SCARS™ Reference Library: Interacting with Scam Victims for Law Enforcement Officers, a SCARS Guide

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SCARSSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS.™ Reference Library: Interacting with ScamScam A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost. Victims for Law Enforcement Officers, a SCARS Guide

Basic Guidelines on Approaching & Interacting with Victims of Cyber-Enabled CrimeCyber-enabled Crime A Cyber-enabled crime is one where technology facilitates a criminal to commit a crime against an individual or a business. These are where there is a one to one relationship between the criminal and the victim. Romance scams, email fraud, and many other types of scams are considered cyber-enabled crimes. The technology used can be the Internet, a computer, a phone, or other devices. (Online ScamsScams A Scam is a confidence trick - a crime -  is an attempt to defraud a person or group after first gaining their trust through deception. Scams or confidence tricks exploit victims using their credulity, naïveté, compassion, vanity, irresponsibility, or greed and exploiting that. Researchers have defined confidence tricks as "a distinctive species of fraudulent conduct ... intending to further voluntary exchanges that are not mutually beneficial", as they "benefit con operators ('con men' - criminals) at the expense of their victims (the 'marks')". A scam is a crime even if no money was lost.)

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BACKGROUND

The way people cope as victims of crime depends largely on their experiences immediately following the crime. As a law enforcement officer, you are usually the first official to approach victims.

For this reason, you are in a unique position to help victims cope with the immediate traumaTrauma Emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless in a dangerous world. Psychological trauma can leave you struggling with upsetting emotions, memories, and anxiety that won’t go away. It can also leave you feeling numb, disconnected, and unable to trust other people. Traumatic experiences often involve a threat to life or safety or other emotional shocks, but any situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed and isolated can result in trauma, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm. It’s not the objective circumstances that determine whether an event is traumatic, but your subjective emotional experience of the event. The more frightened and helpless you feel, the more likely you are to be traumatized. Trauma requires treatment, either through counseling or therapy or through trauma-oriented support programs, such as those offered by SCARS. of the crime and to help restore their sense of security and control over their lives.

In the case of scam victims, especially of “Romance Scam” victims – there is not a typical crime scene. Normally the victim is a walk-in. This is typically the first contact where officers are able to address victims and their needs.

This publication recognizes that each crime is different and requires officers to prioritize their performance of tasks in each situation. Generally, officers must attend to many tasks, including assessing medical needs (mental healthMental health Mental health, defined by the World Health Organization (WHO), is "a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community". According to WHO, mental health includes "subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one's intellectual and emotional potential, among others". From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines "mental health". in this case), determining facts and circumstances, advising other personnel, and gathering and distributing suspect information.

It is helpful to keep in mind that apprehension of the suspect is the primary duty of law enforcement, but in these cases, most suspects are going to be beyond your jurisdiction and probably in other countries – but not always! Accomplishing this task helps not only the suspect’s current victims but potential victims as well. Sometimes the first officers must delay their attendance to the victims if the situation requires. But it is always important for officers to focus their attention on the victims and their needs. At this point, how the officers respond to the victims, explain the competing law enforcement challenges, and work with the victims is very important.

By approaching victims appropriately, officers will gain their trust and cooperation. Victims may then be more willing to provide detailed information about the crime to officers and later to investigators and prosecutors if the crime can be investigated and prosecuted, which, in turn, will lead to the conviction of more criminals.

Remember That You Are There For The Victim, The Victim Is Not There For You

You can help victims by understanding the three major needs they have after a crime has been committed: the need to feel safe; they need to express their emotions; and the need to know “what comes next” after their victimizationVictimization Victimization (or victimization) is the process of being victimized or becoming a victim. The field that studies the process, rates, incidence, effects, and prevalence of victimization is called victimology.. The information in this handbook is designed to show you how to meet these needs.

Tips for Responding to Victims’ Three Major Needs

Victims’ Need To Feel Safe

People often feel helpless, vulnerable, and frightened by the trauma of their victimization. As the first responding officer, you can respond to victims’ need to feel safe by following these guidelines:

  • Introduce yourself to victims by name and title. Briefly explain your role and purpose.
  • Reassure victims of their safety and your concern by paying close attention to your own words, posture, mannerisms, and tone of voice. Say to victims, “You’re safe now” or “I’m going to help you.”
  • Use body language to show concern, such as nodding your head, using natural eye contact, placing yourself at the victim’s level rather than standing over seated victims, keeping an open stance rather than crossing your arms, and speaking in a calm, sympathetic voice.
  • Ask victims to tell you in just a sentence or two what happened. Ask if they have any health issues that might need to be addressed. Take care of their medical needs first. Scam victims especially can be experiencing physical stress, and since many of them will be elderly, attention and care should be given.
  • Offer to contact a crisis counselor for victims. It is unlikely that a “scam counselor” is available, so domestic abuse counselors can typically help these victims.
  • Ensure privacy during your interview. Conduct it in a place where victims feel secure.
  • Ask simple questions that allow victims to make decisions, assert themselves, and regain control over their lives. Examples: “Would you like anything to drink?” or “How would you like me to address you, Ms. Jones?”
  • Assure victims of the confidentiality of their comments whenever possible. Scam victims are frequently fearful of retaliation by the “scammerScammer A Scammer or Fraudster is someone that engages in deception to obtain money or achieve another objective. They are criminals that attempt to deceive a victim into sending more or performing some other activity that benefits the scammer.
  • Ask victims about any special concerns or needs they may have. Keep in mind that many “scam victims” have severe financial losses, and a social worker may need to assist to guide the victim to available resources and services.
  • Provide a “safety net” for victims before leaving them. Make telephone calls and pull together personal or professional support for the victims. Give victims information about local resources available for help or information. You can refer them to our organization for additional support – we provide direct victims’ support groupsSupport Groups In a support group, members provide each other with various types of help, usually nonprofessional and nonmaterial, for a particular shared, usually burdensome, characteristic, such as romance scams. Members with the same issues can come together for sharing coping strategies, to feel more empowered and for a sense of community. The help may take the form of providing and evaluating relevant information, relating personal experiences, listening to and accepting others' experiences, providing sympathetic understanding and establishing social networks. A support group may also work to inform the public or engage in advocacy. They can be supervised or not. SCARS support groups are moderated by the SCARS Team and or volunteers., however, if the victim is in need of more direct mental health support refer them to local professionals. You may already have a pamphlet that includes contact information for local crisis intervention centers and support groups; the prosecutor’s office and the victim-witness assistance office; the State victim compensation/assistance office; and other nationwide services, including toll-free hotlines.
  • Give victim’s—in writing—your name and information on how to reach you. Encourage them to contact you if they have any questions or if you can be of further help. However, you may not have answers for them in the case of cybercrimesCybercrimes Cybercrime is a crime related to technology, computers, and the Internet. Typical cybercrime are performed by a computer against a computer, or by a hacker using software to attack computers or networks.. Your state police will have a cybercrimes unit that can be called in. Additionally, you can suggest that the victim turn to our organization for additional information.

Victims’ Need To Express Their Emotions

Victims need to air their emotions and tell their story after the trauma of the crime. They need to have their feelings accepted and have their story heard by a nonjudgmental listener.

In addition to fear, they may have feelings of self-blameSelf-Blame Victim blaming occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. SCARS seeks to mitigate the prejudice against victims and the perception that victims are in any way responsible for the actions of offenders or scammers. There is historical and current prejudice against the victims of domestic violence and sex crimes, such as the greater tendency to blame victims of rape than victims of robbery. Scam victims are often blamed by family & friends for the crime. Scam victims also engage in self-blame even though they are not to blame., angerAnger Anger, also known as wrath or rage, is an intense emotional state involving a strong uncomfortable and non-cooperative response to a perceived provocation, trigger, hurt or threat. About one-third of scam victims become trapped in anger for extended periods of time following a scam. A person experiencing anger will often experience physical effects, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion that triggers a part of the fight or flight response. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically. Anger can have many physical and mental consequences. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them", psychologists point out that an angry person can very well be mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability., shameShame Shame is an unpleasant self-conscious emotion typically associated with a negative evaluation of the self; withdrawal motivations; and feelings of distress, exposure, mistrust, powerlessness, and worthlessness., sadness, or denialDenial Denial is a refusal or unwillingness to accept something or to accept reality. Refusal to admit the truth or reality of something, refusal to acknowledge something unpleasant; And as a term of Psychology: denial is a defense mechanism in which confrontation with a personal problem or with reality is avoided by denying the existence of the problem or reality.. Their most common response is: “I don’t believe this happened to me.” Emotional distress may surface in seemingly peculiar ways, such as laughter. Sometimes victims feel rageRage Anger, also known as wrath or rage, is an intense emotional state involving a strong uncomfortable and non-cooperative response to a perceived provocation, trigger, hurt or threat. About one-third of scam victims become trapped in anger for extended periods of time following a scam. A person experiencing anger will often experience physical effects, such as increased heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and increased levels of adrenaline and noradrenaline. Some view anger as an emotion that triggers a part of the fight or flight response. Anger becomes the predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically. Anger can have many physical and mental consequences. While most of those who experience anger explain its arousal as a result of "what has happened to them", psychologists point out that an angry person can very well be mistaken because anger causes a loss in self-monitoring capacity and objective observability. at the sudden, unpredictable, and uncontrollable threat to their safety or lives. This rage can even be directed at the people who are trying to help them, perhaps even at law enforcement officers for not taking action immediately. You can respond to victims’ need to express their emotions by following these guidelines:

  • Avoid cutting off victims’ expression of their emotions.
  • Notice victims’ body language, such as their posture, facial expression, tone of voice, gestures, eye contact, and general appearance. This can help you understand and respond to what they are feeling as well as what they are saying.
  • Assure victims that their emotional reactions to the crime are not uncommon. Sympathize with the victims by saying things such as: “You’ve been through something very difficult. I’m sorry”; “What you’ re feeling is completely normal”; and “This was a terrible crime. I’m sorry it happened to you.”
  • Counter any self-blame by victims by saying things such as, “You didn’t do anything wrong. This was not your fault. You were expertly manipulated by transnational cybercriminals who are expert at getting what they want.”
  • Speak with victims as individuals. Do not just “take a report.” Sit down, take off your hat, and place your notepad aside momentarily. Ask victims how they are feeling now and listen.
  • Say to victims, “I want to hear the whole story, everything you can remember, even if you don’t think it’s important.” and add “You don’t need to tell me every embarrassing detail, we can stick to the facts.”
  • Ask open-ended questions. Avoid questions that can be answered by “yes” or “no.” Ask questions such as “Can you tell me what happened?” or “Is there anything else you can tell me?”
  • Show that you are actively listening to victims through your facial expressions, body language, and comments such as “Take your time; I’m listening” and “We can take a break if you like. I’m in no hurry.”
  • Avoid interrupting victims while they are telling their story.
  • Repeat or rephrase what you think you heard the victims say. For example, “Let’s see if I understood you correctly. Did you say. . .?”; “So, as I understand it, . . .”; or “Are you saying. . . ?”

Victims’ Need To Know “What Comes Next” After Their Victimization

Victims often have concerns about their role in the investigation of the crime and in the legal process. They may also be concerned about issues such as media attention or payment for health care.

You can help relieve some of their anxiety by telling victims what to expect in the aftermath of these crimes. This will also help prepare them for upcoming stressful events and changes in their lives. You can respond to victims’ need to know about what comes next after their victimization by following these guidelines:

  • Briefly explain law enforcement procedures for tasks such as the filing of your report, the investigation of the crime, and the arrest and arraignment of a suspect. If this is a transnational crime explain that it may not be possible to prosecute, but that you will refer it to your State’s CybercrimeCybercrime Cybercrime is a crime related to technology, computers, and the Internet. Typical cybercrime are performed by a computer against a computer, or by a hacker using software to attack computers or networks. Unit (if possible) or the FBIFBI FBI - Federal Bureau of Investigation The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is the domestic intelligence and security service of the United States and its principal federal law enforcement agency. Operating under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of Justice, the FBI is also a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community and reports to both the Attorney General and the Director of National Intelligence. A leading U.S. counter-terrorism, counterintelligence, and criminal investigative organization, the FBI has jurisdiction over violations of more than 200 categories of federal crimes, including financial fraud..
  • Tell victims about subsequent law enforcement interviews or other kinds of interviews they can expect – or not expect.
  • Explain what specific information from the crime report will be available to news organizations. Discuss the likelihood of the media releasing any of this information.
  • Counsel victims that lapses of concentration, memory losses, depression, and physical ailments are normal reactions for crime victims. Encourage them to reestablish their normal routines as quickly as possible to help speed their recovery.
  • Explain that there are victims assistance organizations that can assist them with understanding these crimes and that provide support for victims of these crimes. Indicate that they can contact our organization via our website www.AgainstScams.org or find SCARS on Facebook.
  • Give victims any crime victims’ pamphlets listing resources available for help and information. These pamphlet(s) should include contact information for local crisis intervention centers and support groups; the prosecutor’s office and the victim-witness assistance office; the State victim compensation/assistance office; and other nationwide services, including toll-free hotlines.
  • Ask victims whether they have any questions. Encourage victims to contact you if you can be of further assistance.

What is most important for officers to understand is that scams are not all of a single type. Many times there will also be a domestic nexus – involving accomplices or “Mules.” It is your obligation to refer this information to entities that can act on this information to help prevent future victimization.

Version 2019.10b
Source material from the Office of Victims of Crimes, United States Department of Justice.
Copyright © 2020 Society of Citizens Against Relationship ScamsSCARS SCARS - Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc. A government registered crime victims' assistance & crime prevention nonprofit organization based in Miami, Florida, U.S.A. SCARS supports the victims of scams worldwide and through its partners in more than 60 countries around the world. Incorporated in 2015, its team has 30 years of continuous experience educating and supporting scam victims. Visit www.AgainstScams.org to learn more about SCARS. Inc. SCARS & Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams are trademarks of the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc., all rights reserved.
Authorization is provided for the duplication of this document for law enforcement and related agencies without permission required.

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FAQ: How Do You Properly Report Scammers?

It is essential that law enforcement knows about scams & scammers, even though there is nothing (in most cases) that they can do.

Always report scams involving money lost or where you received money to:

  1. Local Police – ask them to take an “informational” or “Incident” police report – say you need it for your insurance
  2. U.S. State Police (if you live in the U.S.) – they will take the matter more seriously and provide you with more help than local police
  3. Your National Police or FBI « www.IC3.gov »
  4. The SCARS|CDN™ Cybercriminal Data Network – Worldwide Reporting Network « HERE » or on « www.Anyscam.com »

This helps your government understand the problem, and allows law enforcement to add scammers on watch lists worldwide.


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