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Romance & Relationship Scam Victimization

Victimization (or victimisation) is the process of being victimized or becoming a victim.

Research that studies the process, rates, incidence, and prevalence of victimization is called Victimology.

vic·tim·i·za·tion

ˌviktəməˈzāSH(ə)n,ˌviktəˌmīˈzāSH(ə)n/

A Noun :: the action of singling someone out for cruel or unjust treatment. “we should be able to speak up without fear of victimization”

There are a few different types of Victimization:

Peer Victimization

Peer Victimization: is the common experience among children of being a target of the aggressive behaviour (bullying) of other children. But it also applies to Victims of Scams where “Alpha” Scam Victims (frequently in the role of providing support to other victims) turn their aggression (specifically their residual angers towards the scammer) against other victims because they do not follow or behave the way the “Alpha Victim” believes or demands that they do.

Passive Victimization

Passive Victimization: can occur passively where the Victim is still in denial and is rejected by peer groups, support groups, and family or friends. The victim clearly is a victim of a scammer, yet their refusal to accept or acknowledge that simple fact makes them an outcast.

Secondary Victimization

Secondary Victimization (also known as post crime victimization or double victimization) relates to further victimization following on from the original victimization.

For example “victim blaming,” such as inappropriate post-crime behavior or language by family or friends with which the victim has contact may further add to the victim’s suffering.

Victims may also experience secondary victimization by law enforcement or the justice system personnel upon reporting the scam. Victims will lose time, suffer reductions in income, often be ignored by police and other staff and will remain uninformed about updates, to the extent that their frustration and confusion will turn to apathy and a declining willingness to further participate in the system.

A Romance Scam is especially stigmatizing because of its voluntary nature. The victim willingly participated in their own victimization is the reality, even though they were fully manipulated into this role.  Victims frequently suffer isolation, be pushed away by friends and family, and held in contempt by law enforcement.

The re-traumatization of the scammer’s assault, abuse, of the scam victim through the responses of individuals and institutions is an example of Secondary Victimization. Secondary victimization is especially common in cases of Romance Scams, but is not seen in most other forms of Cybercrimes.

Revictimization

The term revictimization refers to a pattern wherein the victim of a crime has a statistically higher tendency to be victimized again.

This latter pattern is particularly notable in cases of Romance Scam, where the scam was an emotionally-based crime, and where the emotional connection with the criminal remains long after the crime.

While an exact percentage is almost impossible to obtain, our own research estimates the the average number of times that a Romance Scam Victim is scammed is 2.3 times. The vulnerability to victimisation experienced as an older adult (Senior Citizen) is increased as well.

Reasons as to why revictimization occurs vary by event type, and some mechanisms are not well known. Revictimisation in the short term is often the result of risk factors that were already present, which were not changed or mitigated after the first victimization; sometimes the victim cannot control these factors. For example, a victim loses money to the first scammer using a fake identity – such as stolen photos, then will hire a fake investigator to locate the “real” person to “help” that person.

The most common form is the “Recovery Scam” where a victim pays a service to recover their money – typically the original money was sent overseas (West Africa for example), and the service (for a fee) will investigate the matter, identify the scammer, and get some or all of their money back – of course this is also a scam. We estimate that as many as 5% of victims are revictimized by Recovery Scams amounting to as many as 50,000 per year.

Revictimization of Romance Scams Victims who were previously victimized is complex.  We believe that the emotional and physical triggers that occured in the first scam created an actual physical addiction during the first scam. Like other forms of addiction, recidivism is quite high. Meaning that once the victim experiences the “highs” of the scam relationship, specifically designed to trigger these responses, that even with behavioral changes and learned protective procedures, the victim retains a tendency to “fall” for another scammer. Knowledge and acceptance of this can be most useful in reducing the future risk of revictimization. Additionally, continued participation in peer support structures (support groups) provides the structure and community that is useful in also reducing this risk.

Another theory of why revictimization occurs draws on the principle of “Learned Helplessness.”  One theory goes that this state of being unable to fight back or flee the danger leaves the last primitive option: freeze, an offshoot of death-feigning. This follows that after the scam, the victim being unable to fight back, recover their money, or obtain justice, just gives up. By not engaging in the emotional or physiological recovery process, they will not learn any new behaviors or defenses, and will return to the original behavior that made them an easy victim to begin with. It appears that a significant number of scam victims do exactly this – possibly as high as 30% fall into this mode – becoming reviztimized over and over until financially they are unable to engage in the online behavior that places them at risk – they simply run out of money, lose their home, or worse.

Offenders Choose Pretraumatized Victims

In adulthood, the freeze response can remain, and some professionals have noted that victimizers sometimes seem to pick up subtle clues of this when choosing a victim. This behavior can make the victim an easier target, as they sometimes make less effort to fight back or use the judgment needed to avoid the scam. Afterwards, they often make excuses and minimize what happened to them, sometimes never reporting the crime to the authorities. Our research shows that at least 95% of victims will not report the crime to law enforcement.

Victim Self-Image

Victims of scams and manipulation often get trapped into a self-image of victimization. The psychological profile of victimization includes a pervasive sense of helplessness, passivity, loss of control, pessimism, negative thinking, strong feelings of guilt, shame, self-blame and depression. This way of thinking can lead to hopelessness and despair without and active counter to this. This website, and the other educational materials we publish on social media (such as on Facebook) serve as a mechanism for victims to understand their victimology, and through that understanding destigmatize themselves.

Additionally, we provide two other mechanisms:

  1. Our RSN Self-Help Recovery ProcessRSN Steps” Program; and
  2. Online scam victims’ support groups on