Scam Victims Avoid or Escape the Aftermath of Scams – How Denial and Distraction Avoid Confronting Reality

Helping Scam Victims Understand Negative Behaviors that can affect their recovery

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

About This Article

Scam victims often resort to denial, avoidance, and distractions as coping mechanisms to escape the harsh reality of their situation after discovering they have been scammed. Denial allows victims to bury their feelings and pretend as though nothing has happened, shielding themselves from further emotional distress.

They may minimize the severity of the scam or deflect responsibility onto external factors to absolve themselves of guilt and shame. Avoidance behaviors involve changing the subject, avoiding discussions about the scam, or even refusing to acknowledge its existence.

Meanwhile, escapes, distractions or excessive work provide temporary relief from emotional turmoil. However, these negative coping mechanisms only delay the recovery process and prolong suffering.

Ultimately, facing reality, acknowledging emotions, and seeking support are essential steps for scam victims to heal and rebuild their lives.

SCARS Scam Victim Support & Recovery Program

Scam Victims cannot escape or avoid reality, nor can they ignore their trauma. Denial, avoidance, and distractions may keep it away for a while but it will come back worse!

It is natural that scam victims would want to escape from their reality after discovering that they have been scammed but it is not always healthy.

Discovering that one has fallen victim to a scam is a devastating blow, shaking the very foundation of trust and security.

In the aftermath, scam victims often find themselves grappling with a myriad of overwhelming emotions, from anger and disbelief to shame and despair. Faced with the harsh reality of their situation, some individuals may instinctively seek to escape from their pain rather than confront it head-on. This escape can take various forms, serving as a temporary reprieve from the harsh realities of their circumstances. However, in all cases, it is usually a bad move since it postpones or freezes their opportunities for recovery.

Blame

It is important to understand that this is not blaming victims, but rather helping them to understand the consequences of decisions they make after the scam is over. See more about this below.

Important Note

Not all things that look like escaping or distraction actually are.

For example, a scam victim who goes to stay with relatives for support is not an escape. Cutting off toxic judgment from others is establishing healthy boundaries, not denial. See more about this below.

Denial

One common method of escaping reality for scam victims is through denial.

Rather than acknowledging the full extent of their losses and the need for recovery, some individuals may choose to bury their feelings and pretend as though nothing has happened. They may avoid discussing the scam or its consequences, dismissing any attempts by others to address the issue. By denying the severity of their situation, victims hope to shield themselves from further emotional distress and maintain a semblance of normalcy in their lives.

Denial is a powerful defense (negative coping) mechanism that many scam victims instinctively turn to in the aftermath of discovering they’ve been deceived. It serves as a psychological shield, protecting individuals from the full impact of the betrayal and allowing them to maintain a sense of normalcy amidst the chaos. However, denial is a double-edged sword, offering temporary relief while simultaneously prolonging the victim’s suffering and delaying the recovery process. The trauma from these crimes does not just go away because it is denied. In the long term this can do severe emotional and psychological damage to the victim.

Minimization

One way in which scam victims engage in denial is by minimizing the severity of the scam. They downplay the extent of their losses or rationalize their decision to trust the scammer, convincing themselves that they are fine and will easily recover from this. By minimizing the severity of the scam, victims attempt to preserve their self-image and avoid confronting the harsh reality of their situation.

Deflecting Responsibility

Another form of denial involves deflecting responsibility for the scam onto external factors or individuals. They may also shift blame onto others who they believe should have protected them from falling victim to the scam, such as family members, friends, or even authorities. By deflecting responsibility, victims attempt to absolve themselves of guilt and shame, thereby trying to preserve their self-esteem.

Every scam victim made the fundamental mistake of talking to a stranger. Of course, what followed was not their fault – it was the criminal’s fault – but it was also not the fault of others. Yes, institutions should have done more and we all want them to, but that does not mean it was their fault either. But regardless, the scam victim is ultimately responsible for the consequences and has to recover from it if they want to live a normal life again.

Denying Trauma and Emotional Impact

Many scam victims may also engage in denial by refusing to acknowledge the emotional impact of the scam. They may suppress their feelings of anger, betrayal, or grief, convincing themselves that they are not affected by the scam or that their emotions are unwarranted and invalid. By denying their emotional pain, victims hope to maintain a façade of strength and resilience, even in the face of adversity. However, this only tends to increase the impact and trauma from the experience.

Avoiding the Subject

They may change the subject when the topic arises, avoid discussing the scam with friends or family members, or even refuse to acknowledge the existence of the scam entirely. By avoiding the subject, victims hope to protect themselves from further emotional distress and maintain a sense of control over their lives. Note that this is different from creating boundaries that can help protect the scam victim during their recovery.

While denial may offer temporary relief from the pain of the scam, it ultimately prevents victims from fully processing their emotions and taking the necessary steps toward recovery. By denying the severity of the scam, deflecting responsibility, suppressing their emotions, or avoiding the subject altogether, victims only prolong their suffering and delay the healing process. It is only by acknowledging the reality of the scam, accepting their emotions, and seeking support from others that victims can begin to heal and move forward with their lives.

Avoidance & Distractions Behavior

Another coping mechanism employed by scam victims is distraction and avoidance

Instead of facing their pain directly, individuals may immerse themselves in activities or pursuits that serve as distractions from their reality. Whether it’s binge-watching television shows, engaging in excessive retail therapy, or throwing themselves into work, these distractions offer a temporary escape from the overwhelming emotions brought on by the scam.

One form of this distraction-avoidance behavior is finding ways to escape from it, such as elevated or increased social activities (and the other risky behaviors that go with that,) or going on vacations or travel to get a change of scenery.

Distractions and Avoidance Behaviors

Distractions and avoidance behaviors serve as negative coping mechanisms for scam victims, allowing them to temporarily escape the harsh realities of their situation and avoid facing the consequences of the scam. These behaviors provide a sense of relief from the emotional turmoil and cognitive dissonance that often accompany the discovery of being deceived. By diverting their attention away from the scam and its aftermath, victims create a buffer zone that shields them from the full impact of their losses and the need for recovery. However, this comes at a cost to their ability to face their full responsibility and being able to recover from the crime. Time spent avoiding the reality of the situation will be stolen away in the future when the impact of the trauma resurfaces much worse than it would have been if it was addressed early on.

Using Work as a Distraction

One common distraction tactic used by scam victims is busying themselves with work or other responsibilities. By throwing themselves into their jobs or daily tasks, victims believe they can temporarily block out thoughts of the scam and the emotions associated with it. The sense of productivity and accomplishment gained from completing tasks provides a fleeting sense of control and normalcy in an otherwise chaotic situation.

Avoiding Recovery

Avoidance behaviors also play a significant role in helping scam victims evade the consequences of the scam and delay the recovery process. Victims may avoid discussing the scam with support groups, or family and friends, fearing judgment or criticism for their perceived naivety.

They may also steer clear of seeking professional help or support groups, believing that doing so would force them to confront the painful realities of their situation. Even in support groups, they may be passive and noncommittal believing that they do not need to be actively involved in recovery.

Ultimately, distractions and avoidance behaviors offer temporary relief from the pain and stress of the scam, but they do little to address the underlying issues of trauma, grief, shame, and blame, or facilitate true healing.

In order to move forward and recover from the scam, victims must confront their emotions, seek support from others, and take proactive steps toward rebuilding their lives. By acknowledging the reality of the scam and facing the consequences head-on, victims can begin to reclaim their sense of agency and move forward with resilience and strength in the shortest possible time.

Substance Abuse

Similarly, some victims turn to substance abuse or addictive behaviors as a form of distraction. Alcohol, drugs, gambling, or excessive spending offer temporary relief from the pain and stress of the scam, numbing emotions and providing a brief escape from reality. However, these behaviors only serve to exacerbate the victim’s problems in the long run, leading to financial instability, health issues, and further emotional distress.

Substance abuse can also become a means of escape for some scam victims. In an attempt to numb their pain and dull their emotions, individuals may turn to alcohol, drugs, or other addictive substances. Substance abuse offers a temporary reprieve from the emotional turmoil of the scam, allowing victims to temporarily forget their troubles and experience a fleeting sense of euphoria or numbness. However, this escape is short-lived and often comes with its own set of consequences, further exacerbating the victim’s predicament. Click here to learn more about this.

Escaping into Fantasy

Escaping into fantasy or delusion is another coping mechanism that scam victims may employ to avoid confronting their reality. They may create elaborate fantasies or narratives in which the scam never occurred or imagine scenarios in which they emerge victorious and recoup their losses.

A common avoidance mechanism that we see often with victims is those who refuse to believe that photos and identities are stolen. They believe that the relationship they had was just a big misunderstanding or lies told by their enemies. They cling to the belief that it was all real and that the person they were involved with during the scam was real, true, and coming to join them.

While these fantasies provide a temporary escape from the pain of the scam, they ultimately prevent victims from facing the truth and taking the necessary steps toward recovery. Worse, they can lead to serious mental disorders.

Seeking Escape

Ultimately, while seeking to escape from the pain of a scam may offer temporary relief, it is not a sustainable or effective long-term solution. After all, an escape is only going to come back with a higher cost in the long run.

To truly heal and move forward, scam victims must confront their reality head-on, acknowledge their emotions, and take proactive steps toward recovery. This may involve seeking support from professionally managed support groups, from friends and loved ones, seeking professional help from therapists or counselors, and taking practical measures to address the financial and emotional fallout of the scam.

Only by facing their pain and actively engaging in the recovery process can scam victims hope to rebuild their lives and reclaim their sense of security and well-being.

Is it Denial or Avoidance, or a Healthy Change?

Distinguishing between denial or avoidance behaviors and healthy environment changes that aid in scam victim recovery requires careful observation of the individual’s attitudes, actions, and overall well-being.

Here are some key differences:

  • Awareness and Acknowledgment: Healthy environment changes involve acknowledging the reality of the scam and its impact on the victim. Victims actively seek support, educate themselves about scams, and acknowledge their emotions. Denial or avoidance, on the other hand, typically involves minimizing or ignoring the scam’s severity, refusing to discuss it, or pretending it didn’t happen and then engaging is some escapist activity.
  • Engagement vs. Disengagement: Victims who are making healthy changes actively engage in recovery efforts, such as attending support groups, seeking therapy, or joining online forums for scam victims. They are open to discussing their experiences and exploring ways to heal. Conversely, individuals in denial or avoidance tend to disengage from discussions about the scam, avoid seeking support, and may isolate themselves from others, however, they may also stay engaged but only to display their escape activities.
  • Behavioral Patterns: Healthy environment changes often involve adopting positive coping strategies, such as practicing self-care, setting boundaries, and establishing a support network. Victims take proactive steps to address financial, emotional, and psychological challenges caused by the scam. Conversely, denial or avoidance behaviors may manifest as unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse, excessive work, or engaging in risky behaviors to distract from the pain. Self-case is typically very minimal and internal, avoidance versions of self-care tend to be grandiose and involve self-promotion.
  • Long-term vs. Short-term Relief: Healthy changes contribute to long-term recovery and well-being. Victims gradually come to terms with their experience, learn from it, and rebuild their lives with resilience. Conversely, denial or avoidance behaviors offer only temporary relief from discomfort and emotional distress. The underlying issues remain unresolved, leading to prolonged suffering and potential relapse into harmful behaviors.
  • Professional Guidance: Seeking professional help is a hallmark of healthy recovery. Victims who acknowledge their need for support may seek therapy or counseling to address trauma, grief, or other psychological issues. They may also consult financial advisors to manage the aftermath of financial losses. Denial or avoidance, on the other hand, often involves resistance to professional help or dismissal of its necessity.
  • Financial Decision Making: Scam victims making healthy changes stay in control of their financial situation, they recognize the precarious nature of their finances and do not engage in activities that make them feel good but break the bank. Conversely, denial or avoidance behaviors offer involve costly or elaborate expenses, such as travel or shopping sprees to make them feel better.

Real, healthy environment changes involve acknowledging reality, actively engaging in recovery efforts, adopting positive coping strategies, and seeking professional support. Denial or avoidance behaviors, on the other hand, manifest as minimizing the scam’s impact, disengaging from recovery efforts or just going through the motions, resorting to unhealthy coping mechanisms, and resisting professional help. By understanding these differences, scam victims can better assist themselves in their journey toward healing and recovery.

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 www.ScamPsychology.org

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 article is intended for educational and self-help purposes only and should not be construed as a substitute for professional therapy or counseling.

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.

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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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