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Surviving The Change: Scams Turn Lives Upside Down
A SCARS Guide
After you realize that you have been scammed and lost a large sum of money, you will naturally have real concerns about what it means for your life.
It is natural to panic, but panic will take you down the wrong roads and make your situation worse in the long run.
The very sad truth is that it may mean losing almost everything. Only time will tell how well you manage your way through the changes that will come.
Each person is different in how they adapt to change. Each person is different in how they cope with trauma, and certainly, trauma will be present and affecting your decisions as you go through this.
We always recommend that as soon as you discover that you have been scammed that you join one of our support groups AND seek local professional help.
WHAT HELP SHOULD YOU GET?
- Support is your first need – this means joining a real support group – either a SCARS Group online or a local victims’ support group. You can join our Facebook support group here or also join our victims’ forum here at www.ScamVictimSupport.org
- Counseling or therapy – you should recognize that this is going to be hard and you will need someone locally to help you through the trauma. We recommend finding a local trauma therapist early to have the best potential outcome. If you are looking for local trauma counselors please visit https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/trauma-and-ptsd
- Legal – it is worth taking advantage of a free consultation to just understand the basic legal issues. Especially if you are going to face collections or bankruptcy as a result of the scam. But if you received money from a scammer, you may also be facing criminal money laundering or civil liability resulting from that. You can find appropriate attorneys on your regional legal Bar Association or other association of legal professionals. You may need to speak first with a criminal defense attorney about any criminal issues and about reporting the crime to the police, and then with a civil litigation attorney about your financial liability issues.
- Financial – you are likely going to have to face some financial changes and it is worth talking with someone who can give your clarity locally. There may even be tax issues resulting from your scam. Most local licensed accountants can help you understand the issues and give you directions for more specialized knowledge if needed.
When it comes to healthcare, financial, and legal advice you should be talking to someone licensed to do this and not some anti-scam group. We can give you guidance and show you the path, but licensed professionals are important to help you retain as much control as you can.
Do not listen to amateur anti-scam groups giving fake information or urban legends – your future requires that you deal only with professionals. SCARS is a professional crime victims’ assistance nonprofit organization, but we are not a healthcare provider, not an attorney, and not a licensed financial professional. Please keep this in mind.
WHAT CHANGES WILL COME?
Everything depends on what you did for your scammer:
- How much money you sent (in cash or in merchandise)
- If you gave the scammer access to your credit cards or bank account
- If you took out loans, refinanced your home, or borrowed money for your scammer
- If you cashed checks
- If you received money and forwarded it
- If you received merchandise or parcels and forwarded them
About 2% of relationship scam victims end up losing their homes.
You will need to understand and accept this if you will be one of them so you can take steps to protect yourself.
If you are at risk of losing your home, you should talk to a bankruptcy attorney at once. Bankruptcy may be a path you have to take and they will help you understand the issues and what approach may work for you.
The changes to come and how to cope
According to Dr. Sarkis & Psychology Today:
1. Acknowledge that things are changing.
Sometimes we get so caught up in fighting change that we put off actually dealing with it. Denial is a powerful force, and it protects us in many ways. However, stepping outside of it and saying to yourself, “Things are changing, and it is okay” can be less stressful than putting it off.
2. Realize that even good change can cause stress.
Sometimes when people go through a positive life change, such as graduating or having a baby, they still feel a great deal of stress—or even dread. Keep in mind that positive change can create stress just like not-so-positive change. Stress is just your body’s way of reacting to change. It’s okay to feel stressed even when something good has happened—in fact, it’s normal. (If you’ve just had a baby, talk to your doctor about whether you may be experiencing postpartum depression.)
3. Keep up your regular schedule as much as possible.
The more change that is happening, the more important it is to stick to your regular schedule—as much as possible. Having some things that stay the same, like walking the dog every morning at 8 am, gives us an anchor. An anchor is a reminder that some things are still the same, and it gives your brain a little bit of a rest. Sometimes when you are going through a lot of change it helps to write down your routine and check it off as you go. It’s one less thing for your brain to have to hold inside.
4. Try to eat as healthily as possible.
When change happens, a lot of us tend to reach for carbs—bread, muffins, cake, etc. This may be because eating carbs boosts serotonin—a brain chemical that may be somewhat depleted when you undergo change (stress). It’s okay to soothe yourself with comfort foods—in moderation. One way to track what you are eating is to write it down. You can either do this in a notebook or use an app. When you see what you are eating, it makes you take a step back and think about whether you want to eat that second muffin or not. (If you have a history of eating disorders, it is not recommended that you write down what you are eating.) Also notice that if you are exepriencing an increased use of alcohol or other substances; your use can sneak up on you when you are under stress.
Keeping up regular exercise could be a part of the “keep up your regular schedule” tip. If exercise is not currently part of your routine, try adding it. Exercising two to three times a week has been found to significantly decrease symptoms of depression (Barclay, et al. 2014.) Even just walking around the block can help you feel better. (Check with your doctor before starting an exercise program.) Remember, you don’t have to feel like getting some exercise; just get out there and move. You’ll find that many times your motivation will kick in while you are active.
6. Seek support.
No one gets through life alone. It is okay to ask for help; that’s a sign that you know yourself well enough to realize you need some assistance. Think of your trusted friends or family members. Chances are that they are happy to help if you need them to watch your kids while you run some errands, or if you just need some alone time. There may a neighbor who has asked you for help in the past—now maybe you can ask them for help. Apps like NextDoor have been helpful for connecting neighbors. If you are thinking about hurting yourself or killing yourself, please contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or at 1-800-273-8255.
- You can join our Facebook support group here or also join our victims’ forum here at www.ScamVictimSupport.org
7. Write down the positives or negatives that have come from this change.
Maybe due to this change in your life you have met new people. Maybe you started practicing healthier habits. Maybe you became more politically active. Maybe you became more assertive. Maybe the change helped you prioritize what is most important in your life. Change presents us with the opportunity to grow, and it’s important to acknowledge how things have become better as a result.
It may seem strange but sometimes there can be a net positive outcome from these changes. You can finally simplify your life, or you discover your true inner strength. Not everything is going to be negative, though it will certainly feel like it at the time. You will change and how those changes go is based on your perspective and attitude as much as anything.
8. Get proactive.
Being proactive means taking charge and working preventatively. This means you figure out what steps you need to take before something happens. Being reactive means you wait until something has happened and then you take action. Being proactive means you make an appointment with your doctor for a physical because you know something stressful is coming up and you want to make sure you are in good health. It means becoming active with groups that help you realize that you can make a positive impact on the world.
9. Vent, but to a point.
Having a support group to whom you can vent can be helpful—to a point. If you and your support group are solely venting, that feeling of frustration can be contagious. Try gearing the conversation toward action: What can you do to make things better? When people brainstorm together, their creativity and hopefulness can be contagious as well.
This is one of the reasons why amateur anti-scam groups are harmful. They are mostly scam haters – venting constantly and actively filled with anger. This can deflect your attempt to recover and can also increase your trauma. At the very least can delay your recovery and reintegration of your life.
10. Back away from social media except as a support tool.
When you go through change, you may gravitate toward social media—may be posting to your friends on Facebook what is going on in your life. First, make sure you are in a calm state when you post—and keep in mind that whatever you post never really disappears. Also, if you are comparing your life to your friends’ lives on social media, remember that most people post only the “highlight reel” of their lives, not the stressful moments. This can give you a skewed view that everyone else’s lives are going just fine. Everyone has battles they are fighting; it’s just different battles with different people. Step away from social media if you are starting to compare your life to others.
We invite you to take advantage of our support infrastructure. These are safe places for victims to connect with other victims (carefully screened to keep the haters and the scammers out). You can join our Facebook support group here or also join our victims’ forum here at www.ScamVictimSupport.org
11. Give yourself a break!
And finally, give yourself a break. In a time of change, you may feel a little out of control. You may feel like you are not living up to your expectations for yourself.
Remember that you are allowed to do less than what is humanly possible. Nothing says you have to function at 100 percent all the time. People make mistakes—it’s one of the great things about being human. It’s learning from the mistakes that really counts. Think about it like this: There are no mistakes, only good stories for later. Make a point to incorporate more laughter and fun into your life. Laughing increases dopamine, serotonin, and endorphins—and that makes you feel good (Yim, 2016). Laughing also decreases cortisol—a stress-producing hormone (Yim, 2016.)
While we do not share all of this view, it is true that after a traumatic experience and for some time thereafter, you are not going to be at your best. This is ok. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead, accept that these changes are coming, like it or not.
Stress Is Inevitable, But Don’t Stress About Stress
During any period of change, stress is inevitable. External circumstances change, your days change, your responsibilities change, and most likely, your brain is left picking up the pieces to make sense of it all.
All scam victims are going to suffer from stress, but also keep in mind that it is probably more – it is trauma. An injury that will have to heal. Be sure that you address this trauma too!
Stress Is A Natural Part Of The Change
The unnatural part that many of us find ourselves entangled with is stressing about stress, or maybe increasing your trauma without any need. You will get worried that stress is going to make the change harder to adapt to, so you stress more. You will think you are stressing more than anyone else, so you get stressed about that. You will think that you aren’t stressing enough, so you artificially ramp it up until you are feeling stressed to the maximum.
Whatever the situation, stressing about stress is not healthy and it’s not useful.
You might think that this sounds obvious, but worry and stress can become a strange addiction that is difficult to shake if you have been practicing it for long enough. And remember, your scam was an addiction too. You can become addicted to emotions and to your hormones (as in the case of victims that trade the romance hormones for anger and rage hormones.)
As Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal argues in The Upside of Stress, your reaction to stress has a greater impact on your health and success than the stress itself. If you believe stress kills you, it will. If you believe stress is trying to carry you over a big obstacle or through a challenging situation, you’ll become more resilient and may even live longer. If you believe that you are going to collapse you will – so don’t!
It’s important to realize that most of the time, a little bit of stress is natural and is there to guide you through tough tim