Scammers Start By Grooming Scam Victims – Spotting An Online Scam Groomer – Grooming As A Scam Technique – 2024

Scammers Start By Grooming Scam Victims

Spotting An Online Scam Groomer

Grooming as a Scam Technique – Understanding How Scammers Work & Spotting Them

How Scammers Operate – A SCARS Insight

Article Abstract

Online scammers employ a range of manipulative techniques, including grooming, to exploit vulnerabilities and manipulate victims for financial gain. Grooming involves building trust, rapport, and intimacy with potential victims to establish vulnerabilities for exploitation.

Recognizing the signs of online scam grooming is very important for self-protection.

The process typically involves dialogue, probing, bias-building, intimacy, trust establishment, amygdala hijacking, reduced cognition, common belief establishment, and bonding. Scammers use intensive questioning, mirroring, and boundary testing to extract personal information and exploit vulnerabilities.

Love bombing and amygdala hijacks overwhelm victims with affection and emotional manipulation. Isolation tactics isolate victims from support networks, exerting control and facilitating financial exploitation.

To protect against grooming, maintain skepticism, set boundaries, avoid sharing personal information, and cease communication with suspicious individuals.

Prioritize safety and report suspicious behavior to authorities or platform administrators. Vigilance and awareness are crucial for safeguarding against online scam grooming.

Grooming - How Scammers Work & Operate - Their Techniques & Methods - on SCARS

Spotting an Online Scam Groomer: Protecting Yourself from Manipulative Techniques Used by Relationship Scammers

Almost every online platform has become a breeding ground for scammers seeking to exploit vulnerabilities and manipulate scam victims for financial gain – that process usually begins with ‘grooming‘.

Typically, the first tactic used by scammers is grooming, a process where they build trust and rapport with potential scam victims to establish a sense of intimacy, dialog, and establish the vulnerabilities that they will exploit.

Recognizing the signs of online scam grooming is essential for protecting oneself from falling victim to these manipulative tactics.

The Typical Grooming Process

Like the other stages of scamming, such as luring, manipulating, controlling, harvesting, and maintenance, grooming is a process.

Here are the key parts of the Grooming Process:

  • Dialog: beginning and establishing communications with the victim
  • Probing: Asking about the victim’s life experiences looking for vulnerabilities
  • Bias Building: Identifying and exploiting the scam victim’s own cognitive biases
  • Intimacy: Forming a connection with the scam victims to create the beginnings of a relationship
  • Trust: Establish trust through seemingly shared experiences and traumas
  • Amygdala Hijacking: Love bombing and other forms of emotional hijacking, forcing the brain to feel certain emotions
  • Reduced Cognition: Through hyperactivating the amygdala, many other brain functions are incapacitated or impaired
  • Establishing a Common Belief: Building the basis of a common belief that helps to bind the victim to the scammer
  • Bonding: Creating a real bond between the scam victims and the criminals that will be exploited during the Manipulation phase of the crime.

Dialog & Probing Phase: Intensive Questioning and Probing:

Scammers often employ intensive questioning and probing to gather personal information from their targets. This is a technique known as ‘In the Moment Prompting.’ They are overly curious about your background, interests, and personal life, seeking to uncover any vulnerabilities they can exploit.

Be cautious of individuals who ask invasive questions early in your interactions, especially if they seem more interested in gathering information than getting to know you genuinely. Of course, this is the ‘boiling frog principle,’ it begins gradually so the victim does not notice how intensely personal the questioning is becoming.

How scammers engage in dialogue and probing to extract personal information and exploit vulnerabilities:

  • Open-Ended Questions: Scammers begin with innocuous questions designed to initiate conversation and build rapport. These questions often revolve around the victim’s interests, background, and experiences, encouraging them to share details about themselves.
  • The Pretense of Shared Interests: Scammers may pretend to have shared interests or experiences to establish a sense of camaraderie with the victim. By appearing relatable and likable, they aim to lower the victim’s guard and encourage disclosure.
  • Empathetic Listening: Scammers employ active listening techniques to convey empathy and understanding. They acknowledge what the victim is saying, offer verbal affirmations, and express sympathy to create a supportive atmosphere that encourages the victim to open up. This is based on the idea that everyone wants someone to listen to them.
  • Gradual Escalation: As the conversation progresses, scammers subtly escalate the level of intimacy by probing deeper into the victim’s personal life. They may ask about family, relationships, and past experiences, gradually eliciting more detailed responses. They will especially probe into past traumas and other vulnerabilities.
  • Validation and Encouragement: Scammers validate the victim’s disclosures and provide positive reinforcement to reinforce trust and compliance. They may praise the victim for their honesty and vulnerability, creating a sense of validation and acceptance.
  • Exploiting Emotional Triggers: Scammers identify the victim’s emotional triggers and exploit them to elicit desired responses. They can evoke sympathy, fear, sexual tension, desire, needs, or excitement to manipulate the victim’s emotions and influence their behavior. This leads to the more forceful use of Amygdala Hijacks and Love Bombing.
  • Subtle Manipulation: Scammers use subtle manipulation tactics in grooming to guide the conversation in a direction that serves the criminal’s agenda. They may steer the discussion towards topics where the victim is more susceptible to persuasion, subtly influencing their opinions and decisions. Talking about animals or children is an example of this.
  • Mirroring and Mimicry: Scammers mirror the victim’s speech patterns, language and vocabulary use, and mannerisms to create a sense of familiarity and connection. By mimicking the victim’s behavior, they invent a false sense of rapport and trust.
  • Boundary Testing: Scammers test the victim’s boundaries by gradually pushing the limits of acceptable conversation. They may probe for sensitive topics or personal information, gauging the victim’s response to determine their susceptibility to manipulation. This will become more pronounced after the Amygdala Hijacking commences.
  • Invented Vulnerability: Scammers may pretend to be vulnerable or disclose fabricated stories to elicit sympathy and compassion from the victim. By portraying themselves as vulnerable or in need of support, they manipulate the victim’s emotions and foster a sense of obligation. An example of this is the ‘child left behind’ storyline.

The criminals employ a variety of dialogue and probing techniques to extract personal information, exploit vulnerabilities, and begin the long manipulation process of their victims. By using subtle manipulation tactics, false empathy, and gradual escalation, they deceive individuals into divulging sensitive details and grooming them to become victims of their crimes. Recognizing these tactics helps safeguard against online scams, but equally important to help scam victims recognize what they were subjected to so they can accept that it was not their fault.

Love Bombing and Amygdala Hijacking

Love Bombing

Love bombing is a manipulative technique used by scammers to overwhelm their targets with affection, compliments, and declarations of love. They may shower you with excessive praise and attention, making you feel special and desired. While it’s natural to enjoy positive attention, be wary if someone’s affection feels too intense or insincere, as it could be a tactic to manipulate your emotions and lower your defenses.

Love bombing is a form of an Amygdala Hijack, these are two manipulative techniques often employed by scammers to effectively groom scam victims and exploit their vulnerabilities.

Love bombing involves overwhelming the victim with excessive affection, attention, and compliments in a short period. This bombardment of positive reinforcement aims to create an emotional attachment and dependency on the scammer. By showering the victim with love and validation, the scammer fabricates a false sense of trust and intimacy, making the victim more susceptible to manipulation.

Amygdala hijacks, on the other hand, target the victim’s emotional response system, particularly the amygdala, a part of the brain that plays a crucial role in processing emotions like fear and pleasure. Scammers use various tactics to trigger intense emotional reactions in victims, such as fear of loss, excitement, or anticipation of reward. These emotional hijacks impair the victim’s rational thinking and decision-making, making them more likely to act impulsively and comply with the scammer’s demands.

Together, love bombing and amygdala hijacks create a potent psychological cocktail that exploits the victim’s vulnerabilities and undermines their critical thinking abilities. By establishing a strong emotional connection and manipulating the victim’s emotional responses, scammers gain control over their targets and can proceed with their deceitful intentions, whether it be financial exploitation, identity theft, or other malicious activities.

Amygdala Hijacks and Emotional Manipulation

Scammers often use emotional manipulation to exploit their targets’ vulnerabilities and elicit specific reactions. They may capitalize on your fears, insecurities, or desires, triggering amygdala hijacks – intense emotional responses that bypass rational thinking. Pay attention to how you feel during interactions with individuals online. If you notice feelings of intense fear, excitement, or urgency, take a step back to evaluate the situation objectively and avoid making impulsive decisions.

Amygdala hijacks are one of the most powerful tools used by relationship scammers to exploit their victims’ emotions and manipulate them into compliance.

Here’s a detailed breakdown of how they employ this technique:

  • Identification of Vulnerabilities: Scammers often begin by identifying their victims’ vulnerabilities, such as loneliness, low self-esteem, or a desire for companionship. They may gather this information through initial conversations, social media profiles, or online interactions.
  • Fabricating Trust and Connection: Once the scammer has identified potential victims, they initiate contact and begin the process of building trust and connection. They may use love-bombing techniques, such as excessive compliments, declarations of affection, and promises of a future together, to create a sense of intimacy and emotional attachment.
  • Creating Emotional Intensity: Scammers deliberately trigger intense emotional responses in their victims through carefully crafted messages, stories, and scenarios. They may use tactics like sharing personal anecdotes, expressing vulnerability, or playing on the victim’s sympathies to evoke strong emotional reactions.
  • Exploiting Fear and Insecurity: As the relationship progresses, scammers exploit their victims’ fears and insecurities to deepen their emotional hold. They may use threats of abandonment, fabricated emergencies, or stories of hardship to induce feelings of anxiety, guilt, or obligation in their victims.
  • Provoking Amygdala Responses: Amygdala hijacks occur when the scammer deliberately triggers the victim’s amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for processing emotions, particularly fear and pleasure. They may use tactics like creating a sense of urgency, issuing ultimatums, or presenting false dilemmas to induce a fight-or-flight response in the victim.
  • Impairing Rational Judgment: By provoking amygdala responses, scammers impair their victims’ rational judgment and critical thinking abilities. The heightened emotional arousal overrides logical reasoning, making the victim more susceptible to manipulation and less likely to question the authenticity of the relationship or the intentions of the scammer.
  • Maintaining Control and Influence: Once the victim’s amygdala has been hijacked, the scammer maintains control and influence over their behavior and decision-making, this is most valuable during the Manipulation and Control phases of the crime. They may exploit the victim’s emotional vulnerability to extract money, personal information, or other resources, under the guise of addressing perceived threats or crises in the relationship.
  • Cycle of Dependence: Over time, the victim becomes increasingly dependent on the scammer for emotional support, validation, and reassurance. The cycle of emotional manipulation perpetuates as the scammer continues to exploit the victim’s vulnerabilities and reinforce their control over the relationship.

Relationship scammers use amygdala hijacks as a means of exerting control, manipulating emotions, and exploiting vulnerabilities to advance their deceptive agenda during both the Grooming phase and in later phases as well. By understanding how these techniques operate, individuals can better protect themselves from falling victim to such manipulative tactics.

Isolation Tactics

Groomers often seek to begin to isolate their targets from friends, family, and support networks to exert greater control over them. However, this is going to be more used in the manipulation phase based on ‘Gaslighting.’ They may discourage you from sharing details of your interactions with others, create rifts in your relationships, or monopolize your time and attention. Beware of individuals who try to isolate you or undermine your connections with loved ones, as it could be a red flag for grooming behavior.

Isolation tactics are a key component of the grooming process used by relationship scammers to exert control over their victims and exploit them for financial gain.

Here’s a detailed explanation of how these tactics are employed:

  • Establishing Dependency: Scammers initially establish a strong emotional connection with their victims, often through excessive flattery, attention, and promises of love and affection. Once the victim becomes emotionally invested in the relationship, the scammer gradually begins to isolate them from their support networks, including friends, family, and other trusted individuals.
  • Creating Distance from Support Systems: Scammers may discourage their victims from maintaining contact with their friends and family, portraying them as interfering or unsupportive of the relationship. They may use tactics like gaslighting, other manipulation, or guilt-tripping to undermine the victim’s trust in their loved ones and persuade them to prioritize the scammer’s needs and desires above all else.
  • Exerting Control over Communication: Scammers often control the flow of communication between themselves and their victims, dictating when and how they can interact. They may insist on exclusive communication channels, such as private messaging apps or email, and discourage the use of public platforms or social media where the victim’s contacts could intervene or raise suspicions.
  • Creating a False Sense of Intimacy: By isolating the victim from external influences, scammers create a false sense of intimacy and dependency within the relationship. They may use tactics like love bombing, sharing personal stories, and expressing vulnerability to foster a deep emotional connection and reinforce the idea that the victim can only rely on the scammer for emotional support and validation.
  • Instilling Fear of Loss: Scammers exploit their victims’ fear of abandonment or rejection to maintain control over the relationship. They may threaten to withdraw their affection or support if the victim attempts to reconnect with their support network or seeks outside advice. By instilling a sense of dependency and insecurity, scammers ensure that the victim remains compliant and submissive to their demands.
  • Diminishing Self-Esteem and Confidence: Through manipulation and psychological abuse, scammers gradually erode the victim’s self-esteem and confidence, making them more susceptible to manipulation and control. They may criticize the victim’s appearance, intelligence, or worthiness of love, fostering feelings of inadequacy and dependency on the scammer for validation and acceptance.
  • Conditional Love: Scammers often offer conditional love, affection, and validation to their scam victims, making compliance contingent on meeting their expectations and demands. They may use praise and affection as rewards for compliance and withdrawal of affection as punishment for disobedience.
  • Control of Self-Esteem: Scammers use tactics to undermine their partner’s self-esteem and confidence, making them more dependent on the narcissist for validation and approval. By creating a sense of inadequacy or worthlessness, scammers can begin to manipulate their victims into complying with their demands to regain their approval and affection.
  • Manipulative Behavior: Scammers begin to employ manipulative behavior such as guilt-tripping, blame-shifting, and playing the victim to coerce their partner into complying with their wishes. They may use emotional manipulation tactics like love bombing and devaluation to control their victim’s emotions and actions.
  • Emotional Blackmail: Scammers may also use emotional blackmail to coerce compliance from their victim by threatening to withhold love, affection, or support unless their demands are met. They may use tactics like silent treatment or withdrawal of affection to punish disobedience and reinforce compliance. These all begin within the Grooming phase and continue until the end of the crime.
  • Facilitating Financial Exploitation: Once the victim has been isolated and emotionally dependent on the scammer, the stage is set for further manipulation to enable financial exploitation. Scammers may coerce their victims into providing money, personal information, or access to financial accounts under the guise of demonstrating trust, commitment, or loyalty to the relationship. They may also recruit victims as money mules, exploiting their trust and desperation for financial gain.

Isolation tactics are a potent tool used by relationship scammers during the grooming phase of the scam to establish control, manipulate emotions, and exploit vulnerabilities in their victims.

Protecting Yourself?

Is there a way to protect against grooming? Yes and no!

To protect yourself from online scam groomers, maintain a healthy level of skepticism and vigilance when interacting with individuals online. Don’t trust your instincts, trust your boundaries! No means no. Avoid contact with strangers online at all costs.

Remember to be cautious of anyone who exhibits manipulative or controlling behavior. Set boundaries early in your interactions and prioritize your safety and well-being above all else.

Additionally, avoid sharing to much personal information with anyone you’ve just met online, as it will likely be used against you in grooming attempts.

Keep your social media profiles private and be mindful of the information you disclose publicly – it will be used against you.

If you suspect someone is attempting to groom you online, cease communication immediately, do not confront them or ask them for proof, just block them, and report their behavior to the appropriate authorities or platform administrators.

By staying informed and vigilant, you can better safeguard yourself against online scam groomers and protect yourself from falling victim to their manipulative tactics. Remember, your safety and well-being should always come first in any online interaction.

Statement About Victim Blaming

Some of our articles discuss various aspects of victims. This is both about better understanding victims (the science of victimology) and their behaviors and psychology. This helps us to educate victims/survivors about why these crimes happened and to not blame themselves, better develop recovery programs, and to help victims avoid scams in the future. At times this may sound like blaming the victim, but it does not blame scam victims, we are simply explaining the hows and whys of the experience victims have.

These articles, about the Psychology of Scams or Victim Psychology – meaning that all humans have psychological or cognitive characteristics in common that can either be exploited or work against us – help us all to understand the unique challenges victims face before, during, and after scams, fraud, or cybercrimes. These sometimes talk about some of the vulnerabilities the scammers exploit. Victims rarely have control of them or are even aware of them, until something like a scam happens and then they can learn how their mind works and how to overcome these mechanisms.

Articles like these help victims and others understand these processes and how to help prevent them from being exploited again or to help them recover more easily by understanding their post-scam behaviors. Learn more about the Psychology of Scams at

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While any self-help techniques outlined herein may be beneficial for scam victims seeking to recover from their experience and move towards recovery, it is important to consult with a qualified mental health professional before initiating any course of action. Each individual’s experience and needs are unique, and what works for one person may not be suitable for another.

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