The Uniqueness Of Scam Victims Or Fraud Victims

Why Scam Victims are different than other type of Crime Victims

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

About This Article

Scam victims, distinct from other crime victims, face unique challenges spanning psychological, financial, educational, technological, and social realms.

Manipulated over extended periods, they endure deep emotional turmoil, including betrayal and shame. Financially, they suffer massive losses, often leading to homelessness and credit damage. Their vulnerability stems from a knowledge gap, as scams exploit intricate tactics victims fail to recognize.

Perpetrators wield sophisticated methods like grooming and coercion, further complicating victims’ recovery. Despite technological complexities and stigma, law enforcement often lacks adequate training, exacerbating victims’ struggles for justice.

Bridging this gap requires tailored support and resources, empowering victims to navigate the complexities of recovery and rebuild their lives. Advocacy for improved treatment by law enforcement and heightened awareness of scams’ unique impacts is crucial to ensuring victims receive the assistance and justice they deserve.

The Uniqueness Of Scam Victims Or Fraud Victims - 2024

Scam Victims are Unique Compared to other kinds of Crime Victims

Why are Scam Victims or Fraud Victims Unique?

Scam victims or fraud victims are unique in several ways compared to victims of other types of crimes:

  • Grooming, Manipulation and Control: Relationship scams victims (which can include romance scams, crypto investment scams, lotto scams, and many more) are almost always manipulated psychologically over long periods, where other types of crimes are generally short term and do not involve the psychological control mechanisms. Child Sexual abuse does have many things in common with relationship scams, and even sexual assault can involve psychological manipulation as well.
  • Psychological Impact: Scam victims often experience deep feelings of betrayal, embarrassment, and shame due to the deception and manipulation involved in scams. Unlike victims of traditional crimes like theft or assault, scam victims may blame themselves for falling for the scam, leading to significant psychological distress. Also, often these victims were involved with the criminals for weeks, months, or even years, leading to significant trauma.
  • Financial Losses: Scams can result in substantial financial losses for victims, often involving the theft of personal funds, retirement savings, or even assets. Unlike other crimes where the damage may be physical or limited to property, the financial impact of scams can be long-lasting and devastating, affecting victims’ financial stability and future prospects. They can leave victims without the financial resources to survive and in many cases can make them homeless.
  • Knowledge Gap: Ignorance of these crimes plays a very large role in the vulnerability of scam victims, unlike with other types of crimes. Additionally, after being victimized, scam victims are still very susceptible to being scammed again and again. This is very much different than other types of crime. Learning about scams and how they operate are both central to the recovery process but also to avoid scams in the future.
  • Technological Complexity: Many scams today involve sophisticated technological methods, such as phishing emails, fake websites, or malware, which can be difficult for victims to detect or understand. Victims may feel overwhelmed or helpless in navigating the intricacies of modern cybercrime, leading to heightened vulnerability.
  • Stigma and Isolation: Scam victims may face social stigma or judgment from others who perceive them as gullible or negligent, further exacerbating their emotional distress, of course, this is also true of other types of crime such as rape or domestic abuse. Moreover, victims may feel isolated in their experience, as scams often target individuals in private settings, such as online or over the phone, making it challenging to seek support or validation from others. Unlike other crimes that in the past were very stigmatizing, sexual assault and domestic violence are far better understood and accepted by the public, but scams still result in significant victim blaming.
  • Legal Recourse: Unlike victims of traditional crimes who may have clear avenues for legal recourse and restitution, scam victims often encounter significant challenges in recovering their losses or holding perpetrators accountable, especially if the scam originated from overseas or involved complex financial transactions. Additionally, scam victim often face questions about their participation in these crimes.

The unique combination of psychological, financial, educational, technological, and social factors makes scam victims particularly vulnerable and in need of specialized support and resources to cope with their experiences and navigate the road to recovery.

The Unique Manipulative Aspects of Scams on Victims

Scam victims endure a distinct form of victimization characterized by grooming, manipulation, and control, setting their experience apart from most other types of crime victims (except perhaps for sexual trafficking or child sexual assault victims.) Unlike traditional crimes that often involve direct acts of aggression or theft, scams unfold gradually, with perpetrators strategically employing psychological tactics to exploit victims’ trust and vulnerabilities.

Here’s how grooming, manipulation, and control in scams differ from those in other crimes:

  • Grooming for Trust: Scammers invest significant time and effort in grooming their victims, cultivating a false sense of trust and intimacy to facilitate their deception. Through persistent communication and feigned affection or friendship, perpetrators build rapport with their targets, creating a façade of credibility and reliability. This grooming process sets the stage for manipulation and control, as victims are more likely to comply with requests or divulge sensitive information to someone they perceive as trustworthy.
  • Emotional Manipulation: Scam victims are subjected to intricate forms of emotional manipulation designed to elicit specific responses and behaviors. Perpetrators exploit victims’ emotions, such as fear, greed, or sympathy, to exert control and influence their decision-making. By appealing to victims’ vulnerabilities and desires, scammers manipulate them into engaging in actions that serve the perpetrators’ interests, whether it’s sending money, disclosing personal information, or participating in illicit activities by becoming money mules.
  • Psychological Control: Scammers exert psychological control over their victims through various means, including isolation, gaslighting, and coercion. Victims may be isolated from friends and family members who could offer perspective or intervention, leaving them reliant solely on the perpetrator for support and validation. Gaslighting tactics are employed to undermine victims’ confidence in their own judgment, causing them to doubt their perceptions and reality. Additionally, perpetrators may use threats or intimidation to coerce victims into compliance, instilling fear of consequences if they resist or disclose the scam.
  • Financial Exploitation: One of the primary goals of scamming is financial exploitation, with perpetrators seeking to extract money or valuable assets from their victims. Through deceitful schemes, scammers deceive victims into making financial transactions or divulging banking information under false pretenses. The manipulation and control tactics employed by perpetrators ensure that victims remain compliant, even when faced with red flags or suspicions about the legitimacy of the scheme.
  • Long-Term Impact: The effects of grooming, manipulation, and control in scams can have long-lasting repercussions on victims’ emotional well-being, financial stability, and trust in others. Even after the scam is exposed or halted, victims may struggle to overcome feelings of betrayal, shame, and self-blame. Rebuilding trust in relationships, managing financial losses, and addressing psychological trauma require extensive support and resources tailored to the unique needs of scam victims.

Grooming, manipulation, and control in scams represent a sophisticated form of victimization that differs significantly from most other types of crimes. By understanding the distinct dynamics at play in scams, individuals can better recognize and mitigate the risks associated with fraudulent schemes, while providing targeted support and intervention for those who have been victimized.

The Unique Psychological Impact

Scam victims often experience unique psychological challenges that distinguish them from victims of other types of crimes. One such challenge is betrayal trauma, which arises from the betrayal of trust by someone the victim believed to be genuine and trustworthy. In the case of scams, perpetrators exploit the victim’s trust, building a false sense of intimacy or connection before exploiting them financially or emotionally. This betrayal leads to profound feelings of shock, disbelief, emotional distress, and trauma, as victims grapple with the realization that they have been deceived and manipulated by someone they trusted.

Scam victims may experience a sense of shame or embarrassment over their victimization, particularly if they feel responsible for falling for the scam or fear judgment from others. This can lead to social isolation and reluctance to seek support or assistance, further exacerbating feelings of loneliness and distress. Additionally, scam victims may struggle with feelings of powerlessness and loss of control over their lives, as they grapple with the financial and emotional repercussions of the scam.

The pervasive nature of scams means that often victims also experience ongoing anxiety and hypervigilance about their online safety and security. This can manifest as reluctance to engage in online activities, heightened distrust of others, and persistent fear of falling victim to another scam. These psychological challenges can have long-lasting effects on the well-being and mental health of scam victims, highlighting the importance of providing tailored support and interventions to address their unique needs.

The Knowledge Gap with Scam Victims

Scam victims often grapple with a unique knowledge gap that sets them apart from victims of other types of crimes. Unlike victims of more traditional crimes such as theft or assault, scam victims are frequently deceived through sophisticated manipulation tactics rather than overt acts of violence or coercion. This deceptive element introduces a distinct layer of complexity to their experience, contributing to a knowledge gap that encompasses several key aspects:

  • Deception Techniques: Scam victims often lack awareness of the intricate methods employed by fraudsters to exploit their trust and vulnerabilities. Whether it’s through persuasive communication, false promises, or manipulation of emotions, scammers use psychological tactics to deceive their targets. As a result, victims may struggle to recognize the signs of deception and are more susceptible to falling prey to similar schemes in the future.
  • Awareness of Scam Tactics: Scam victims benefit from learning about common scam tactics and manipulation techniques employed by fraudsters. This includes understanding how scammers exploit psychological vulnerabilities, create a sense of urgency, and use persuasive communication to deceive their targets. By becoming aware of these tactics, victims can better protect themselves from falling victim to future scams.
  • Digital Literacy: In an increasingly digital world, scam victims often lack the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate online platforms securely. Most scams originate online, leveraging email, social media, or fraudulent websites to ensnare unsuspecting victims. Limited understanding of cybersecurity best practices, such as recognizing phishing attempts or securing personal information online, can also leave individuals vulnerable to exploitation.
  • Financial Awareness: Scam victims often face financial repercussions stemming from monetary losses incurred during fraudulent schemes. However, they may possess limited financial literacy regarding investment strategies, banking protocols, or the intricacies of financial transactions. This gap in financial knowledge can amplify the impact of scams, hindering victims’ ability to recover financially and protect themselves from future exploitation.
  • Legal Rights and Remedies: Understanding one’s legal rights and available remedies in the aftermath of a scam can be challenging for victims. Navigating complex legal processes, such as reporting the crime to law enforcement, money recovery methods, cryptocurrency tracing and seizure, or pursuing restitution through civil litigation, requires a level of legal literacy that many scam victims may lack. Without adequate knowledge of their rights and options, victims may struggle to seek justice or obtain assistance from relevant authorities.
  • Emotional Impact: Scam victims often experience emotional distress, including feelings of shame, embarrassment, and betrayal. However, the psychological effects of scams may be underestimated or misunderstood by both the victims and others, leading to a lack of support and empathy from friends, family, or community members. This emotional isolation further widens the knowledge gap, leaving victims grappling with the aftermath of their experience alone.
  • Coping Strategies and Resilience Building: Education on coping strategies and resilience building is essential for helping scam victims navigate the emotional impact of their experience and rebuild their confidence and sense of security. This may involve learning techniques for managing stress, coping with feelings of shame and self-blame, and accessing mental health support services.

In essence, the unique knowledge gap faced by scam victims encompasses a broad spectrum of factors, including deception techniques, digital literacy, financial awareness, legal rights, and emotional impact. Bridging this gap requires targeted education, support services, and community resources tailored to the specific needs of scam victims, empowering them to navigate the complexities of recovery and rebuild their lives with resilience and confidence.

The Unique Financial Impact on Scam Victims

Scam victims often face devastating financial consequences that set them apart from victims of other types of crimes. One significant aspect is the massive loss of money incurred through the scam. Whether through crypto investment fraud, romance scams, or business email compromise, victims may lose substantial sums of money, sometimes their entire life savings or retirement funds. This financial loss can leave victims financially devastated, facing uncertainty about their future financial security and stability.

Moreover, the financial impact of scams can extend far beyond the immediate loss. Victims may face the risk of homelessness or foreclosure on their homes due to an inability to meet mortgage payments or rental obligations. The recovery process from a scam can be a multi-year journey, with victims struggling to regain their financial footing and break even. The loss of future retirement savings compounds the long-term financial implications, leaving victims with limited resources for their retirement years.

In addition to direct financial losses, scam victims may also suffer from credit damage and identity theft. Scammers often obtain sensitive personal and financial information from their victims, which can be used to open fraudulent accounts, take out loans, or make unauthorized purchases in the victim’s name. This can result in significant damage to the victim’s credit score and financial reputation, making it difficult to secure loans, mortgages, or lines of credit in the future.

Overall, the unique financial aspects of scam victimization, including massive financial loss, potential homelessness, the lengthy journey to financial recovery, credit damage, and identity theft, highlight the need for comprehensive support and assistance to help victims rebuild their financial lives and regain financial stability.

Scam Victims are Treated Differently by Law Enforcement

Scam victims are often treated differently by law enforcement compared to victims of other types of crimes due to several factors:

  • Law Enforcement Victim Training and Acceptance: Law enforcement officers are much better trained to deal with victims of other crimes, but when it comes to scam victims their ignorance shows. Their biases and judgment of scam victim culpability can be very harmful to victims.
  • Perception of Victim Blame: Some law enforcement officials may mistakenly view scam victims as responsible for their own victimization, particularly in cases involving financial scams or fraud. This victim-blaming attitude can undermine the support and assistance provided to scam victims by law enforcement, leading to feelings of frustration and alienation.
  • Jurisdictional Challenges: Scams frequently cross jurisdictional boundaries, involving perpetrators and victims located in different cities, states, or even countries. This can complicate investigations and enforcement efforts, as law enforcement agencies may lack the authority or resources to pursue cases that extend beyond their jurisdiction.
  • Limited Resources and Priorities: Law enforcement agencies may prioritize cases that involve violent crimes or pose an immediate threat to public safety over non-violent crimes like scams. As a result, scam victims may find that their cases receive lower priority or fewer resources from law enforcement agencies, particularly in areas with limited resources.
  • Lack of Specialized Training: Many law enforcement officers receive limited training in investigating and prosecuting scams and financial crimes compared to other types of criminal offenses. This lack of specialized training can hinder their ability to effectively identify, investigate, and prosecute scams, leading to fewer successful outcomes for scam victims.
  • The complexity of Scam Investigations: Scam investigations often involve complex financial transactions, digital evidence, and sophisticated tactics used by perpetrators to conceal their identities and evade detection. These complexities can pose significant challenges for law enforcement agencies, requiring specialized skills and resources to effectively investigate and prosecute scammers.

While efforts are being made to improve the treatment of scam victims by law enforcement, there remain significant challenges and disparities in how these cases are prioritized, investigated, and addressed within the criminal justice system. Advocacy efforts to raise awareness of the unique needs of scam victims and improve training and resources for law enforcement agencies are critical to ensuring that scam victims receive the support and justice they deserve.

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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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