, SCARS|INTERNATION, SCARS|WORLDWIDE, SCARS|GLOBAL, SCARS, Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams, Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams, SCARS|ANYSCAM, Project Anyscam, Anyscam, SCARS|GOFCH, GOFCH, SCARS|CHINA, SCARS|CDN, SCARS|UK, SCARS|LATINOAMERICA, SCARS|MEMBER, SCARS|VOLUNTEER, SCARS Cybercriminal Data Network, Cobalt Alert, Scam Victims Support Group, SCARS ANGELS, SCARS RANGERS, SCARS MARSHALLS, SCARS PARTNERS, are all trademarks of Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., All Rights Reserved Worldwide

Contact the legal department for the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated by email at