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This is part two of a mini-series on those who have been financially scammed. You can read part one here.
I recently received a call out 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 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.
Listen and empathize without judgment
Offering a shoulder to cry on is a no-brainer. But the key lesson is to listen and empathize without judging this person. He is probably already judging and beating himself up worse than you ever could. Being a friend who will not judge a mistake is a priceless gift. People who have been scammed could always use someone to listen without judgment while they process what has happened and figure out how they go forward.
Though it may be difficult, try not to say the following:
- “What were you thinking?”
- “How could you be fooled by that?”
- “I would never have fallen for that.”
- “Everybody knows about that scam.”
- “Why are you so anxious?”
- “It’s all in your head.”
Scammers play on people’s emotions, needs, and fears. We can easily move from being rational to irrational, as adrenaline kicks in, and our natural “fight or flight” mentality takes over. Sometimes we can be more easily fooled when the scammer presents an easy way to get something we want very badly, or a way to avoid something we are very afraid of. The scammers take advantage of the way our brains tend to work in these situations and they get what they want out of us. Saying these statements above to the victim only brings on even more embarrassment, guilt, shame, and self-doubt.
Remind them they are not stupid
Scammers are extremely good at what they do. Let me repeat, scammers are EXTREMELY GOOD at what they do. They use tactics based on human psychology to get people to miss important clues that something is not as it seems. Often, scammers send the victim into an “amygdala hijack.” Amygdala hijack shuts down the pre-frontal cortex, which is our rational, logical ‘executive function’ part of our brain. This causes us to act and not think. Once the victim starts parting with money they are susceptible to another psychological process called “escalation of commitment.” This makes them more motivated to give more money in the belief they will get it all back.
One of the ways scammers operate is to emphasize that the person must act quickly to avoid a problem (such as IRS scams) or to gain something (such as a job). Another way they operate is to spend a lot of time talking with the person they want to scam to gain credibility and trust, such as in romance or “sweetheart scams.” Scammers often sound very friendly and concerned about the person they are trying to scam. They often isolate the victim by saying things like, “Your phone has been hacked, and you can’t call a loved one, because then their phone will also be hacked.” By limiting the conversation between the scammer and victim, it allows them to isolate their prey.
These are just a few examples of the skills scammers use to their advantage. It is vital to encourage the person you care about to look at the situation realistically and determine what made him vulnerable, instead of concluding that he “must be stupid” since he fell for a scam.
Focus on what can be done
It is very common for someone who is in (or has been in) a very difficult situation to think endlessly about all the things he wishes he would have done differently. People get emotionally “stuck” in this sometimes, and for many reasons can’t get out of this unhelpful thought pattern.
At Intelligent Investing, we encourage all our clients and ourselves to focus on what we can control, and not on things we can’t control. Encourage the victim to focus his energy on the things he can control, not the things he can’t. One thing that tends to help a person get “unstuck” is to take some kind of action to make things better, no matter how small it is.
For example, encourage the person you care about to:
- Get educated on scams or psychological tactics scammers use to prevent getting scammed again; or
- Get involved with an organization that supports people who have been scammed; or
- Report the crime to authorities.
These are some of the positive actions that help people heal. They are also focused on the future instead of the past, which can help shift a person’s attitude to see the situation as a lesson learned and a mistake instead of feeling like a complete failure in life. Remember, the windshield is much bigger than the rear-view mirror.
Take Rest in a Higher Being
This last section is personal, and may not apply to your situation. Admitting your mistake or forgiving yourself is often the hardest thing to achieve. The person who was scammed may feel like a complete failure in life after they realize what has happened. They often lose sight of the fact that although the consequences may be harsh, it is still a mistake and not a statement about who she is as a person. We all make mistakes at times. We either recognize that our mistakes are not the end of the world and that some good can come from them, or we don’t. In the Bible, the Apostle Peter recommends casting all your anxieties and worries on God, because he cares for you. By releasing the mistake to God and trusting that things will work out to one who knows all things, you may be able to find peace of mind again.
How to Safeguard Against Identity Theft
The most common form of identity theft is financial identity theft. This is when someone uses another person’s information for financial gain. For instance, a scammer may use your bank account or credit card numbers to steal money or make purchases or use your Social Security number to open a new credit card. There is no way to prevent all fraud, and any prevention tools are not 100% guaranteed to work all the time. However, we wanted to share the following PDF that highlights ways you can safeguard yourself against identity theft.
We are here to help
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.