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SCARS|RSN™ Scammer Urban Legends: Chapter 9 – Victims Are Stupid?
Actually, yes, scam victims may have done something dumb, but they are almost never stupid!
In fact, the vast majority of romance scams victims are above average intelligence
It’S Fair To Wonder, Who Falls For This Stuff?
“That’s the magic question,” asked Marti DeLiema, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University’s Center on Longevity who focuses on financial fraud. “The answer is, there’s no easy answer.” from an article in the Los Angeles Times.
She said researchers have found little correlation between a person’s age, or financial literacy and the likelihood of that same person being taken to the cleaners by con artists.
For example, it might be assumed that seniors are most easily fleeced because they’re so often targeted by fraudsters. But studies by the Federal Trade Commission have found that older consumers are less likely to be victimized than younger consumers, maybe because they’ve been around long enough to spot a pig in a poke.
Similarly, there are no firm conclusions to be drawn based on gender, race or education level.
“What we’ve found is that different types of fraud work on different profile types,” said Martha Deevy, director of the Center on Longevity’s Financial Security Division. “For instance, investment fraud works best on highly educated men, who think they’re too smart to be scammed.”
One problem with understanding the nature of fraud victims is that many people are embarrassed to report being ripped off, so it’s difficult to draw hard-and-fast conclusions from available data. Nor is it even clear how much financial fraud occurs in any given year.
It’s frequently estimated that between $40 billion and $50 billion worth of fraud is inflicted on U.S. consumers annually (though this may actually be off by an order of magnitude). But Deevy pointed out that jailed Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff was responsible for $50 billion worth of rip-offs all by himself.
So How Do Romance Scams Actually Work On People?
(Source Australian Broadcasting)
During the grooming stage, the criminal works on eliciting a high level of trust to manipulate the victim into what the criminal terms the ‘ether state’. Note the word “Manipulate.”
This state is characterized by high oxytocin levels which are increased through ‘love bombing’; validating the victim, telling him or her how wonderful they are, sending love notes and love poems through the day and relentlessly, emotionally bombarding them with ‘love vibes’.
When the scammer has manipulated the victim into this state, they can start asking for money, often citing plausible (but at the same time, unusual) reasons, such as accidents, lost wallets or banking issues.
The victim is encouraged to keep messaging through the night, leading to sleep deprivation, which also has a detrimental effect on cognitive function.
The criminal will paint a vivid and highly potent picture of a future life together. Because the victim will want to believe everything the criminal says, they will employ selective thinking.
The victim will filter out any observations that run contrary to their belief in their love interest’s story. This is why it is so difficult for well-meaning friends or family members to convince the victim they are falling for a scammer.
Sex and lies
Visceral cues also have a powerful effect on behavior and victims tend to underestimate the potential influence on their own behaviors.
Sexual desire is a common visceral factor for romance scam victims who are often lured into conversations of a sexual nature and dreams of an intimate future relationship.
The stronger the ‘pull’ for sexual connection, the less a victim is aware of anomalies in the criminal’s story.
The ATO Scam
This scam relies on the scammer’s ability to send the victim into ‘amygdala hijack’.
This is an evolutionary response to any threat to our safety and security. We are pre-wired for this response, which goes back to the days where we needed to avoid threats that would kill us.
Amygdala hijack shuts down the pre-frontal cortex, which is our rational, logical ‘executive function’ part of our brain. This causes us to act and not think.
There is a strong influence on the importance of taking immediate action. For example, during Tax scam, an individual is convinced by the criminal that if they do not make immediate payment, they will be arrested and incarcerated. Similarly, in a romance scam, the “lover” is always in peril – lost passports, being arrested, etc.
The fear response to this news causes amygdala hijack.
It Will All Be Worth It…
Once the victim starts parting with money they are susceptible to another psychological process called ‘induction of behavioral commitment’. This makes them more motivated to give more money in the belief they will get it all back.
Scammers ask the victim to make small steps of compliance to build trust and increase motivation through imagining the ‘size of the prize’. The victim feels committed to keeping sending money.
Fraudsters make sure the story of a better life through the relationship, or through lottery winnings, or inheritances, is vivid enough to strengthen the motivation and faulty decision making.
How Does It Feel To Be Scammed?
Victims are often so ashamed of falling victim that they are unwilling to share their story with others, leading them to internalize their shame.
This increases the negative effect of shame, which can then trigger depression and PTSD.
Common feedback from scam victims runs along the lines of, “I feel so stupid”, “I can’t believe I fell for this”, and “I’m normally so careful”.
Victims also feel a lack of trust, both in themselves and in the community at large. They do not trust their own ability to discern right from wrong, or good from bad, increasing their feelings of vulnerability and emotional violation.
This is why it is important that victims seek professional advice from counselors or REAL registered crime victims’ assistance & support organizations (like SCARS RSN Division that is registered with the United States Department of Justice’s National Center for Victims of Crime) to help them work through their shame and grief.
No, scam victims are not stupid or idiots, they did a stupid thing to be sure but they were manipulated into that act.
Victims need to recognize the difference and adjust their future behaviors to prevent it from happening.