For Law Enforcement Officers: Helping Local Police Interact with Scam Victims and How to Make a Difference

For Law Enforcement Officers: Helping Local Police Interact with Scam Victims and How to Make a Difference

A Guide for Police Officers to help them better understand Scam Victims and What They Can Do!

Criminology – A SCARS Guide

Article Abstract

The SCARS Guide for Police Officers offers essential insights into interacting with scam victims, addressing their immediate needs, and taking effective actions to combat cybercrime.

With over 50 million scam victims in the United States as of the end of 2023, law enforcement plays a pivotal role in supporting victims and tackling these pervasive crimes.

Officers must approach victims with empathy, providing reassurance of their safety and validating their emotions, including fear, anger, and self-blame. By actively listening to victims’ stories and offering practical guidance on what to expect next, officers can empower victims to navigate the aftermath of their victimization.

Additionally, officers are encouraged to refer cases to specialized cybercrime units or state agencies equipped to investigate and prosecute these crimes effectively. Ultimately, collaboration and proactive intervention are essential in preventing future victimization and holding perpetrators accountable for their actions.

Local Police & Law Enforcement Support on SCARS

A SCARS Guide for Police Officers: Helping Local Police Officers Interact with Scam Victims and How to Make a Difference

Basic Guidelines on Approaching & Interacting with Victims of Cyber-Enabled Crime (Online Scams) and Actions YOU Can Take!


In the United States alone there are more than 50 million scam victims and that number is growing by 20 million a year or more, not to mention the rest of the world. Every country is being flooded with scams, fraud, and cybercrime cases.

It may seem like there is nothing you can do to help victims or stop these crimes, but that is not true – there is much you can do to help.

Scam/Fraud/Cybercrime Victims

The way people cope as victims of crime depends largely on their experiences immediately following the crime. As a law enforcement officer, you are usually the first official to approach victims.

For this reason, you are in a unique position to help victims cope with the immediate trauma of the crime and to help restore their sense of security and control over their lives.

In the case of internet or phone-based scam victims, especially of “Romance Scam” victims – there is not a typical crime scene. Normally the victim is a walk-in or a phone-in. This is typically the first contact where officers are able to address victims and their needs.

This publication recognizes that each crime is different and requires officers to prioritize their performance on tasks in each situation. We know that generally, officers must attend to many tasks, including assessing medical needs (mental health in this case), determining facts and circumstances, advising other personnel, and gathering and distributing suspect information.

It is helpful to keep in mind that the apprehension of the suspect is the primary duty of law enforcement, but in these cases, most suspects are going to be beyond your jurisdiction and probably in other countries – but not always! Money mules are within your reach, even if out of state.

Accomplishing the task of addressing the suspects of these crimes requires that you analyze what you can do:

  • Is the criminal in-country or international?
  • Is there a local or in-country money mule?
  • Is cryptocurrency involved?

If there is a nexus in-country then you can do something immediately, even if it is only calling the local jurisdiction to have them stop a money mule and perhaps recover some of the victim’s money.

If the crime was cryptocurrency-based, then there is much that can be done to recover the victim’s money, even if there is nothing that can be done about the perpetrators.

Referring the Case

Local police is the local first responder, and in some cases there is nothing you can do or are equipped to do, but that is not always the case. Local police can do more than they know.

However, many local police are not equipped to do more than make a phone call. We all understand the difficulties. In these cases refer the case to the State, provincial, or national cybercrime unit. Your referral carries weight and can trigger a better-equipped agency to take action for the victim.

State cybercrime units have the training and experience to better act on these cases – they are typically part of the state police. They can trace cryptocurrencies and recover it. They can also work with financial institutions to claw back transfers (when possible.)

In many jurisdictions, the state/provincial attorney or even local prosecutor’s office is now equipped to deal with these cases. So the thing you can do is keep the case moving tot he right agency

Interacting with Scam/Fraud/Cybercrime Victims

Please remember that current victims or potential victims need to be able to count on local police support and guidance. Sometimes the first officers must delay their attendance to the victims if the situation requires it. However, it is always important for officers to focus their attention on the victims and their needs. At this point, how the officers respond to the victims, explain the competing law enforcement challenges, and work with the victims is very important.

By approaching victims appropriately, officers will gain their trust and cooperation. Victims may then be more willing to provide detailed information about the crime to officers and later to investigators and prosecutors if the crime can be investigated and prosecuted, which, in turn, will lead to the conviction of more criminals.

Remember That You Are There For The Victim, The Victim Is Not There For You

You can help victims by understanding the three major needs they have after a crime has been committed: the need to feel safe; they need to express their emotions; and the need to know “what comes next” after their victimization. The information in this handbook is designed to show you how to meet these needs.

Not even officer is trained to understand the severity of the psychological impact these crimes have on victims. The trauma can be as bad or even more than it is for victims of sexual assault. Please keep this in mind.

Money Mules

You are likely going to encounter victims who are still actively involved with the criminals and in significant denial. While there will be some willing money mules, many are not, they are just victims that are so deeply manipulated and controlled by the criminals that they cannot see reality.

Many of these will have also opened their financial accounts to the criminals as well, and of course, this is a crime. However, if the victim cannot break free and see the reality of the situation, you may need to have them evaluated by a mental health professional because they are a danger to themselves if they cannot stop.

Obviously, once warned, if the victim continues to support the criminals then they are willing participants. But at the same time, we ask you to understand that this is not a normal accessory, this is a case of profound mental manipulation and should be treated as a mental health crisis for which there are options. We urge you to use your discretion and authority to take action to stop the crime for the sake of other victims.

Tips for Responding to Victims’ Three Major Needs

Victims’ Need To Feel Safe

People often feel helpless, vulnerable, and frightened by the betrayal trauma of their victimization. As the first responding officer, you can respond to victims’ need to feel safe by following these guidelines:

  • Introduce yourself to victims by name and title. Briefly explain your role and purpose.
  • Reassure victims of their safety and your concern by paying close attention to your own words, posture, mannerisms, and tone of voice. Say to victims, “You’re safe now” or “I’m going to help you.”
  • Use body language to show concern, such as nodding your head, using natural eye contact, placing yourself at the victim’s level rather than standing over seated victims, keeping an open stance rather than crossing your arms, and speaking in a calm, sympathetic voice.
  • Ask victims to tell you in just a sentence or two what happened. Ask if they have any health issues that might need to be addressed. Take care of their medical needs first. Scam victims especially can be experiencing physical stress, and since many of them will be elderly, attention and care should be given.
  • Offer to contact a crisis counselor for victims. It is unlikely that a “scam counselor” is available, so domestic abuse counselors can typically help these victims.
  • Ensure privacy during your interview. Conduct it in a place where victims feel secure.
  • Ask simple questions that allow victims to make decisions, assert themselves, and regain control over their lives. Examples: “Would you like anything to drink?” or “How would you like me to address you, Ms. Jones?”
  • Assure victims of the confidentiality of their comments whenever possible. Scam victims are frequently fearful of retaliation by the “scammer”
  • Ask victims about any special concerns or needs they may have. Keep in mind that many “scam victims” have severe financial losses, and a social worker may need to assist to guide the victim to available resources and services.
  • Provide a “safety net” for victims before leaving them. Make telephone calls and pull together personal or professional support for the victims. Give victims information about local resources available for help or information. You can refer them to our organization for additional support – we provide direct victims’ support groups, however, if the victim is in need of more direct mental health support refer them to local professionals. You may already have a pamphlet that includes contact information for local crisis intervention centers and support groups; the prosecutor’s office and the victim-witness assistance office; the State victim compensation/assistance office; and other nationwide services, including toll-free hotlines.
  • Give each victim—in writing—your name and information on how to reach you. Encourage them to contact you if they have any questions or if you can be of further help. However, you may not have answers for them in the case of cybercrimes. Your state police will have a cybercrime unit that can be called in. Additionally, you can suggest that the victim turn to our organization for additional information.

Victims’ Need To Express Their Emotions

Victims need to validate their emotions and tell their stories after the trauma of these crimes. They need to have their feelings accepted and have their story heard by a nonjudgmental listener. Local law enforcement is often the first person they can tell their story to.

In addition to fear, they will have strong feelings of self-blame, anger, shame, sadness, or denial. Their most common response is: “I don’t believe this happened to me.”

Emotional distress may surface in seemingly peculiar ways, such as laughter. Sometimes victims feel rage at the sudden, unpredictable, and uncontrollable threat to their safety or lives. This rage can even be directed at the people who are trying to help them, perhaps even at law enforcement officers for not taking action immediately. You can respond to victims’ need to express their emotions by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid cutting off victims’ expressions of their emotions.
  • Notice victims’ body language, such as their posture, facial expression, tone of voice, gestures, eye contact, and general appearance. This can help you understand and respond to what they are feeling as well as what they are saying.
  • Assure victims that their emotional reactions to the crime are not uncommon. Sympathize with the victims by saying things such as: “You’ve been through something very difficult. I’m sorry”; “What you’re feeling is completely normal”; and “This was a terrible crime. I’m sorry it happened to you.”
  • Counter any self-blame by victims by saying things such as, “You didn’t do anything wrong. This was not your fault. You were expertly manipulated by transnational cybercriminals who are experts at getting what they want.”
  • Speak with victims as individuals. Do not just “take a report.” Sit down, take off your hat, and place your notepad aside momentarily. Ask victims how they are feeling now and listen.
  • Say to victims, “I want to hear the whole story, everything you can remember, even if you don’t think it’s important.” and add “You don’t need to tell me every embarrassing detail, we can stick to the facts.”
  • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” Ask questions such as “Can you tell me what happened?” or “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
  • Show that you are actively listening to victims through your facial expressions, body language, and comments such as “Take your time; I’m listening” and “We can take a break if you like. I’m in no hurry.”
  • Avoid interrupting victims while they are telling their stories.
  • Repeat or rephrase what you think you heard the victims say. For example, “Let’s see if I understood you correctly. Did you say. . .?”; “So, as I understand it, . . .”; or “Are you saying. . . ?”

Victims’ Need To Know “What Comes Next” After Their Victimization

The purpose of this website is to help victims understand what comes next and to understand what happened to them. Feel free to refer victims to it.

Victims often have concerns about their role in the investigation of the crime and in the legal process. They may also be concerned about issues such as media attention or payment for health care.

You can help relieve some of their anxiety by telling victims what to expect in the aftermath of these crimes. This will also help prepare them for upcoming stressful events and changes in their lives. You can respond to victims’ need to know about what comes next after their victimization by following these guidelines:

  • Briefly explain law enforcement procedures for tasks such as the filing of your report, the investigation of the crime, and the arrest and arraignment of a suspect. If this is a transnational crime explain that it may not be possible to prosecute, but that you will refer it to your State’s Cybercrime Unit (if possible) or the FBI.
  • Tell victims about subsequent law enforcement interviews or other kinds of interviews they can expect – or not expect.
  • Explain what specific information from the crime report will be available to news organizations. Discuss the likelihood of the media releasing any of this information.
  • Counsel victims that lapses of concentration, memory loss, depression, and physical ailments are normal reactions for crime victims. Encourage them to reestablish their normal routines as quickly as possible to help speed their recovery.
  • Explain that there are victims’ assistance organizations that can assist them with understanding these crimes and that provide support for victims of these crimes. Also, the State Attorney General’s office will have a victim assistance office. Indicate that they can contact our organization via email to, by our website, or find SCARS on Facebook.
  • Give victims any crime victims’ pamphlets listing resources available for help and information or their victim’s rights. These pamphlet(s) should include contact information for local crisis intervention centers and support groups; the prosecutor’s office and the victim-witness assistance office; the State victim compensation/assistance office; and other nationwide services, including toll-free hotlines.
  • Ask victims whether they have any questions. Encourage victims to contact you if you can be of further assistance.


There is much that you can do! You can help victims and help to stop these crimes!

We all have to work together to do this, because the next victim may be a family member of yours!

What is most important for officers to understand is that scams are not all of a single type. Many times there will also be a domestic nexus – involving accomplices or “Mules.” It is your obligation to refer this information to entities that can act on this information to help prevent future victimization.

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:

Other Cyber Resources

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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.






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