Estimated reading time: 4 minutes
Scammers have been around since money and wealth became important to society. Famous examples include Hegestatros in 300 B.C., the snake-oil salesman of the late1800s, and Ponzi from the 1920s. Today, we have Nigerian princes and duct cleaners. These conmen target the most vulnerable, like new immigrants, seniors, job seekers, and those looking for romance and love. During the pandemic, cybercrimes increased exponentially as more people worked remotely and were socially isolated. Within a year, Americans reported approximately $6 trillion in financial losses from scams. Experts consider this a conservative number, as crimes like these often remain unreported. But emptied bank accounts are not the only problem associated with such crimes. The psychological harm caused by scammers is insidious, laced with shame, and rarely discussed in public. Sadly, many victims internalize the trauma and opt to deal with it alone.
Scammers and Technology
The internet offers scammers an unregulated platform to operate within. They can remain anonymous while targeting unsuspecting individuals from anywhere in the world. Their shrewd tactics include tech support scams, fake e-commerce websites, fraudulent romances, family emergency hoaxes, sham services or job offers, and more. Scammers mislead victims into believing they will gain something valuable, such as love, companionship, or money using social engineering skills. They instill trust, exploit vulnerabilities and manipulate victims into making irrational judgments and erroneous decisions.
Possibly, the most detrimental scams occur on dating apps and social media where conmen lure and groom victims into illusionary relationships. They set up fake profiles and use flattery and emotional manipulation to build relationships. Stereotypical romance scammers avoid meeting in person or over video calls. Once they gain the victim’s trust, they set in motion plans to defraud them. Commonly, they create a sense of urgency for financial assistance by faking a sudden illness, for example. They steal identities by obtaining their victim’s personal information to complete documents for an upcoming imaginary cruise. They also extort victims by acquiring compromising photos or sensitive facts.
Psychological Harm Caused by Scammers
The psychological harm caused by scammers can have a direct impact on a victim’s well-being. Along with financial loss comes deep emotional distress that can include shame, isolation, and lowered self-esteem. Their loss of trust in others can make them skeptical and paranoid when dealing with others They may become more risk-averse than normal, which in turn, could limit them personally and professionally.
If the victim had formed a meaningful relationship with the scammer, then betrayal trauma, anxiety and depression, guilt, embarrassment, anger, stress, and sometimes substance abuse can follow. Those with a previous history of mental illness could face a relapse or worsening of their condition. On top of it, victims could also experience family disputes due to blame, lack of understanding, and shared impacts of scams on family members. The fear of this blowback is precisely why many victims choose not to disclose their experience. Unfortunately, it also keeps them from seeking professional help to deal with their trauma, which can be intense and long-lasting.
On March 12, 2023, we discussed this topic on Zoomer Radio in their segment titled Importance of Sleep and the Impact of Fraud. Listen to the interview at the 11:49 mark given by Laura Devlin, MA C.Psych, Registered Clinical Psychologist and Managing Director at Beaches Therapy Group.
You Are Not Alone
Victims of scams must, first and foremost know that they are not alone. In today’s fast-paced world working online and communicating by phone is normal. Sophisticated, predatory scammers know exactly how to play on emotions and psychology to get what they want. They can dupe even the most intelligent, educated, and shrewd individuals. Moreover, having a level of trust when operating in the world is psychologically healthy, and nobody should feel ashamed about being a trusting person or victim o a scammer. People do not feel guilt or shame when they are burgled or mugged, and the same should apply to being scammed. The scammers are to blame, not the victim.
Seeking Professional Help
Speaking to a trained therapist is one of the most useful things victims of scams can do to deal with their emotions, confidentially and safely. Regulated therapists undergo 6 – 10 years of post-secondary education drawn from decades of proven research. This specialized knowledge allows them to understand a victim’s situation and provide psychological treatment to them heal from the emotional shock to their system.
If you have fallen victim to a scam, and have been unable to talk about this to anyone, give us a call. Our therapists are trained to help you with the complex emotions that you are presently experiencing.