Victims: Common Reactions To Crime

Victims: Common Reactions To Crime

(Last Updated On: December 11, 2022)

Victims: Common Reactions To Crime

How To Help Victims’ Assistance Providers & Supporters In Understanding Their Reactions

Extracted From The 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 to learn more about SCARS. Mentor Training Program

A Crime Victim’s Common Reactions to Crime

It is useful to know the common reactions that victims may experience when trying to cope with the crime

Special thanks to the government of Canada for source material used in this guide.

Principal Editor: Dr. Tim McGuinness, Director, Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Inc.

Crime Victims

Keep in mind that each crime victim will have his or her own unique path toward recovery, but being aware of common reactions can help victims’ assistance providers and their staff better help victims to recover.

Research indicates that about 25% of victims of traumatic crimes reported extreme levels of distress, including depression, hostility, and anxiety. Another 22% to 27% reported moderate to severe problems. This means that around 50% of victims of traumatic crime report moderate to extreme distress.

Table 1 shows the reactions that researchers and theoreticians have observed in crime victims. victims’ assistance providers may also recognize these reactions in the victim’s friends and family since crime affects family and friends, school, work, and the broader community.

However, SCARS has noted a much higher level of emotional distress in almost all 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!

NOTE: in this document, we are extensively using the word “Victim.” This does not mean we do not recognize them as survivorsSurvivor A Scam Survivor is a victim who has been able to fully accept the reality of their situation. That they were the victim of a crime and are not to blame. They are working on their emotional recovery and reduction of any trauma either on their own, through a qualified support organization, or through counseling or therapy. And has done their duty and reported the crime to their local police, national police, and on, it is simply in keeping with the purpose of this document.

Who This Document Is For?

The following is a guide for those trying to help scam victims. It is intended as part of the training set for SCARS Staff & Volunteers, as well as for others seeking to help victims – including family and friends.

In this guide, we will be referring to victims’ assistance providers, advocates, friends and family, and support groupSupport Group 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. providers. Essentially, we are talking to all of them when we say “victims’ assistance providers.” Though, if untrained, they should be extremely careful in their interaction with traumatized crime victims exhibiting or not exhibiting any distress. Amateur approaches, especially by other victims who are not professionally trained can result in deeper 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. for the people they are trying to care for.

If you are an amateur, the most important thing you can do is admit your lack of knowledge, regardless of what you believe, you can do harm by being well-intentioned but incompetent. Most amateurs involved in helping victims drag them into the exposure and revenge mindset that do significant harm to victims trying to find their way. Don’t be one of those people!

Follow the SCARS Scam Victim Recovery Model and you can help victims! Make sure you refer them – always – to trauma counselingCounseling Counseling is the professional guidance of the individual by utilizing psychological methods especially in collecting case history data, using various techniques of the personal interview, and testing interests and aptitudes. A mental health counselor (MHC), or counselor, is a person who works with individuals and groups to promote optimum mental and emotional health. Such persons may help individuals deal with issues associated with addiction and substance abuse; family, parenting, and marital problems; stress management; self-esteem; and aging. They may also work with "Social Workers", "Psychiatrists", and "Psychologists". SCARS does not provide mental health counseling.. Because even with poor or inadequate support, the one-on-one counseling will make up for any lack of support competency (assuming that your program follows the correct model.) Plus it will help the victim in ways that no support group can.

A Word About When To Back Away

The simple truth is that there are victims who are in distress that victims’ assistance providers cannot help. And there will be times when we start to help a victim and because of their trauma and other emotional reactions, we have to withdraw. Our duty of care requires that we refer these individuals to other professional care, specifically mental healthcare and make it clear if there is a pathway back to your services or not.

All provisioning of services should be based upon a clearly defined set of ethics, standards, and terms or rules that you work under. Victims under your care need to comply with them to receive your services, and if they violate those you have the right, and in many cases the obligation to terminate services and refer them to other professionals.

When you first approach a crime victim it is important to have an awareness of what level of distress is too great for you to help with (see below). In such cases, while it may be painful for the provider, you must refer them onward. This can also happen to victims in your care, whose distress or trauma increases to the point where they are harmful to themselves and others in your care – here too you should disengage and refer.

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. – A Dominant Reaction

The issue of anger as a reaction is notably more complicated than one might at first assume.

Researchers often link anger to property crime and fear to violent crime. However, anger is basically a reaction wherein people feel cheated out of something they feel they deserve. In the case of criminalCriminal A criminal is any person who through a decision or act engages in a crime. This can be complicated, as many people break laws unknowingly, however, in our context, it is a person who makes a decision to engage in unlawful acts or to place themselves with others who do this. A criminal always has the ability to decide not to break the law, or if they initially engage in crime to stop doing it, but instead continues. 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., they have been cheated out of their feelings of safety and fairness and belief in a just world, etc. Thus, anger can be a reasonable reaction to any type of crime.

In life, anger can act as a motivator to change. Greenberg and Ruback (1992) point out that many victims create internal fantasies about getting revenge or justice. If these fantasies have positive outcomes (e.g. the perpetrator is caught), they may increase the chance the victim will take action. Thus, so-called righteous anger can help the person move forward, feel energized, deal with the criminal justice system, or get help. On the other hand, researchers have examined post-traumatic stress disorder and anger/revenge/retaliation fantasies in victims of traumatic crimes (Orth et al. 2008; Orth et al. 2006). They concluded that anger and revenge fantasies may initially make victims feel better, but cause problems if the person continues to think about the crime and cannot move forward. Under this view, the timing and content of anger management programs may be very important in helping victims become healthy.

SCARS places a strong focus on releasing anger and moving away from justice chasing or revenge focus for all victims.

Common Reactions To Crime Victimization


  • Fear/phobiasPhobia Phobias are one of the most common mental illnesses in the United States. The National Institute of Mental Health suggests that 8% of U.S. adults have some type of phobia. Women are more likely to experience phobias than men. Typical symptoms of phobias can include nausea, trembling, rapid heartbeat, feelings of unreality, and being preoccupied with the fear object. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) identifies three different categories of phobias: social phobias, agoraphobia, and specific phobias.1 When people talk about having a phobia of a specific object such as snakes, spiders, or needles, they are referring to a specific phobia./paranoia
  • Anger/hostility
  • Embarrassment
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Grief
  • Guilt, 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.
  • Difficulty controlling emotions
  • Apathy/numbness
  • Lower self-esteem


  • Psychological distancing
  • Savior SyndromeSyndrome It is a group of symptoms that can consistently occur together or a condition characterized by a set of associated symptoms.

Social Effects

  • Changes in relating to people
  • Avoidance
  • Alienation

Thinking/Memories – Cognitive Distortions

  • Intrusive memories
  • Lower self-efficacy
  • Hyper Vigilance
  • FlashbacksFLASHBACKS A flashback is reexperiencing a previous traumatic experience as if it were actually happening in that moment. It includes reactions that often resemble the client’s reactions during the trauma. Flashback experiences are very brief and typically last only a few seconds, but the emotional aftereffects linger for hours or longer. Flashbacks are commonly initiated by a trigger, but not necessarily.
  • Confusion/poor concentration
  • Dissociation
  • Questioning spiritual beliefs

Physical Effects

  • Nausea
  • Stomach problems
  • Muscle tension
  • Sleep problems
  • Weight loss
  • Headaches
  • Faintness or dizziness
  • Hot or cold bodily sensations

Negative Behaviors

  • Chasing the money – demanding money recovery
  • Chasing Justice – focus on vengeance, criminal shaming & exposing
  • Vigilantism – scam baitingScam Baiting A foolish activity where a victim or nonvictim engages in deception and fraud to lead on a scammer into revealing information or for the sport of it. Deliberate deception online, regardless of the reason, is both unethical and in many places may also be illegal. While not prosecuted, Scambaiting has no legitimate benefit and should never be performed by victims since it is an act of revenge and only amplifies trauma. It is a reprehensible practice that is popularized by amateur anti-scam groups driven by their hate for fraudsters. Learn more: SCARS Position Statement Against Scambaiting and endless hunting

That said, victims’ assistance providers and advocates need to be careful of confusing anger with empowerment.

If not handled properly, chronic anger can be very harmful to the victim. Those that support victims may want to focus on anger issues if they see the anger as becoming longstanding and interfering with the person’s healing process. Each victim must be treated as an individual. We all should help the victim learn to manage all emotions in a way that helps in coping with challenges while remaining healthy. This will help the victim move forward and rebuild his or her life.

Anger can be a challenging emotion to face, even for the most skilled clinicians. All those that support victims, regardless of training, should reflect on whether they are able to help victims in this area. If not, they need to refer clients to other professionals.

Remember, there is no shame in admitting that you cannot help someone. But always do your best to refer them to professionals that can, such as mental healthcare providers.

Severity of Reaction

Severe reactions can be overwhelming to support providers.

As reactions become less severe, they do not necessarily become easier for victims.

This mismatch poses a challenge both to assistance providers and to the victims themselves.

Research indicates that trauma resulting from the crime increases the severity of the response; victims of non-violent crime, for example, also fear for their safety and can have increased psychological symptoms. Crime-related characteristics may also affect the severity of the reaction. Steel et al. 2004, found that the number of offenders and the duration of childhood sexual abuse was directly related to psychological distress in both male and female victims. This means that past traumas also need to be given attention to, and to what the victim reports and use that information to help inform assessments of severity.

Although there is no overall pattern based on victim type, all victims of crime experience distress and trauma. The general finding is that the more violent the crime, the more severe the reaction offers victims’ assistance providers insight into what to expect about client reactions, but this can also lead to false conclusions, as trauma is not caused by the crime but by the victim’s response to crime. Thus, scam victims may experience very severe reactions – equal to violent crime, even though no actual physical violence occurred.

A victim of any traumatic crime who reports that he or she feels no distress will need closer monitoring. The report may be valid but should be examined in relation to coping skills, current behaviorBehavior   Behavior / Behavioral Actions Otherwise known as habits, behavior or behavioral actions are strategies to help prevent online exploitation that target behavior, such as social engineering of victims. Changing your behavior is the ONLY effective means to reduce or prevent scams., and life experience. We should all work with victims to help them understand distress levels, how the crime has affected their lives, and what they can do to move forward.

Remember, that victims are the best source of information about what is happening in their own lives.

Recent Canadian data indicates that 21% of crime victims say that their life was not affected much by the crime. This same survey looked at victims of violent crime and found that approximately 60% of women and 70% of men reported that their daily activities were not disrupted. victims’ assistance providers should be aware that many victims do not report higher levels of distress (remember: be aware of trauma bias – the bias against admitting trauma). Research on female sexual assault victims found that they experience more severe reactions and take longer to heal than non-sexual assault victims, except in the case of scam victims where the recovery period can be nearly the same as the violation that relationship scamsRelationship Scam A Relationship Scam is a one-to-one criminal act that involves a trust relationship and uses deception & manipulation to get a victim to give to the criminal something of value, such as money! Click here to learn more: What Is A Relationship Scam? cause. Both groups had similar levels of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety, but the sexual assault group showed higher levels of depression – the same for scam victims.

Researchers also examined “peak reactions” which may be of interest to victims’ assistance providers. Peak reactions refer to the point at which the victim experiences the strongest symptoms. They found that the longer a woman took to have her peak reaction, the more symptoms she experienced. In other words, those who experienced the strongest symptoms shortly after the crime had lower levels of depression and PTSD. Thus, victims’ assistance providers should watch a victim’s symptoms closely and pay particular attention to victims who are having intense symptoms long after the crime. These clients may benefit from more intensive treatment from 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". professionals. However, this depends on how soon a victim is able to obtain support – victims that have severe reactions do not always want support, or delay support allowing significant trauma to build.

What victims’ assistance providers need to take away from this research is that the unique experience of some people makes one-to-one attention an extremely important part of supporting them, but making sure that it does not cross professional boundaries that they are not licensed to perform, such as treatment or therapy. Thus, even in a group setting, victims’ assistance providers should work to monitor and check in with all survivors, not just those who seem to be experiencing problems during a particular moment.

Fortunately, group interventions (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.) can be helpful, since all victims will have some reaction to dealing with the crime and its effects. However, victims’ assistance providers need to be wary of mixing those with highly severe reactions with those with less severe reactions. Any social comparison could negatively affect either group. Those with more severe reactions may feel that they should be “stronger,” and those with less severe reactions could fear that they will get worse. It may not be possible to have groups for different levels of severity. victims’ assistance providers need to be aware of this challenge and make sure that victims understand that reaction to victimization is very much an individual path. It is important for group work to emphasize that victims can learn something from each other.

A final point on severity: in a large-scale study, researchers examined crime history and gender. In grouping their sample of 16,000 people (8,000 women and 8,000 men), they found that most men and women reported little or no victimization. Of those who reported victimization, they were over 90% female. SCARS sees a similar breakdown for scam victims. However, both of these groups would likely experience severe reactions. This research probably reinforces victims’ assistance providers’ experience of seeing mostly female victims in daily practice. Men were more likely to be in the group who do not accept support as easily.

Although any good assessment needs to ask about a wide variety of issues, victims’ assistance providers working with women need to ask about past trauma as well.

These results remind us that we need to go beyond the specific crime and ask about trauma history in the help we provide to victims.

Victim Matching

A major reason for looking at the severity of the reaction is to develop ideas of how to best help specific victims rebuild their lives.

Some victims may benefit the most from relatively minor interventions or support, for example, sharing information and talking with other victims. Others with more severe reactions might require more intensive support than might be provided in a peer group. Finally, there are those clients experiencing severe reactions that may require a referral to mental health counseling or even hospitalization.

SCARS always recommends a combination of the two. We recommend our support & recovery groups for those victims in a position to benefit from that service, and always we recommend trauma counseling or therapy for every victim – if only to be evaluated by a professional. Too often the vulnerability that led the victim to the crime was caused by diagnosed or undiagnosed and unresolved past traumas.

It would not make sense to only give information to someone experiencing severe distress, nor would it make sense to require a person coping well to enter therapy. The table below describes a model to help victims’ assistance providers think about these issues.

The key element to understand is that crime victims are a diverse group with diverse needs. This diversity requires victims’ assistance providers to adapt to the victim in providing those services that best meet the victim’s needs. It may be helpful for offices to review their programs and materials to see if there are any gaps in services that relate to the various need levels (e.g. clear strategies for low- and high-need clients, but fewer for moderate-need clients).

Secondary Victimization

Secondary victimization is related to severity as it can worsen an already difficult situation.

Basically, this happens when the victim comes into contact with professionals and paraprofessionals and is further traumatized by their response. A common example of this is when they go to report the crime to the police, and officers are not trained in how to help 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. victims. Their judgmentalism can impact these victims significantly and make it harder for them to seek out help afterward.

This can happen through retelling the victim’s story, being treated unfairly, or experiencing other behaviors that make him or her feel as though people aren’t listening or don’t believe the story. In other words – they are NOT BEING VALIDATED!

It is noteworthy that victims who described police as “helpful” felt more connected to others providing help. However, negative experiences with professionals increased post-traumatic stress symptoms and decreased the likelihood of reporting. This is also contagious, in that when victims talk to each other they share their negative experiences more frequently.

It is fortunate that those victims who received mental health services after having a negative experience with the system showed decreased distress (again a reason why SCARS recommends it.) Some have called for increased training for first responders (police, emergency room staff) who are likely to encounter victims of crime. In fact, SCARS publishes a free guide for Interacting with Scam Victims available on our corporate website here.

Severity By Service Type: A Proposed Model

Needs Level Description Possible service options
Low They are coping well with few symptoms, easily managed through natural coping skills and social support. They may not have experienced a severe crime and/or may have many ways to cope. Minimal services: information sharing – provide written educational materials (, links of available services, and education about signs of deeper problems. These services would also be useful for those who do not feel they have any problems but are trying to hide their suffering. These same written materials might be given to people in the victim’s support system (family & friends.)
Moderate Experiencing some symptoms and need to expand coping skills or need a safe place to deal with overwhelming emotions. Generally, they cope well but are overwhelmed by being victimized. Peer-run support groups (such as SCARS Support & Recover Groups provide this – go to to apply,) paraprofessional and volunteer support. Professional counseling is always recommended (SCARS includes access to free counseling as a part of its SCARS STAR Membership (learn more at
High Experiencing many symptoms or problems and displaying poor coping behaviors. Overwhelmed by being victimized and with few effective supports. Severe trauma may have occurred. Likely evidence of multiple problems and possibly multiple victimizations. Need for professional treatment, and may or may not be suitable for peer supportPeer support Peer support occurs when people provide knowledge, experience, emotional, social or practical help to each other. It commonly refers to an initiative consisting of trained supporters and can take a number of forms such as peer mentoring, reflective listening (reflecting content and/or feelings), or in a support group. Peer support is also used to refer to initiatives where colleagues, members of self-help organizations and others meet, in person or online, to give each other connection and support on a reciprocal basis. Peer support is distinct from other forms of social support in that the source of support is a peer, a person who is similar in fundamental ways to the recipient of the support; their relationship is one of equality. A peer is in a position to offer support by virtue of relevant experience: he or she has "been there, done that" and can relate to others who are now in a similar situation. Trained peer support workers such as SCARS Volunteers receive special training and may be required to obtain Continuing Education Units, similar to clinical staff. Some other trained peer support workers may also be law-enforcement personnel and firefighters as well as emergency medical responders. models. This may include long-term individual or group therapy or even hospitalization to help the person stabilize.

Resources to find mental healthcare professionals:

Previous Victimization

Researchers have found that some people become victimized again and again throughout their lives.

In the case of scam or financial fraudFraud In law, fraud is intentional deception to secure unfair or unlawful gain (money or other assets), or to deprive a victim of a legal right. Fraud can violate civil law (e.g., a fraud victim may sue the fraud perpetrator to avoid the fraud or recover monetary compensation) or criminal law (e.g., a fraud perpetrator may be prosecuted and imprisoned by governmental authorities), or it may cause no loss of money, property, or legal right but still be an element of another civil or criminal wrong. The purpose of fraud may be monetary gain or other benefits, for example by obtaining a passport, travel document, or driver's license, or mortgage fraud, where the perpetrator may attempt to qualify for a mortgage by way of false statements. A fraud can also be a hoax, which is a distinct concept that involves deliberate deception without the intention of gain or of materially damaging or depriving a victim. victims, our SCARS Analytics shows a rate of 4.3 times on average. While many victims are victimized once, many are victimized over and over.

This speaks to a predisposition to being vulnerable or susceptible to deception.

The relationships between trauma incidents are quite complex: new victimization interferes with the person’s ability to cope with past trauma, and the previous victimization affects how he or she will cope with the new trauma. In effect, repeated victimizations interrupt the person’s normal healing process and resiliency, especially if the revictimization occurs in a relatively short period after initial victimization (Winkel et al. 2003).

Researchers noted that crime victimization challenges peoples’ views of themselves or their worlds. Several studies report that previous victimization is a very strong, and possibly the strongest predictor of further victimization (Byrne et al. 1999; Messman and Long 1996; Norris et al. 1997; Nishith et al. 2000).

For example, research examining women in violent relationships found that many had been victims of childhood victimization and that the specific type of abuse or neglect increased the chances of different problems in adulthood: sexual abuse increased anxiety, whereas emotional neglect increased dissociation and depression. Female survivors of childhood sexual abuse are at increased risk of later sexual assault. Furthermore, previous victimization seems to affect the victim’s reaction to new victimization, and reduce their willingness to report the crime to authorities. Researchers have theorized that low self-esteem, learned helplessness, poor relationship skills and choices, difficulty reading risky situations, or poverty may affect the choices made by the revictimized person.

SCARS often sees that victims of online financial fraud had past traumas that influenced their vulnerability to online deception.

Furthermore, those victims who had a very bad reaction to previous trauma are likely to have a bad reaction to new trauma. Basically, revictimization gets in the way of their ability to rebuild themselves and their lives. Victims’ assistance providers need to ask about previous traumas (both crime-related and otherwise) when possible (without being too intrusive) and focus on details that might give clues on how best to help victims meet their needs. In addition, following up with questions about how the victim normally handles stressful situations should also help victims’ assistance providers to better predict how the victim will react to the current trauma.

Diagnoses Commonly Applied to Crime Victims

WARNING: it is not the role of a victims’ assistance provider, advocate, supporter, volunteer, or other care provider to DIAGNOSE scam victims. That is the role of professional mental healthcare providers. While you may, in your own mind, come to some option, keep in mind that it is strictly to aid YOU in supporting the victim. The act of diagnosis is for professionals only and requires appropriate licensing.

Victims’ assistance providers can benefit from having a basic understanding of diagnostic terms that they may encounter in files or in speaking to mental health professionals. Diagnoses commonly linked to being a crime victim typically include anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (definitions below). However, it should be noted that they can also include much more severe mental disorders, and for that reason all crime victims should engage in trauma counseling or therapy.

Researchers have noted that these problems can appear in victims of workplace violence, stalking, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, childhood physical abuse, violent crime, gangGang A gang is normally a group or society of associated criminals with a defined leadership and internal organization that identifies with or claims control over a territory or business practice in a community and engages, either individually or collectively, in illegal, and possibly violent, behavior. Online gangs are not limited by territory and may operate side by side with other gangs while engaging in crime online. Some members of criminal gangs are initiated (by going through a process of initiation), or have to prove their loyalty and right to belong by committing certain acts, usually theft or violence, or rituals. Gangs are usually rougher and more visible than scammer cartels, and more often arrested.-related violence, and family violence – but also and profoundly in relationship scams where a trust relationshipTrust Relationship What Is Trust In A Relationship? Trust is the faith you have in someone that they will always remain loyal to you, honest, reliable, or love you. To trust someone means that you can rely on them and are comfortable confiding in them because you feel safe with them. It is the building block for any relationship without which the foundation will always remain shaky. played a central role.

PTSD is often discussed as related to victimization, especially when trauma occurs. Several researchers have noted success in reducing PTSD symptoms through treatment (support groups and therapy.) Successful treatments often include opportunities for the victim to share the trauma story while applying new skills to manage feelings and thoughts.

Everyone that desires to help scam victims should ask if they are really helping or just increasing trauma!

Anxiety and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

The following is not intended to be a clinical description of PTSD – it is provided for a general understanding. We suggest, if you are interested, to look up the clinical definitions online.

It must be emphasized that PTSD is a specific type of anxiety or trauma. Anxiety and fear can appear as an intense fear of specific situations or public places, panic attacks, general fear and anxiety, and PTSD.

Most anxiety disorders include symptoms such as:

  • fear, distress, or worry;
  • physical problems (e.g. sweating, shaking, difficulty breathing, nausea, chest pain, dizziness);
  • behavior change (e.g. avoidance, rituals); and
  • behaviors aimed at reducing distress (American Psychiatric Association 1994).

PTSD occurs after a traumatic event and symptoms may include such anxiety symptoms as:

  • fear;
  • helplessness;
  • intrusive and recurrent recollections;
  • distressing dreams;
  • reliving of the event;
  • intense distress;
  • physiological reactions;
  • avoidance or suppression of thoughts or feelings; and
  • specific symptoms such as sleep problems, irritability, angry outbursts, poor concentration, hypervigilanceHypervigilance Hypervigilance is when the nervous system is not correctly filtering sensory information and the individual is in an enhanced state of sensory sensitivity. This appears to be linked to a dysregulated nervous system which can often be caused by traumatic events or PTSD. Normally, the nervous system releases stress signals in certain situations as a defense mechanism to protect people from perceived dangers. In some cases, the nervous system becomes chronically dysregulated, causing a release of stress signals that are inappropriate to the situation and create inappropriate and exaggerated responses. Hypervigilance may bring about a state of increased anxiety which can cause exhaustion. Other symptoms include: abnormally increased arousal, a high responsiveness to stimuli, and a constant scanning of the environment., and exaggerated startle response (American Psychiatric Association 1994).


Depressive symptoms may include:

  • low mood;
  • low appetite or weight loss;
  • sleep problems;
  • energy changes;
  • 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. or feelings of guilt;
  • feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness;
  • difficulty concentrating; and
  • thoughts of death.

(source: American Psychiatric Association 1994)

Furthermore, many crime victims will be dealing with grief, especially scam victims who have lost their loved ones because of the deception. But it also affects those whose loved ones were victims of homicide or other death. In fact, many scam victims are vulnerable because they are widows.

Grief is a normal reaction to loss; however, the normal healthy grieving process can be complicated by many issues, including victimization.

Researchers indicate that along with the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and guilt that are often seen in grief, survivors of homicide victims can also experience fear and an extreme need to keep themselves and other loved ones safe. We see similar behaviors in scam victims, though focused only on the victim themself.

Within mental health circles, one may speak of grief or complicated/complex grief. Some professionals describe complicated/complex grief as having symptoms that do not decrease in intensity or frequency, are longer in duration (from two to six months) and interfere with the person’s work, school, social or home life. We see exactly this in scam victims.

In people who have lost a loved one, victims’ assistance providers should watch for:

  1. loneliness
  2. intruding thoughts about the person (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. or fake identity)
  3. yearning for the person (the scammer or fake identity), and
  4. searching for the person. This can result in tracking down and stalking the face they knew during the scam where impersonationImpersonation An impersonator is someone who imitates or copies the behavior or actions of another. There are many reasons for impersonating someone, such as: part of a criminal act such as identity theft, online impersonation scam, or other fraud. This is usually where the criminal is trying to assume the identity of another, in order to commit fraud, such as accessing confidential information or to gain property not belonging to them. Also known as social engineering and impostors. was used by the criminals

Other symptoms that should tip victims’ assistance providers to refer to mental health profes­sionals are:

  • purposelessness or feelings of futility about the future;
  • feeling numb or detached;
  • difficulty acknowledging the death;
  • feeling that life is empty or without meaning;
  • feeling that part of oneself has died;
  • having a shattered worldview (loss of sense of security, trust, and control);
  • assuming symptoms or harmful behaviors of the deceased person; and
  • excessive irritability, bitterness, or anger related to the death.

It is important to recognize that you cannot directly compare one loss to another. Victims’ assistance providers should also be aware of the cultural norms of the victim to understand the difference between normal and complicated grief. This is especially true with scam victims since these victims are worldwide and often cross borders (online) seeking support and assistance.

An easy guideline when dealing with this issue is to use the person’s own definition of whether he or she is overwhelmed by grief and needs help.

It can also be helpful for victims’ assistance providers to consult with experienced colleagues or ask members of the culture about what is normal in their group. You might also rely on these sources to recommend culturally relevant rituals or support people. In these consultation situations, you should always work to protect the confidentiality of the victim in your care.

Researchers have found that criminal violence and negative coping predict PTSD, anxiety and depression to varying degrees.


In the option of SCARS, a relationship scamRelationship Scam A Relationship Scam is a one-to-one criminal act that involves a trust relationship and uses deception & manipulation to get a victim to give to the criminal something of value, such as money! Click here to learn more: What Is A Relationship Scam? is an act violence. It is a violation as profound as a physical assault without the physical injury. The resulting trauma can be that severe.

Researchers have found that more chronic stressors, such as the stress experienced by a victim of family violence, are more likely to wear down the victim, whereas acute stress, such as a single-episode assault by a stranger, may deepen feelings of depression. We find the same thing in the case of online relationship scams/fraud.

Some researchers recommend that treatment efforts in these cases should target PTSD at the same time as providing victims’ support to increase the chances of success.

One question that is often raised when examining PTSD is “Why does one person develop the disorder while others do not?”

In our experience all scam victims do experience PTSD – however, some are able to apply the mechanics of the recovery process more successful and thus reduce its effects.

Research has linked the following to increased chances of developing PTSD or interfering with recovery:

  • Crime or trauma-related factors (e.g. trauma severity)
  • Perpetrator being known to the victim or hidden by deception
  • Lack of social support or poor reaction from supporters, such as family, friends, or the police
  • Additional life stress – such as employment or financial difficulties following the crime
  • Previous PTSD
  • Dissociation during or immediately following the crime
  • Report of childhood trauma

Researchers have noted a lesser link between the following and PTSD:

  • Previous trauma (SCARS discounts this)
  • Personal psychiatric history, depression in particular
  • Family psychiatric history
  • Education
  • General childhood adversity
  • Gender
  • Age at the time of trauma
  • Race

Fortunately, Mental Health Professionals Can Help Clients With These Disorders

Both medical and psychological treatments can be effective. Researchers collaborate with clinicians to develop the best treatment possible.

SCARS NOTE: never diminish a victim’s need or desire to obtain professional support. False encouragement, saying “you will be just fine” can be extremely harmful to victims. When a victim expresses a need, support them in finding that help – even if it means they no longer need you!

For example, effective PTSD treatment often includes an exposure element (this is not exposing scammers!) wherein the person needs to psychologically face the fear and anxiety by discussing or talking about the crime and crime-related reminders. Victims’ assistance providers that are not trained in these issues need to keep in mind the importance of consultation and making appropriate referrals to mental health professionals. This is especially important because many victims may have a combination of disorders (PTSD, other anxiety disorders, depression, substance abuse, personality disorders, etc.) that may affect how they respond to interventions and support.


A relatively recent treatment approach for trauma that victims’ assistance providers may have heard discussed is called Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing or EMDR. Although it is beyond the scope of this guide to detail any one treatment, EMDR is gaining in popularity and victims’ assistance providers may have some victims in their care undergoing this treatment.

Briefly, in EMDR the therapist asks the client to focus on the traumatic event (images, thoughts, etc.), evaluate the negative qualities, and change his or her thinking about the trauma or his reaction during the trauma. While this is happening, the therapist gets the client to visually track a finger rapidly waved back and forth in front of the face. There is much debate in the literature about what makes EMDR work, but outcome studies with victims of crime show reduced PTSD symptoms when compared to other PTSD treatments.

SCARS NOTE: EMDR is the exclusive domain of mental healthcare professionals and should NEVER be attempted by a victims’ assistance provider with a victim. This is a violation of law.

When to Refer to Mental Health Professionals

With respect to seeking help, it was found that about 12% of victims sought mental health services. Most of these were victims of violent crime – though we see about the same number for victims of relationship scams or fraud.

They found that violence (and remember that 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. are violence) and depression were the biggest predictors of seeking help.

It is worth noting that they also found that professional help was only effective if the help was prompt and ongoing. Most victim services agencies (81%) indicate that they are able to help victims with mental health difficulties, mostly by partnering with mental health services. However, only SCARS is able to both effectively refer victims to mental health services and provide those services through its partners.

Mental health victims’ assistance providers can provide support for more-challenging victims.

Although many victims can benefit from traditional services, some may need the more intensive treatment that professionals trained to deal with mental health issues – specifically trauma can provide. These include victims who may have a mental illnessMental Illness Mental illness, also called mental health disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking, and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders, and addictive behaviors., intense stress reactions, complicated/complex grief, complex life histories, or other problems. Most professionals are trained to understand different types of abuse, can help clients process emotions, can teach skills, and help with planning/problem solving. Professionals can also help victims identify and use social support systems, and act as an additional support & recovery program (such as SCARS) to the natural support of victims. Basically, professionals can work with the victim to help them cope and re-integrate.

Understanding your limits

Understanding your limits is an important part of being an effective support provider.

You need to use consultation from both your organizations and co-victims’ assistance providers to understand your limits. Thus, there are no set rules as to when to refer your client to more professional services. However, there are some issues that should make you think about whether bringing someone else in may be in the victim’s best interest. Obviously, the resources and support available will also affect what other supports you and the victim can access. This does not mean that you cannot support the victim but, rather, that you should consider a referral to mental health professionals or support & recovery programs when you feel you need help.

The following list identifies situations that might require a referral:

  1. You suspect the person has depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, continued dissociation, or other mental health problems.
  2. There are complicated grief issues that interfere with moving forward.
  3. Suicide or self-harm is a concern.
  4. Retaliation, or harming others, is a concern (which may require contacting the police or other authorities as well).
  5. Intense emotions (anger, sadness, grief) are beyond your skills or resources.
  6. The person seems to be unmotivated and stuck.
  7. The person does not seem to get as much from your group, self-help, or other interventions.
  8. The person does not seem to be getting better even though apparently motivated and working hard.
  9. The person has a long, complicated history of victimization or abuse.
  10. The person has a long history of mental health or substance-abuse problems.

Those working with victims should know health care professionals that can help in solving problems about how to best meet the needs of victims in general. If you do not have such a resource then do not try to do more than the basics.

These partnerships are invaluable in providing new information and professional support. Isolated victims’ assistance providers might also use strategies such as telehealth consultation (using phone, e-mail, or video-conferencing) to get guidance or receive consultation or supervision. Telehealth systems can also be used to deliver therapy, with the local support working with the victim and possibly participating in therapy with a professional in another area.

SCARS is partnered with to deliver teletherapy services to victims worldwide – and includes a free therapy benefit to its SCARS STAR Members.

Other possibilities include bringing in professionals to conduct workshops, crisis treatment, or supervision sessions in your groups. It is important for victims’ assistance providers to be cautious about digging deeply into complex victims’ issues without backup. Sometimes this cannot be avoided, since the victim may be ready to deal with these issues. It is important for victims’ assistance providers to ensure that they consult with others when outside their areas of expertise or licensed practice areas. Acting ethically and being respectful to the victims you are helping includes being aware of your own limits.

The Basics – Summary


  • As people deal with having been victimized, victims’ assistance providers can identify common reactions. These reactions are normal, but may still mean that the victim requires help to deal with being overwhelmed. Above we listed some common reactions discussed in the research.
  • Anger is a difficult emotion for the victim and also for victims’ assistance providers. Much care is needed to make sure that it is handled properly. Victims’ assistance providers should understand that anger is a natural reaction to victimization, but that it can also interfere with getting better. Thus, there is no easy answer to how to handle anger; training, judgment, and empathy are your best tools for deciding how to help victims showing anger. Supervision/consultation will be key in dealing with your reaction to anger and other emotions. In the event that you cannot deal with it, make sure you refer those victims to mental healthcare professionals.

Resources For Common Reactions To Crime Victimization

  • 1. Casarez-Levison (1992)
  • 2. Everly et al. (2000)
  • 3. Greenberg and Ruback (1992)
  • 4. Leahy et al. (2003)
  • 5. Mezy (1988)
  • 6. Nishith et al. (2002)
  • 7. Norris et al. (1997)
  • 8. Amstadter et al. (2007)
  • 9. Boccellari et al. (2007)
  • 10. Boeckmann and Turpin-Petrosino (2002)
  • 11. Courtois (2004)
  • 12. Danieli et al. (2004)
  • 13. Daniels et al. (2007)
  • 14. DeValve (2005)
  • 15. Dunbar (2006)
  • 16. Gabriel et al. (2007)
  • 17. Garnetts et al. (1990)
  • 18. Herek et al. (1997)
  • 19. Janoff (2005)
  • 20. Lebel and Ronel (2005)
  • 21. Manktelow (2007)
  • 22. Miller and Heldring (2004)
  • 23. Mock (1995)
  • 24. Nordanger (2007)
  • 25. Orth et al. (2008)
  • 26. Pivar and Prigerson (2004)
  • 27. Spataro et al. (2004)
  • 28. Staub (1996)
  • 29. Thielman 2004
  • 30. Wertheimer (1990)
  • 31. Young et al. (2007)
-/ 30 /-


Essential Tools For Every Scam Victim From SCARS Publishing


Each is based on our SCARS Team’s 31 plus years of experience.

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SCARS GREN BOOK - The SCARS STEPS Guide to Scam Victim Recovery

Self-Help Self-Paced Recovery Program Guide


This program is designed to help scam victims struggling to recover on their own and for those who want to understand the overall process. You can be using other resources, such as trauma counseling or therapy, qualified support groups, or completely independent – on your own!

The SCARS Steps program is a complete program and is provided for the purpose of helping scam victims to overcome this experience. Throughout this SCARS Steps Program, we speak about issues and challenges that a victim may have and help guide them through their recovery. But each person is different and it is important to understand your own reasons for being vulnerable to being scammed.

After the trauma of being scammed, you need to take steps to recover and move on. This may be an alternative to counseling in the short term, but we still encourage you to seek out professional help & support. Throughout this SCARS Steps Program, we speak about issues, challenges, defects, or problems that a victim may have in a generalized way.

The SCARS GREEN BOOK will help you recover from your scam offline and it will always be there when you need it!

Get it here

SCARS SLATE BOOK - A Guide For Families & Friends Of Scam Victims

SCARS SLATE BOOK – Let Us Explain What Happened!

A Guide For Families & Friends Of Scam Victims


This SCARS Publishing book represents a complete guide to help the families and friends understand how these scams work and how to help the victim.

The SCARS Slate Book should be purchased by family and friends to better understand what happened to the victim and the traumatic impact on them. But it can also be shared by the victim so that they do not have to explain to family and friends about the scam. This publication is to help others to help Scam Victims to make it through this traumatic experience and recover.

Each person is different and it is important to understand how relationship scams work and why people are vulnerable; to being scammed, how they were lured in, then groomed and manipulated. This understanding is essential in helping them through the process of ending the scam and then on to recovery. The SCARS Slate Book will provide the information necessary to help support a victim through this process.

Get it here

SCARS RED BOOK - Your Personal Scam Evidence & Crime Record Organizer

Your Personal Scam Evidence & Crime Record Organizer


Helps you get and stay organized. This publication is to help Scam Victims organize their crime information. Complete this information before reporting to the police then bring this book with you

Before or after reporting to the police the RED BOOK gives you a dedicated tool to record all the essential facts of this crime. The Victim, the Scammers, the Money, and your Police interactions. Everything that really matters can be easily recorded for your immediate use and for the future!

As we have seen, money recovery/repayment programs can become available years after the scam ends and you need to keep all the details of this crime in case it is needed. We have also seen scammers being extradited to the U.S. and other countries, this will help in the event you testify or give statements, Additionally, this helps you have your information ready to qualify for victims’ benefits, compensation, or aid.

The Official SCARS RED BOOK is your way of recording all the important facts of this crime so that you do not lose essential information, Complete the RED BOOK then put it away with the confidence that you will have it if or when it is needed.

Get it here

SCARS BLUE BOOK - Survivor's Recovery Journal
SCARS LIME BOOK - Wisdom & Motivation for Scam Victims
SCARS CHERRY BOOK - A Guide To Understanding Your Fear
SCARS WORKBOOK - 8 Steps To Improvement
SCARS WORKBOOK - Understanding Self-Blame, Guilt, and Shame
100% of all profit goes to support FREE Scam Victims' Services

See all our books and motivational gifts for scam victims at

100% of all profit goes to help SCARS help more scam victims worldwide.

Your generous purchase allows us to maintain our scam avoidance, support, and recovery services. Please help SCARS and stand proud.

Always Report All Scams – Anywhere In The World To:

U.S. FTCFTC The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is an independent agency of the United States government whose principal mission is the enforcement of civil (non-criminal) U.S. antitrust law and the promotion of consumer protection. The FTC can also act as a clearinghouse for criminal reports sent to other agencies for investigation and prosecution. To learn more visit or to report fraud visit at and SCARS at



SCARS the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams Incorporated

By the 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 to learn more about SCARS. Inc.

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The Issue Of Race In Scam Reporting
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