Transference And Emotional Danger After The Scam

Understanding The Emotional Transference That Can Happen After The Scam Ends

Scam Victim Recovery Psychology

•  Tim McGuinness, Ph.D. – Anthropologist, Scientist, Director of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.
Updated 2024 – Originally published on 2019

About This Article

The article delves into the psychological concept of transference, particularly as it relates to scam victims, outlining its role in hindering recovery.

Transference, an unconscious process redirecting emotions and expectations from past relationships onto current individuals, emerges prominently in scam contexts. Victims often develop deep emotional bonds with fabricated personas, later struggling to accept the deception and projecting feelings onto innocent individuals, such as those whose photos were misappropriated.

This phenomenon, termed negative transference, can evoke complex emotions like anger, confusion, and sadness. Moreover, victims may grapple with delusional transference, clinging to fabricated connections despite awareness of the scam.

Navigating these emotional transitions requires embracing reality, avoiding delusion, and seeking support to foster healing and prevent harm to innocent parties involved.

Ultimately, understanding and addressing transference is pivotal for scam victims on their journey toward recovery and emotional well-being.

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Transference: When You Discover You Have Been Scammed Your Mind Can Seek Ways To Hold Onto Your Reality – Fake Or Not!

Transference is one of the psychological dangers that can affect scam victims and hold them back from beginning or completing their recovery.

What is Transference?

Transference is a psychological phenomenon that occurs in the context of a therapeutic or interpersonal relationship.

It involves the unconscious redirection of feelings, desires, and expectations from one person or source onto another. This phenomenon can be significant in psychotherapy but also occurs in everyday interactions and relationships. Here are some key points to understand about transference:

  1. Unconscious Process: Transference is not a conscious choice or deliberate action. It occurs at a subconscious level, often outside the individual’s awareness. As a result, people may not realize they are experiencing transference until it is brought to their attention. But when brought to their attention it is important to accept it.
  2. Origin in Past Relationships: Transference typically arises from unresolved emotions, experiences, or dynamics from past relationships (such as the scam relationship,) especially those involving authority figures or caregivers. Feelings and attitudes from these earlier relationships are projected onto the current person, often inappropriately.
  3. Positive and Negative Transference: Transference can be positive or negative. Positive transference involves projecting positive feelings onto the other person, such as admiration or affection. Negative transference involves projecting negative feelings, such as anger or mistrust.
  4. Impact in Support & Psychotherapy: In psychotherapy or counseling, transference plays a significant role. Clients may unconsciously transfer feelings and attitudes related to past figures onto their therapist. This can provide valuable insights into the client’s underlying issues and help address unresolved emotional conflicts. This can also happen with support providers.
  5. Awareness and Exploration: Therapists are trained to recognize and work with transference in a therapeutic context. They use it as a tool for understanding the client’s internal world and facilitating personal growth. Clients may also benefit from exploring their transference reactions in therapy to gain insight into their own emotional patterns.
  6. Transference in Everyday Life: Transference is not limited to therapy. It can also occur in everyday life, affecting how people perceive and interact with others. For example, someone might unconsciously treat a new friend like a strict parent based on unresolved childhood issues.
  7. Countertransference: In therapy, the therapist’s own emotions and reactions to the client can also be influenced by countertransference. This refers to the therapist’s unconscious reactions and feelings toward the client, which can affect the therapeutic relationship.
  8. Resolution and Healing: Exploring and understanding transference can be a pathway to resolving past emotional conflicts and achieving greater emotional health and self-awareness. It can lead to more authentic and fulfilling relationships.

Transference is a complex psychological phenomenon involving the unconscious redirection of feelings and attitudes from past relationships onto current individuals. It is a crucial concept in psychotherapy and can also impact everyday interactions and relationships. Recognizing and exploring transference can lead to personal growth, emotional healing, and improved relationships.

Negative Transference

Negative transference can occur when a scam victim discovers that they were the victim of a scam that involved the impersonation of a real person. The victim may then transfer the feelings that they had developed for the scammer (in the fake relationship) onto the real face in the photos that were used to manipulate them. Of course, they never had a relationship with the real person but not all scam victims can accept that.

In many cases, the victim will transfer their feelings (attachment) from the fake persona to the real person as though the relationship had been with them all along.

This can be a very difficult and confusing experience for the victim. They may feel betrayed, hurt, and angry. They may also feel guilty and ashamed for having fallen for the scam.

The victim may also experience a range of other emotions, such as:

  • Confusion: The victim may be confused about why the person in the photos would impersonate someone else and scam them.
  • Disbelief: The victim may not be able to believe that the person they fell in love with was not who they said they were.
  • Sadness: The victim may feel sad about the loss of the relationship and the future they thought they had with the scammer.
  • Anger: The victim may feel angry at the scammer for deceiving them and for taking their money.
  • Guilt: The victim may feel guilty for falling for the scam and for not being more careful.
  • Shame: The victim may feel ashamed for being scammed and for being fooled by the scammer.

What Transference Can Do

Please note: we are using terms that are accurate but may be interpreted as blaming the victims. This is done purely for accuracy. We know that the victims are not to blame for the scam. However, the transference and any actions that result from this can cause significant ethical questions that will need to be addressed eventually.

Transference can easily become delusional right after a scam when the victim is unable to accept the truth of the deception. This can result in denial. For example:

You’ve just discovered that you were deceived…

  • You trusted a fabricated identity. You believed in a fictitious name. You embraced a manufactured story.
  • It’s tough to accept, and you might question its reality. But could it be that the person you’ve come to know is genuine in some way?
  • Perhaps you genuinely admire the face in the photo, and maybe they genuinely care about you? Could it be that the face belongs to the actual scammer? Maybe they’re unaware of scams, and you could help educate and protect them? Is it possible that if you could just get to know them better, things might work out?
  • You acknowledge that you were indeed deceived, but now you find it challenging to let go of this connection, even though it’s based on something that isn’t real.

Transference in Romance Scams

In the context of a romance scam, transference refers to a psychological phenomenon where a scam victim redirects or transfers their emotional feelings and attachments, initially formed for the scammer’s fabricated persona, onto the real person whose photographs were used by the scammer to deceive them.

Here’s a breakdown of how transference works in this context:

  1. Initial Emotional Attachment: In a romance scam, the victim develops deep emotional feelings for the persona created by the scammer. This persona is often based on a false identity, including stolen photos and fabricated stories. The victim believes they are in a genuine romantic relationship with this persona.
  2. Discovery of Deception: At some point, the victim realizes or is made aware that they have been deceived by the scammer. They come to understand that the person they thought they were in love with does not actually exist.
  3. Transference Occurs: Instead of completely letting go of the emotional bond they formed with the fake persona, the victim may transfer these intense feelings onto the real individual whose photos were used by the scammer. They might believe that the real person in the photos is somehow connected to the scam or is still worthy of their affection.
  4. Complex Emotional Response: This emotional transference can result in a complex mix of emotions for the victim. They may feel love, anger, confusion, or a combination of these emotions towards the real person in the photos, even though that individual is entirely innocent and unaware of the scam.
  5. Potential for Further Complications: If the victim attempts to reach out to the real person, it can lead to misunderstandings, harassment, or unintended consequences for both parties involved. The victim’s expectations and emotions may not align with the reality of the situation.

In the wake of a romance scam, you find yourself at a crossroads, faced with profound choices that extend beyond the boundaries of your emotional landscape. The path you decide to tread ultimately rests in your hands, and it’s important to consider the consequences of your decisions.

Embracing Reality with Open Arms

One option is to wholeheartedly embrace the truth – to recognize that the person depicted in those photos was not the one behind the deception. It can be a difficult realization to come to terms with, but it is a critical step towards healing and moving forward.

Transcending the Temptation to Chase – Avoiding Delusional Transference

There’s a temptation to chase the illusion of love and devotion that was spun by the scammer and allow transference to take control. It’s natural to crave the affection you thought was real. However, remember that the person in those stolen photos might not even be aware of your existence. Transferring the emotions you felt for the scammer to the real person and then pursuing them, whether through online stalking or other means, can lead to unintended consequences and further heartache.

Choosing Understanding over Transference

In some cases, victims may feel a strong urge to contact the real person in the photos, believing they need to be warned about their stolen identity. While your intentions may be well-meaning, it’s important to exercise restraint and consider whether such an action is genuinely beneficial for them or for the other person – In most cases, it will not be.

Avoiding Blame and Transferred Hatred

Placing blame and harboring resentment towards the person in the photos is a tempting reaction. You may feel betrayed or hurt, and it’s natural to look for someone to hold responsible. However, it’s crucial to remember that they are likely innocent victims as well, just like you. This again is a form of transference of your feelings for the scammer and placing them onto the real person whose face is in the photos.

Transcending Delusion

As you navigate the turbulent waters of emotions following a romance scam, be cautious not to fall into the trap of trading one romanticized fantasy for another (this is what transference is.) It’s easy to seek solace in a new illusion that promises (false) hope and affection. However, this can perpetuate the cycle of deception and leave you vulnerable to further scams.

Seeking Support and Healing

Regardless of the path you choose, remember that you are not alone. Many individuals have faced similar situations and have found solace through support groups, counseling, and sharing their experiences with others who have gone through similar ordeals. Seeking professional help is invaluable in the process of healing and recovery.


Transference in the context of a romance scam highlights the profound impact that emotional manipulation and deception can have on individuals. It underscores the need for support, counseling, and a clear understanding of the scam’s dynamics to help victims navigate their emotions and heal from the experience without causing harm to innocent parties.

In the end, the choice is yours. But whatever path you embark on, remember that accepting the reality of the situation and seeking support are essential steps toward regaining control of your life and rebuilding trust and emotional well-being.

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

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.

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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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