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I recently received a call out of the blue from a loved one. “Hans, are you sitting down,” they said in a frail voice filled with emotion.
I immediately thought there was an accident or death in the family. My loved one began to explain how they were financially scammed out of thousands of dollars. They had called their credit card company and had reported the crime to the local sheriff’s office. However, nothing more could be done. The damage was done, and since it was an international scam, it was out of the local police’s jurisdiction.
As I heard the tearful admission on the phone, there were all sorts of mixed feelings and questions welled up inside of me.
How could someone do this to my loved one? Is there some other avenue of justice and repayment they haven’t thought of? What kind of people scam other people out of hard-earned money? How many other people have fallen victim to this scam?
One of the most helpless feelings is when you or someone you care about has been scammed. The damage has been done and it often feels like there is nothing you can do. In most cases, by the time the dust settles, the scammer can’t be found. The victims do the best they can to protect themselves from further financial or legal harm but it never feels like enough.
The sad reality is that scams cheat older Americans out of almost $3 billion a year. That’s $3 billion with a “b.”
Falling for a scam is something that most people will not admit to. Scammers know this and use it to their advantage, but their victims have no reason to feel embarrassed. Many people have been conned out of money or personal information. Many are highly educated and affluent—not the type of people you’d think could fall for a scam. These deceptive people are very good at their jobs. In fact, our embarrassment and reluctance to share our experiences is the key to their continued success.
What To Do Once You’ve Been Scammed
If you or someone you know has been scammed, it is crucial to notify the proper authorities as soon as possible for help recovering lost funds and to prevent others from being victimized. With so many kinds of scams and fraud, it’s hard to figure out where to report each type. Gather emails, receipts, and phone numbers so you’re prepared to complete your report. Click here to learn where to report your specific scam.
Start by reporting the scam to your state consumer protection office. If you lost money or other possessions in a scam, report it to your local police too. In addition to reporting the scam to your local or federal government, you may want to report the scam to organizations outside of the government. Third parties may be able to get your money back or remove fraudulent charges. Report a scam that happened with an online seller or a payment transfer system to the company’s fraud department. If you used your credit card or bank account to pay a scammer, report it to the card issuer or bank. Also, report scams to the major credit reporting agencies. Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report to prevent someone from opening credit accounts in your name.
The Emotional Scars From Being Scammed
Victims are often so ashamed at falling victim that they are unwilling to share their stories with others, leading them to internalize their shame. This increases the negative effect of shame, which can then trigger depression and even Post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD. Victims also feel a lack of trust, both in themselves and in the community at large. They do not trust their own ability to discern right from wrong, or good from bad, increasing their feelings of vulnerability and emotional violation.
Here are some of the most common emotional effects:
- loss of appetite
- loss of trust in others
- loss of a sense of security
- lack of communication with others
- suicidal thoughts
How to Overcome the Emotional Scars of Being Scammed
If you’ve ever been scammed, you will need to find ways of taking care of yourself – such as leaning on a support system of caring family and friends. You will also need to not get caught in negative or distorted thought patterns associated with the fraud or scam.
Accept the emotions
Take another look at that list above. Those are some raw and ugly feelings, right? When fraud or a scam happens, people often suffer through these types of emotions for a long time. This is normal. But it also doesn’t last forever – or it shouldn’t. Like the multiple stages of grief, it is best when you allow the emotions to happen. Many people find that once they stop trying to avoid feeling these emotions, those emotions start to lose their power and their intensity.
Find your best supportive family members and friends
Look for your own people who are supportive and can be an encouragement to you. If you find yourself consistently feeling worse after spending time with someone but you can’t pinpoint why… you may want to spend less time with that person. Life’s too short to be surrounding yourself with negative people. Notice what happens with your thoughts and emotions after talking about this with certain people, and gravitate towards the ones who are helping you feel better, not worse.
Change your thinking
If you are constantly thinking about what happened and focusing on negative thoughts and self-talk, you are going to feel awful. Switch your thinking to the things you can do, and turn your negative thoughts into action. Recognize we all make mistakes sometimes. I once heard a preacher say, “You either preach truth to yourself or listen to yourself. And when we listen to ourselves, it is often distorted.”
Ask for help when you need it
You may be telling yourself that you should be able to handle this, or that you are making more out of it than you should. But in reality, we all need help at times. Ask a trusted family member or friend for help. And if you can’t get your thoughts or emotions back under control, find a counselor who can listen.
One of our first core values at Intelligent Investing is compassion. We understand that being scammed or being defrauded is one of the most stressful times in a person’s life. We are here to help our clients and be a sounding board and financial accountability partner to them. If there is anything we can do for you, we’d love to have a cup of coffee or a quick phone call with you.