How Scam Victims Can Unwittingly Harm Themselves and Others
Scams and frauds are devious crimes that prey upon unsuspecting scam victims, manipulating their trust, and exploiting their vulnerabilities for personal gain.
While scam victims are undoubtedly targeted and manipulated by skilled fraudsters, and while we fully declare that it is not their fault, it is important to acknowledge the complex dynamics at play. In some cases, victims inadvertently contribute to the harm inflicted upon themselves and others during the course of the crime.
This article will explore the ways in which scam victims can find themselves entangled in a web of deceit, perpetuating harm through actions such as lying to loved ones, and financial institutions, and even unknowingly supporting criminal activities like terrorism.
Scam Victims NOTE:
This is not something a scam victim should worry about in the days following the end of a scam. During the first few months after a scam ends, there are bigger and more important issues to face – such as learning about your trauma and the other details of these crimes. But as the months go by, the guilt from these actions will continue to hide inside you, creating lingering guilt and shame that can become a barrier to both their recovery and their relationships with the people that they will most need for support and compassion.
This is a topic we address as a part of our SCARS support & recovery program, and also something we recommend that scam victims address through trauma counseling.
Most victims will not be fully aware they did this, after all, coping mechanisms tend to hide the things scam victims do after the scam ends. But in our experience, almost every victim engaged in some of it. Being able to exorcise this demon is important for every victim’s well-being.
Lying to Family and Friends:
It is important to understand that the victim’s family and to some extent friends are also victims of the scam! The principal scam victim, through their actions or omissions, made them secondary victims.
In the aftermath of falling victim to a scam, scam victims often grapple with shame, embarrassment, and fear of judgment. This can lead them to conceal the truth from their family and friends, perpetuating a cycle of deception. By withholding vital information about their situation, victims isolate themselves and hinder potential support systems. The secrecy may also inadvertently protect scammers from detection and allow them to continue victimizing others.
However, also during the time the scam was going on, scam victims often lie to family and friends about it. There are many reasons for the maintenance of secrecy and deception, but for a scam victim to move forward and recover, it is very important to really look at how much they withheld and lied to others who trusted them.
In a typical relationship (romance or other type) scam, scam victims will often hide many aspects of their relationship with a scammer, especially if friends and family warn them that they suspect it was a scam. The relationship is so important to the victim that they will lie to those they should be confiding in. This can cause significant shame and guilt later on while the victim is trying to recover from the crime.
During a romance scam, victims can find themselves caught in a web of deception, leading them to lie to their friends and family. Here are some common ways in which romance scam victims may resort to dishonesty. This is very common and in part, it is driven by the manipulation of the scammer, but not all of it. While the scam victims is usually not aware that they are being scammed, like in the case of bad relationships, they often hide details that others might find objectionable out of fear of being judged.
Here are some of the types of lies that scam victims often do during a scam.
- Hiding the relationship: Often scammers gaslight the scam victim into hiding the relationship, telling the victim that others would not understand and would try to break them up. While this is an omission, it is still a form of deception.
- Fabricating the aspects of the relationship: To protect themselves from embarrassment and shame, victims may create an alternate narrative about the person they believe they are in a romantic relationship with. They may invent details about the scammer’s background, profession, or personal circumstances to make the story more believable or to justify their emotional investment.
- Shutting out family & friends: As the scam relationship develops, both gaslighting and continuing fear of judgment often cause scam victims to stop talking to friends and family. In fact, in many cases, victims will completely cut off, push away, or even end these relationships – with family members and friends – to be able to maintain the fake relationship.
- Concealing Financial Losses: All scams often involve financial exploitation, where victims are convinced to send money to the scammer under false pretenses. To avoid judgment or disappointment from loved ones, victims may hide the extent of their financial losses or the reasons behind their sudden financial difficulties. They may make up plausible explanations or downplay the severity of the situation.
- Stealing money: This sounds harsh but many victims take money that is not exclusively theirs. If the victim is married and sends money, that money also belongs to their spouse. Some victims will take money from accounts fo family members that they have access to. In some cases, they will refinance or remortgage property belonging to a family member. In some cases, victims have been known to embezzle money from their employers.
- Justifying Suspicious Behavior: Scammers frequently manipulate victims into engaging in questionable activities, such as transferring funds or receiving illicit packages. To mask their involvement and protect their relationship with the scammer, victims may provide false justifications or explanations for their actions. They might claim they are involved in legitimate business ventures or charitable causes when, in reality, they are unknowingly facilitating criminal activities.
- Minimizing Red Flags and Warning Signs: As romance scams progress, victims may become aware of warning signs about the relationship. Most victims will remain unaware of the crime, but look at it as a bad relationship and then downplay or dismiss these red flags to maintain the illusion of their relationship. When questioned by family and friends who express concerns, victims may deflect or provide alternative explanations to avoid facing the harsh reality that they have been deceived. This is the kind of behavior seen in domestic abuse as well.
- Creating a False Future: Scammers often make promises of a future together to keep victims emotionally invested. In an effort to preserve hope and avoid judgment, victims may embellish or invent details about their plans with the scammer. They may describe upcoming visits, engagements, or even marriage plans, despite the absence of any genuine intentions from the scammer. In effect, they are passing along the lies they are being told as though they are real, but after the fact, the family and friends only know that they were deceived by the scam victim.
It is important to note that victims resort to lying as a coping mechanism, driven by a combination of emotional manipulation, fear of judgment, and a desire to protect the relationship they believe is real. Over time, the lies can become more elaborate as the scam deepens, further isolating the victim from their support network. However, the harm done is nonetheless very real to family and friends, and to the victims themselves. To move forward with recovery and to remove the shame and guilt, it is very important that each victim make an inventory of who they may have deceived and make a sincere apology to them.
Deception with Financial Institutions:
Scammers manipulate scam victims into engaging in fraudulent financial transactions or providing sensitive personal information.
However, victims themselves can unknowingly contribute to the perpetuation of the scam by lying to financial institutions.
This may involve providing false information, fabricating details, or failing to disclose the true nature of the relationship in their transactions. For example, when sending money, many financial services companies have anti-scam messaging to alert potential victims. Western Union and MoneyGram for example as customers to certify that they actually know the person they are sending money to – this was added after both of them lost regulatory actions several years ago. When victims see such messaging they do not tell the truth and admit they are sending money to someone they only know online,
Similar certifications are often required when sending other forms of money transfers as well. When a victim is untruthful about their relationship, under the law, it can be viewed as wire fraud, bank fraud, and even forgery. While it is unlikely that there would be legal consequences for this, each act of deception increases the victim’s shame and guilt. We do not recommend admitting anything to your bank or financial institution, it is important that you acknowledge that it was done so that victims can put it behind them. However, it is important to let the financial institution know that it was fraud so they can take additional steps and have the transactions properly recorded.
Another way in which victims engage in unwitting deception with their financial institutions is by doing two things:
- Giving access to their financial accounts: Not only is this unwise, but it is also illegal in many cases. Banks require that they have a record of each person accessing an account for compliance reasons. When a victim gives access to their account to a criminal, they can easily be dragged into criminal charges for being a money mule and money laundering.
- Receiving and Depositing Bad Checks: Often scam victims receive fake or fraudulent checks from the scammers to be deposited in the victim’s account. The idea is to deposit them, and relying on the bank to advance the funds quickly, the victims will withdraw the money and forward it to the criminals. Within a few days, the check will bounce and the bank will want their money. This is not a trivial matter, in fact, in most places this is a specific felony that can put the victim in jail for several years. If the victim is lucky, then the bank will only want their money back and put the matter in collections rather than file a criminal complaint.
In both of these cases, there is the potential for criminal charges against the victim for their actions. The way to help resolve this and declare their innocence is to immediately report the crime to the local police and make sure that the financial details are included. Hiding or not including any of this can make the victim look like an accessory to fraud, and could result in legal complications. Fully reporting the crime to the police, regardless of how difficult it is frees the scam victim from much of their gilt regarding these actions, plus helps them regain control.
Unwitting Support of Terrorism:
It is estimated that as much as 30% of scam revenue goes to support terrorism or terrorist states.
Unfortunately, this means that victims may inadvertently find themselves caught up in scams with ties to funding terrorism.
Fraudsters can exploit victims’ financial resources by persuading them to unknowingly participate in money laundering schemes or invest in illicit activities, as well as sending their own money that will end up in the hands of terrorists. While victims may be unaware of the true nature of their involvement, their actions inadvertently contribute to the perpetuation of organized criminal networks and may have devastating consequences.
Not Reporting The Crime:
The sad truth is that more than 90% of scam victims DO NOT report these crimes.
In every real sense, their inaction is supporting and enabling the criminals to victimize others. There are many reasons why victims do not report the crimes:
- They believe it will be difficult and they will be judged. Their shame and guilt overcome them and they hide from the reality.
- They have heard from amateurs and other victims that the police never do anything anyway, so why should they go out of their way, It won’t do any good.
- They were threatened by the scammers with violence if they reported the crime and they are afraid.
- They do not want their family to know about the crime.
But the thing is, this is also deception by omission. They are actually aiding and abetting the criminals with their silence. Most people have a sense of right and wrong, and not reporting is not only wrong, but it will weigh on the conscience. The solution is obviously to talk to their local police and get it over. Regardless of what the police do or do not do, their did their duty and can remove this burden from their shoulders.
Believing that they are an Expert:
After the scam ends, very often victims learn a tiny bit about scams and suddenly believe they are an expert in these crimes. Of course, this is self-deception, except when they use their small amount of knowledge to influence other victims into making bad choices and guiding them in the wrong direction. Spreading urban legends and false information is every bit as much of a deception as anything else. While the victim may not know they are doing it, their hubris and pride in how much they have learned are another coping mechanism that is destructive not only to them but to others. Victims need to admit to themselves that they are not criminologists or victimologists; that they are only really fluent in being a victim and even then not very much in that too, since so many victims will be scammed more than once. It is important to admit what they are and are not, what they know and do not know, and avoid trying to be an expert in any part of this, especially with other victims until they are properly trained.
However, this does not mean that victims should not share what they know to warn others, just recognize they have some information, but by no means are an authority on it. They should use resources like RomanceScamsNOW.com as a major educational resource.
Understanding the Victim’s Perspective:
Scammers employ sophisticated psychological tactics, preying on victims’ emotions and exploiting their vulnerabilities. Victims are exploited to manipulate making into making irrational decisions, betraying their own moral compass, including lying and engaging in fraudulent activities. We know that coming to terms with this is extraordinarily difficult – we have helped millions of victims understand these issues. Unfortunately, even helping victims to understand that harm was done to others does not mean they will address or acknowledge it, and this is one of the reasons why more victims are being prosecuted than ever before.
The answer is to get both professional counseling and to join a professionally managed support group. To find counseling professionals visit counseling.AgainstScams.org and to learn more about support groups visit support.AgainstScams.org
Recovery and Prevention:
To mitigate the harm caused by scams and fraud, it is essential to focus on comprehensive recovery measures and prevention strategies. Empowering victims through education, support, and non-judgmental assistance is vital – which is what SCARS does. This includes providing referral resources for counseling, financial rehabilitation, legal aid, and support.
The first step in recovery is to accept that the crime happened and that the victim was deceived. But that they have a responsibility to themself and others to recover from this. Otherwise, they are likely to be scammed again. Just saying it will never happen again means nothing – victims are more vulnerable after a scam than before.
Scam victims, while undoubtedly targeted and manipulated by fraudsters, can inadvertently contribute to the harm inflicted upon themselves and others by their actions, decisions, and omissions. Lying to family and friends, deceiving financial institutions, not reporting the crime, and unknowingly supporting criminal activities are some of the unintended consequences that arise. By acknowledging these, victims can work on relieving their guilt, shame, and self-blame. All of which is a necessary part of the scam victim’s recovery process.