Keeping Your Scam Secret Will Only Increase Your Trauma
Why Scam Victims Don’t Disclose Being A Victim
Being a scam victim is often not disclosed to anyone for many years. Some people may never disclose.
When it happens, disclosure is often a process, not a single event.
For example, an individual may first provide hints about a scam; if the response is supportive, then more information is shared. Over time, they may fully disclose the details of the event(s).
Common reasons for not disclosing the scam include not wanting family or other people to know, being unable to explain the incident is part of the problem, fear that police will not take it seriously, or fear of police hostility.
According to many crime victims’ assistance organization, SCARS|ANALYTICS™ and the Department of Justice data, other reasons that scam victims do not disclose include:
- Emotional Pain: Trying to avoid thinking about, remembering, or talking about the romance scam because it is emotionally painful.
- Shame: Romance scam trauma is associated with a high degree of stigma in our society. Most victims are embarrassed for others to know that they experienced a romance scam. Not having been able to protect themselves during the scam makes many victims to feel weak, ashamed, or even that they deserved what happened. They may also fear being “slut-shamed” or criticized for real or alleged relationship behavior.
- Fear Of Not Being Believed: Even though romance scams are a serious crime, it is often mischaracterized as a consensual relationship. Scam victims may fear not being believed about the scam or worry that others will simply condemn them.
- Fear Of Being Blamed: It is common for victims of romance scams to face scrutiny regarding what they did to “cause” the incident, instead of focusing on their lack of consent and manipulation over an extended period of time.
- Fear Of Punishment Or Reprisal: victims may avoid disclosing because they fear familial punishment for rule-breaking (e.g., for meeting people online) after they were warned about the dangers. victims may also fear reprisals from potentially violent perpetrators that threaten them (though these threats are almost universally without real substance), or social ostracism by friends and family.
- Feeling Partly Responsible: When the perpetrator is an unknown face online, victims are more likely to feel responsible for the scam and delay disclosing. Some victims may believe that they did something to contribute to the scam (e.g., if they had not been so needy or lonely, were not so flirting with the scammer during the scam, or used better judgment).
Such confusion and fear may diminish victims’ ability to recognize that the perpetrator is responsible and not them.
Other traumatic reactions: Feeling shocked, dazed, confused, and/or not remembering some details of the event can be traumatic responses to the romance scam. However, victims may fear that no one will believe them if they do not remember all the details, or they may not want to think or talk about the painful event.
- Limits To Confidentiality: Victims are more aware that if they tell someone the authorities may be notified and become involved if they did anything to help the scammer. This, combined with the above concerns, may keep many scam victims from disclosing a romance scam.
- Fear That Nothing Will Be Done: Data indicate that fewer than 5% of reported incidents of romance scams are ever reported, and much fewer lead to successful prosecutions of the perpetrator. However, the real value of reporting is to alert potential victims.
- Cultural Or Religious Reasons: Cultural or religious beliefs may contribute to a scam victim’s fears about punishment or ostracism. Cultural differences can also influence a victim’s trust in various institutions (such as law enforcement), as well as how a family deals with a crisis.
Benefits of Disclosure
Scam victims who experience a romance scam, its trauma, and its aftermath may have many compelling reasons for not disclosing. The individual holds the final authority over whether to disclose and if so, when, how, and to whom.
For those who do choose to disclose, supports and benefits include:
- Support Services: Reporting to police provides scam victims with the potential for available services that can include financial, counseling, and other access to public assistance.
- Mental Health Services: Romance Scams are associated with potentially serious and long-lasting mental health consequences, including Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD),
depression, substance use, and other problems, such as adverse effects on work performance or family and peer relationships.
- Evidence-Based Treatments Are Available: to help scam victims recover and to prevent these long-term negative effects. SCARS has nearly three-decade of experience with scams and the development of scam victims’ assistance programs.
- Legal Services: Some scam victims and their families wish to pursue remedies within the legal system. Disclosure can be made at any time, but statutes of limitation restrict the time period for which legal options are available. This is particularly true in the event that personal bankruptcy is required due to debt is taken on during the scam.
- Help Your Friends And Family Avoid Scams: Nearly one in five people online are being targeted by scammers right now. The failure to disclose means that critical information is being withheld that could help others remain safe online.
The Simple Truth
The simple truth is that disclosing and sharing the fact that you are a scam victim is both cathartic and liberating. The fear may be significant and difficult to overcome, but once the disclosure is done, then all the imagined fears fade away and you can much more easily deal with reality.
Refusing to tell others has more to do with your own fear than anything anyone else may say or do. It is about your own refusal to accept what happened.
It is all about shame and nothing to do with what people will really think about you.
A large part of that shame was actually planted by the scammer during the romance scam.
One of the subtle manipulations that scammers employ to hold their victims is the use of worthlessness. That is to say, only the scammer loves you, only the scammer values and appreciates you. Only the scammer understands you.
The scammer uses “gaslighting” (a manipulative technique) to isolate you and hold you trapped in the scam, but it also isolates you after the scam as well. By staying trapped and fearful of disclosing the scam, you are allowing the scammers hold over you to continue.
So a large question you have to ask yourself after the same is simply “Do you want to allow the scammer to continue their hold on you?”