During the Scam Most Scam Victims Break the Law
After the Scam, this Poor Decision Making will Continue
The following does not represent legal opinion and is provided for general education only. You are strongly advised to seek the advice of a licensed attorney regarding these topics and how they may apply to you and your situation.
Scam Victims Are Scammed
Yes, some criminals scammed these victims, but in the process, many also break the law!
HERE IS A BRIEF OUTLINE OF SOME OF THE LAWS THAT SCAM VICTIMS (MAY) BREAK DURING THE SCAM AND AFTERWARD.
This list is not intended to be comprehensive, additionally, laws change and are amended, or removed, or replaced. Plus, each locality may have unique laws.
It is important to remember, that foreknowledge and intent are not always a defense – it depends on the law, circumstances, and the locality. In many cases, it just depends on how the judge feels about it!
If you may have broken a law during or after the scam see a criminal defense attorney immediately.
Additionally, while criminal charges may never come, you are also encouraged to consider your civil liability for your actions.
PLEASE NOTE: this is not being presented to be judgmental or condemning of victims, but to help them understand the scope of all the potential problems they may have or are still creating for themselves.
During The Scam …
Many victims are in some way or other involved in money laundering. Money laundering involves receiving money in any form and returning it or forwarding it to a criminal in the same or another form.
Money Mules routinely do this for scammers – knowingly or unknowingly. If a victim helps a criminal (or terrorist) engage in money laundering they could be considered an Accessory or a Principal (to the crime).
Bank or Financial Transaction Fraud
Many victims will falsify information when performing a financial money transfer transaction. This includes misrepresenting the nature of the relationship between the sender (the victim) and the receiver (the scammer).
Western Union, Moneygram, and most financial institutions now ask what the relationship is and if you really know the person receiving the money. Of course, victims routinely lie about this. This is one of the main reasons why such institutions owe the victim nothing when the victim demands their money back – the victim lied. In other cases when the victim gave the scammer access to their accounts the severity of the crime is much more serious.
In addition, many scam victims used their credit cards to send money to scammers. In many cases using a credit card to facilitate or enable crime is itself a crime, and makes the victim an accessory. If they gave access to their credit cards to the scammer, then that can be credit card fraud.
Civil or Criminal Fraud
Many victims ask friends, family, or even employers for money. Rarely do these victims tell the truth about the need or reason for the money. Even if it was a gift and not a loan, it is still fraud. The victim obtained money by lying about the reason for it.
This is one of the most difficult things about having to tell family and friends about the scam afterward – that they lied to them to get money for a criminal. Because of this, the people that provided the money could potentially file criminal charges or litigate for the recovery of their money.
Aiding and Abetting A Crime
A charge of aiding and abetting (also know as being an Accessory) has three requirements.
- First, someone else must have committed a crime (the scammer.)
- Second, the defendant (the victim) must have assisted that person in the commission of the crime. This could include providing money or other benefits or services.
- Third, the defendant must have had knowledge of that person’s criminal intent or criminal plans. A victim may claim they did not know, but did anyone tell the victim they were being scammed? Not believing after being told is the same as knowing.
This is where it gets tricky:
An individual will not be found guilty of accidentally assisting in a crime. For instance, if a victim does not know it is a crime, but if friends or family tell the victim they are being scammed and the victim continues anyway – ignoring them – then it is not accidental. Accidental might be like adding the scammer to their Facebook friends list, and they scam another friend – the access was provided by the victim but they did not intend or know it would lead to another crime.
An accessory to a crime can have knowledge of criminal intent before, or after, the commission of the crime. An individual who is aware of the crime before it occurs and gives assistance in preparation to commit the crime is called an “accessory before the fact.” If an individual only learns of the crime after it has taken place, but provides assistance in the aftermath of the crime, he is known as an “accessory after the fact.” Failure to report a scammer could fall under this, though that could also be considered “Obstruction of Justice.”
The types of actions that constitute assistance to a crime vary greatly. A person may provide financial support for example. Where the assistance the accessory provides rises to the level of significant involvement in planning the crime, such as helping a scammer obtain money from others – this can elevate the charge from aiding and abetting to conspiracy.
Funding or Supporting Terrorism
It is a crime in most countries to financially support terrorism. However, many scammers actively support terrorism. Thus supporting scammers that support terrorism is the same as supporting terrorism.
This is one of the reasons why it is important to report all scams that involve money since it might be related to terrorism. In fact, major terrorist organizations such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Boko Haram, Abu Nidal, and others are/were involved in online crime. Today, countries like Iran and North Korea are all very active in online scams.
Report these crimes to the national police (FBI, etc.) since that information may lead back to terrorists, and you do not want the police knocking on your door in the middle of the night.
You can see an example of terrorist use of scamming here.
Of course, there are numerous laws around the globe and we do not pretend that these are the only laws that might apply to a victim.
For example, in Saudi Arabia (or other Sharia law countries) women do not have property, so sending money to a scammer is consider theft from their family or male relatives. This is punishable by flogging. If the woman was married while having a relationship online with a scammer, this could be infidelity, and that can be the most extreme punishment.
After The Scam …
Accessory After The Fact (Aiding And Abetting)
If a victim was used as a Mule, and after ending the scam does not report it or take action to prevent others from being victimized they might be considered an Accessory After The Fact. This is why it is so important to report these crimes immediately to the police so the scammer can be stopped as much as possible. This can be serious if a victim willingly hides their involvement and that of the scammer.
Threats or Hate Against Others By Internet
After a scam, victims experience a range of emotional states and many engage in anger, rage, and hate after a scam against others – particularly those that disagree with their views. This can be a crime on many levels when it is taken to engaging in hate online.
In the United States being an online hater, troll or bully is a violation of U.S. Federal law.
It is important to understand this as many people believe they can get away with anything online and especially on Facebook and social media. That is simply not true.
Being An Internet Troll Can Send You To Jail! Learn more here.
Engaging in the “sport” of Scambaiting is actually engaging in online deception – fraud. While the odds of ever being prosecuted for this are extremely low, it is still a technical violation of the law.
More importantly, the law is not uniform worldwide. What if a scammer goes to his government and charges a scambaiter as a scammer? As bizarre as this sounds, it is possible. Many countries have extradition treaties. Nigeria has an extradition treaty with the United States – could you imagine being extradited to Nigeria? Probably not, but what about other countries. In other words, if you do what scammers do, then you too are a scammer – even without asking for money!
Learn more about Scambaiting here.
Fake Scam Investigation
Many victims believe that because they were scammed and have read a few articles that they can help other victims by investigating scams.
In most countries, anyone offering investigative services must be a licensed private investigator. Performing these services without the license, in most cases, is a crime.
Instant Anti-Scam Experts
A frequent reaction to the trauma of a romance scam is believing you can help other victims – it is almost a compulsion (learn about trauma compulsions here.) Most of the time, especially for traumatized victims this is false. The reason is many of these victims have not even recovered from their own trauma and are suffering from a “Savior” or “Messiah” syndrome. They represent that they are experts and are going to save all other scam victims.
Sadly, this is not sane or legal. Victims’ Assistance is a profession and great care must be taken when helping highly traumatized individuals. Even professionals cannot help everyone, but when we experience this we refer these victims to appropriate licensed mental healthcare providers. Instant experts mostly serve to increase the trauma of other victims.
It is worse because they also do not know what they do not know or what they are allowed to do by law and frequently cross the line in the mental health profession, legal profession, or financial services professions. In some extreme cases, we know of messiah anti-scam leaders who have told the victims in his care that he goes to Africa to arrest scammers – thus even impersonating law enforcement. All such actions are violations of law.
Always make sure any anti-scam group is incorporated as a nonprofit and is a real crime victims’ assistance organization.
Knowingly Working With Scammers
After a scam, victims can be horribly affected by the loss of their money, and scammers know this. Some scammers will offer the victim a lifeline if they continue to help them. This then becomes a conspiracy and is a serious violation of the law.
In addition, it might include being part of every crime the scammer commits, up to and including murder if the act of scamming someone resulted in a suicide.
Many scam victims feel compelled to track down and communicate with the real person in the photos that was used to scam them. This is Cyberstalking and it is a crime.
Many impersonation victims have gone through hell because of the actions of scam victims, and victims around the world have been charged with cyberstalking as a way to end it. Some victims have even gone to jail because of it. This is a very serious violation of the law, and the police, ironically, take it more seriously than they do scams.
Doing a Google search is not a crime, but acting on the information you find and contacting the impersonation victim in any way can be. It does not matter if you care about them and want them to know their photos are being used – they know. The victim’s intrusion into their life is not welcome. They are victims too and have a right to their privacy.
In most places, defamation is a civil offense, but not always. Scam victims frequently engage in angry defamation against any number of people and organizations.
Defamation is not free speech.
Scam victims are frequently harassing impersonation victims by calling them scammers in public, online, and in the real world. They may be ignorant about how scams work and angry, but it does not matter. It can be a crime, or at the very least make the victim liable to litigation. The same is true when angry victims defame organizations such as SCARS.
“Defamation of character” is a catch-all term for any statement that hurts someone’s reputation. Written defamation is called “libel,” while spoken defamation is called “slander.” Defamation is not a crime at the Federal level in the United States unless it falls under various forms of “hate” speech, but it is in many States, and is a “tort” (a civil wrong, rather than a criminal wrong). A person who has been defamed can sue the person who did the defaming for damages – and there is no limit on the damages.
However, twenty-four U.S. states have laws that make it a crime to publicly say mean things about people, with penalties ranging from fines to imprisonment. It is also a crime in many countries around the world.
Freedom of speech doesn’t give anyone the absolute right to spread malicious lies about people.
Intimidation (also called cowing) is intentional behavior that “would cause a person of ordinary sensibilities” to fear injury or harm. It is not necessary to prove that the behavior was so violent as to cause terror or that the victim was actually frightened. Harm can also be mental harm.
A threat, criminal threatening (or threatening behavior) is the crime of intentionally or knowingly putting another person in fear of bodily injury (their mind is a part of their body.) “Threat of harm generally involves a perception of injury…physical or mental damage…act or instance of injury, or a material and detriment or loss to a person.”
This appears typically with scam victims cyberstalking the real person in the photo and threatening them. These threats can take many forms such as: threatening to call the police on them, call or contacting their employers or business relationships, threatening to leave posts or reviews online, threatening their family, or other actions to expose them publicly.
Intimidation is a criminal offense in several U.S. states and many countries.
Related to Intimidation is Blackmail. Many scam victims use intimidation to demand money from the other person – such as an impersonation victim because the scam victim believes the impersonation victim has their money. They make threats conditional upon the money – this is blackmail, and it is a serious crime.
These are a few of the most obvious criminal behaviors that scam victims may be involved in. By no means are all scam victims doing these things, but a significant number are.
Romance and other kinds of relationship scams can leave victims profoundly traumatized and that trauma can cause unreasoning and compulsive behaviors. But that is no excuse.
Many scam victims also feel “entitled” to do anything after they have been scammed without concern for the wrong they may do in the process.
We present this information as an educational guide to the problems that some victims can fall into during and after a scam, and we strongly suggest they seek competent legal counsel after a scam even if they did none of these. Getting legal advice can help you explore your options and in some cases can lead to the recovery of the money lost.
Availability of SCARS Recovery Services
SCARS follows a defined ethical Code of Conduct and requires that victims under our care do also. If a victim has engaged in any of the above, we require (assuming we know) that they have stopped such behavior and acknowledge the wrongness of it as a condition of receiving our services. Anyone that engages in any of these or other illegal activities while receiving our services will be permanently banned from all future access to our services.
In the event that we become aware of criminal activity by a victim, we advise the victim to seek legal counsel and report it to the police, as it will frequently not put them in jeopardy. But if they wait and the police do discover it, such as in the case of mules, they may face prosecution. In 2019 – 2020 over 2,000 money mules were prosecuted between the United States & Europe.
Your Own Conscience
If a victim engaged in these or other illegal behaviors it is so important that these be resolved. Keeping these secrets is a pathway to further trauma and more unhappiness. The truth finds a way to get out.
We cannot compel someone to do the right thing, but our experience, and that of every other recovery program, shows that the harm a victim did needs to be shared and expunged before a person can heal.
If these are things that you may have been involved in, stop now. Don’t make it worse, even if you think no one will know. The Internet never forgets.
Talk to a lawyer, seek mental health care, and report all crimes to the police – except in Sharia Law countries. Do it in that order!
We wish you all well.