How To Detect Scams In Someone You Know
A Guide For Family & Friends

You Can’t Help Them Unless You Are Fairly Certain They Are Being Scammed – This Guide Will Help You To Know!

A SCARS Insight

What If Someone You Know Is A Victim Of Fraud Or A Scam?

Here Are Signs To Look Out For

The list of clues:

  1. A big change in their availability
  2. A change in personality – initially like they are in love and later in fear
  3. Being secretive and unsharing
  4. Reluctance to talk about their personal life
  5. Changes in personal finance
  6. Irritability when asking how they are
  7. Asking for money or to borrow money for strange reasons
  8. Always online
  9. They ask oblique questions about the military or specific professions or business
  10. Their sleep patterns change – such as being up all night
  11. Plans for random unexplained travel
  12. They talk about someone they met online

These are but a few of the obvious and detectable changes that someone goes through when they are being scammed.

Here Are Other SCARS Articles For Family & Friends That May Also Help:


This is a man who has gone through several scams and finally lands in trouble. Be careful to observe the way he responds to questions, what he says, and what he told others. All of the symptoms of an ongoing scam were there, and may still be after all. This is a good example of how secrecy and lies are told by scam victims as a result of their manipulation and own personalities.

Helping a Friend or Family Member Can Be Hard

It’s Very Easy To Think That If A Loved One Or Close Friend Was Being Scammed, That They’d Simply Tell You!


Unfortunately, whether your loved one is elderly, vulnerable or simply answered the phone to the wrong person, there could be a variety of reasons why they might keep this information to themselves. And this is even more true for adolescents and millennials.

There are many reasons why they may keep this a secret or even lie about it.

What Are They Thinking?

Sometimes they are aware of what they are doing, but generally, it is a combination of denials and a deep belief in the fantasy the scammer provides – this is the manipulation working. Their logical thinking returns to that of a teen in love totally out of control.

They may be embarrassed that they’ve been duped, they may be too frightened to acknowledge what has happened or, they may not even realize that they’ve been targeted by criminals and are losing money.

While you might think that only gullible people fall for scams, in actuality, everyone can be scammed. It is just a question of the right story, the right manipulation, and the right face to deliver it. It is not a function of intelligence – smart people are scammed all the time too.

The complexity and the professionalism of these online criminals mean that they’ll stop at nothing to gain access to a victim’s personal and financial information, and then their money. Simply put, anyone can be scammed and if the person is more trusting, needy, or has no real knowledge of scams, then they will easily become a victim.

Remember, that they are two stages involved here:

  1. During the scam – hiding to live the fantasy
  2. After the scam – hiding to avoid judgment and shame


During the scam, the scammer is controlling the victim in many different ways, and this control will show in the victim’s behavior.

The scammer will manipulate them into believing that no one can understand their love or what they are doing, and to keep it secret. Scammers try hard to isolate victims.

In this mental state, victims will do almost anything for the scammer:

  • Lie to family & friends
  • Sell personal property and convert it to cash
  • Remortgage their house and take out loans
  • Share their financial accounts
  • Transport drugs
  • Embezzle and steal from their employers for the scammer
  • Receive stolen property
  • Receive money from other scam victims and forward it to the scammer

All of this to please their scammer!

The Clues – During The Scam

We will identify some of the signs that might indicate your loved one or friend is under the control of their scammer or their own fantasy, and has been the victim of fraud or a scam.


A Big Change In Their Availability

Scams are very time-consuming and a victim will get to a point where almost every available moment is spent online chatting with their scammer. The victim will no longer have a lot of time for family or friends. If they are working, then as soon as they get home it is online with their fantasy partner.

This will show as a steady stream of canceled plans, postponements, and avoiding contact. Ironically, there are some of the same symptoms as someone suffering from depression.

Always Online

If a friend or family member is constantly online and over the age of puberty then something is wrong. This can be a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder, but it can also be a sign that they are in a scam. Scams require massive amounts of time, both to control the victim and to get them to do what the scammer wants.

In the beginning, during the grooming phase, the victim will be online for huge amounts of time. You may notice that every time you log into Facebook you see they are online – same for WhatsApp, etc. If you see them constantly connected, then this is a bad sign and at least worth a discussion.

Being Secretive And Unsharing

A very typical behavioral change in scam victims is secretiveness about many things in their life. Typically scam victims know something is wrong, but they want to believe in the scam relationship so much that they avoid any potential challenges that might burst that bubble. Friends and family represent threats to the illusion, and they can react quite angrily when reality is forced on them, so they will maintain secrecy after the first hint that family and friends do not believe in it. This reluctance to talk about their personal life is to help keep the fantasy alive and avoid conflict because deep down they know what is real.

They Ask Strange Questions

For example, they ask oblique questions about the military or specific professions or businesses. Especially relating to places internationally. This comes out of the blue, particularly with a person who is normally not interested in such topics. Scammers pretend to be soldiers, international oil workers or other professionals, or business people involved in gold and other resources.

Be alert if they ask you about bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. This is a major red flag!

Their Sleep Patterns Change

If you notice that your friend or family member is always tired and they hint that they are now up lake (such as being up all night). Scammers being in Africa or Asia means they often are available to talk in the middle of the night, and in fact use this as a grooming technique. Sleep deprivation is useful in grooming and controlling a scam victim.

They Talk About Someone They Met Online

It can also happen that out of the blue they start talking about someone they met online weeks or months ago. This is often about seeking approval, but it can also be because they are secretly planning a trip. Victims are not always secretive about scam relationships, many times they will announce it from the rooftops! Be cautious if it is already serious and they admit they have not actually met the person!

Plans For Random Unexplained Travel

This is a major danger sign because it can mean they are so under the control of the scammer that they are unable to evaluate real, potentially life-threatening risks! Many scammers will convince the victim that they will meet them in their city, but some are playing a different game that can involve the victim traveling to another country.

This can lead to:

  • Becoming a drug mule and potentially spending the rest of their life in jail
  • Or marrying the scammer in a country where the local has total control over the victim – where they become basically a prisoner until they can escape (this is called a Gambia scam)
  • Or they are kidnapped for ransom when they arrive and the family or friends will have to pay to get their freedom
  • Or worse still, there have been victims killed when they visit the scammers home

Do whatever you can to stop them from traveling.

They’re Receiving A Lot of Phone Calls

If your loved one or friend is suddenly receiving a lot of phone calls, and hear that they are giving their bank details over the phone then this is incredibly worrying, especially if they’re cagey or secretive about the calls. This is a first-hand example that they are not only being scammed but are almost unable to resist it.


A Change In Personality – Initially Like They Are In Love And Later In Fear

They may show signs of being very happy like they have just fallen in love – but they are unwilling to talk about it or share. Scammers prefer that their relationship stay a secret and will caution the victim not to talk about it – “because no one will understand.”

Irritability When Asking How They Are

Like previously said, this can also be a sign of depression. But in the case of a scam victim, they become irritable when anyone asks too much about how they are or other aspects of their daily life. When they go into secretive mode all inquiries will be met with some hostility or just lies.


Changes In Personal Finance

If a scam victim is sending money to a scammer, they are going to change in many different ways. One of them is the need to send money, and it may not be in logical ways. They may send wire transfers through their back or go to a store and buy a bunch of gift cards. Regardless of how they are sending the money it is going to show in their financial behavior.

They Suddenly Have No Money

If your loved one or friend was previously comfortable, had plenty of savings or had a stable income and is now unexpectedly struggling to make ends meet, there could be a scam. Perhaps they’re asking to borrow money from you to cover their bills or to pay for shopping, or maybe they can no longer afford the things they usually enjoy. This could very likely be that they are sending almost everything to their scammer.

They’re Secretive About Their Finances

Of course, most people keep their finances private, but if you find that your loved one or friend is suddenly very secretive about their money or becomes irritated and defensive about their financial situation then it could be a sign that they are in a scam and under the scammer’s control. This can show when a friend or family member sees receipts for financial transactions – a normal person would easily explain it when asked, but a scam victim will get very defensive and refuse to talk about it or lie!

Asking For Money Or To Borrow Money For Strange Reasons

Another big clue is when they start asking for money or loans, but cannot really provide good reasons or say it is for a very sketchy international business investment or transaction. These are all major red flags that the person is being victimized by a scammer. It is important to not loan any money and do what you can to prevent them from getting a loan, it will only hurt them after they finally realize the truth.


After the scam victims are consumed by out-of-control emotions and it depends on how long it will have been since the scam ended.

In other articles we talk about the symptoms that victims have after the scam and they are largely dependent on how soon it has been since the scam ended. Of course, not everyone is the same. Some victims will be much more resilient than others. Some may litterally need in-patient care following the detection of a scam.

Here are some red flags to help identify if someone has been scammed:

  • Panic & fear out of nowhere
  • Asking about the police and reporting processes
  • Desperately looking for information online – unfortunately, they often end up with amateur anti-scam groups that really don’t know what they are talking about
  • Looking for anyone that can save them and recover their money – they will be reaching out to attorneys, private detectives and investigators, visiting the FBI and other law enforcement websites
  • Asking for attorney recommendations
  • Spending time talking with bank officers or other financial professionals
  • Neglecting their own family, such as their children
  • Missing important events – such as family birthdays
  • Believing everyone is judging them

These are just a few and we have them detailed in other articles. We suggest that you look at our Psychology of Scams Article Catalog for more information.

What To Do If You Think Your Loved One Has Been Targeted

If you think your friend or loved one is a victim of a scam or fraud, then consider talking to them about it first. Ask them directly if they have been scammed. They may dodge and lie, but just let them know you are there to help them if they want it. Emphasize that you will not judge them.

Listen to them very carefully and remind them that they’re not to blame, that the scammer is to blame. Also that they are not the only person to have ever fallen for a scam – over 45 million people were scammed in 2020 alone!

Have them immediately read our 3 Steps for New Scam Victims – follow the guidance in it.

This is going to be hard, but they will need friends more than ever. But they are going to be filled with shame. Recovering from a socially engineered relationship scam is not fast. This is serious trauma and it typically takes months to years to recover. There is no way to know how an individual victim will respond.

There are three basic types of victims:

  • In denial
  • In rage and anger
  • A realist

Men tend to be VERY hard to help as they tend to cling to rage and anger. However, what they all need if friends and supporters, but they also need trauma counseling. Support groups, such as those offered by SCARS are extremely effective, but we always recommend that victims also have counseling or therapy.

Just understand that even though the relationship was fake it will feel to the victim that it was very real. This is very much like losing a real loved one. They will be a mess after it is discovered. They will go through real grief following the end of their scam.

Also, they may not be ready to face learning about scams on our website. All of our services, including this website are free, but sometimes it is more helpful to have an actual book. This is why we also publish our SCARS Publishing books for Scam Victims/Survivors (see below). We recommend that you order for them the BLUE, RED, and GREEN books to help them work through this – these do have a small cost, but they offer a different way to help the victim face their situation.

Your help and assistance can be all the difference they need for a faster and more complete recovery, but the odds are they will not accept it – at least not at first. Be patient. You may even need to back away and let them collapse further – hard as that is – before they are ready for help, in that way this is very much like addictions. Eventually, they will come around and all you can do is be there.

SCARS Publishing Self-Help Recovery Books Available At

Scam Victim Self-Help Do-It-Yourself Recovery Books

SCARS Printed Books For Every Scam Survivor From SCARS Publishing


Each is based on our SCARS Team’s 32-plus years of experience.

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