All Is Not Lost - How to Emotionally Heal After Being Financially Scammed
In the days after they have been released from the grip of the scam, victims soon realise that their savings have been severely or totally depleted, while some will have accrued substantial new debts. Victims may have borrowed from friends, trust funds, their superannuation or inheritances. They may have taken out personal loans, and hit the limit on their credit card, accumulating compound interest. Some have no capacity to repay the debts apart from selling their home and/or declaring bankruptcy. Many older victims may no longer be working and have no capacity to service debt or to rebuild any financial base. Some victims may even end up homeless.
Without discretionary funds available to maintain hobbies and social engagements, scam victims may drop out of their usual leisure pursuits, placing them at risk of losing friends, fitness and community connections. A wide body of research shows that social isolation and loneliness is highly correlated with mental illness.
In summary, the victim of a romance / financial scam can:
Lose some/all savings and assets
Left with a legacy of debt
Unable to get loans or credit
Need to return to the workforce post retirement age
Loss of own house/access to secure housing
Need to return to the Workforce Post Retirement Loss of secure housing and potential homelessness Grief/Anxiety/Shame/Depression/Despair Social Isolation Poor Mental Health outcomes Poor Physical Health Increased morbidity Sense of hopelessness and often, suicidal Ideation
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:
Profound loss triggers intense sadness. Grief can follow the end of a relationship, the loss of significant possessions, loss of friendships, health, and loss of a former lifestyle. Grief may be felt both physically and mentally. Feeling both restless and exhausted at the same time, lower quality sleep and difficulties with memory and concentration are common symptoms, along with dizziness, palpitations, shakiness, headaches, nausea and changes in appetite. Left unchecked, chronic grief and sadness can metastasise into despair or depression, the costs of which are now well-established.
Anxiety, like grief, can lead to problems with thinking, reasoning and maintaining focus. Victims describe feeling panicky and fearful with a heightened sense of personal vulnerability. Anxiety creates elevated levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, which is associated with hypertension, cardiovascular disease and some cancers. Physical symptoms like tremors, gastrointestinal changes and sweating occur in acute anxiety, and chronic anxiety anifests in different ways, such as constant surveillance of the environment, shallow breathing and dietary changes.
Romance scam victims may have a realistic fear that sexually explicit images that were shared with the scammer could be used to blackmail them further, or dispersed on social media, and victims of financial scams are fearful of the scammer “sending around heavies” to intimidate or coerce the victim in the future.
Note that while scam victims are not currently characterised as experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, they do exhibit many of the same symptoms (such as anxiety, depression and hyper-vigilance) as are also experienced by survivors of PTSD.
When a person suffers a major loss, e.g. losing a spouse through death or divorce, losing their wealth through a global financial crisis, or losing their health following disease or accident, there is usually plenty of support orthcoming from family, friends, health professionals and so on. It’s no-one’s fault. For the victim of a scam, however, it can be very different. They can experience deep shame, and are acutely aware of the negative stigma associated with being scammed. “How could she/I be so stupid?”
How to Emotionally Heal After Being Financially Scammed
Accept the emotions. Take another look at that list above. Those are some ugly feelings, right? When something like this happens, people often suffer through these type of emotions for a long time. This is normal. And it also doesn’t last forever – or it shouldn’t. Many people find that once they stop trying to avoid feeling these things, stop trying to avoid feeling anything at all, and allow the emotions to happen…those emotions start to lose their power over you. They will lose their intensity.
Find your best supportive family members and friends. As you continue reading through this page, you’ll find that further down are a few suggestions we make for family members and friends and how to be supportive. Look for your own people who do these things. If you find yourself consistently feeling worse after spending time with someone but you can’t pinpoint why, please trust your gut with this and spend less time with that person. 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.
Self care. Self care takes many forms. I think of self care as three types of things. One of them is things I can do in a moment to relieve negative thoughts or emotions such as deep breathing, consciously relaxing my shoulders, or stepping out of a situation for a few moments. A second thing is engaging in regular activities that you enjoy. I think of this as building resilience to be able to handle the stresses of life as they come. A third thing is having good boundaries. This means knowing your limits in what you do and say, as well as letting others know how you want to be treated. You can read a lot more about self care in our handout here on this site by clicking here: Self Care Strategies.
Monitor and change your thinking. How you are thinking is going to do at least two things: it will influence your emotional state; and it will motivate some form of behavior. If you are ruminating about what happened, and focused on negative self-talk, you are going to feel terrible. Switch your thinking to the things you CAN do, forgive yourself because it is really true that we all make mistakes sometimes.
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 sometimes. 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 to talk to.
Join our support group. Talking to other people with a similar experience can help people cope with depression.
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.
More to be done
Our research highlighted that people are being exposed to scams in online spaces such as social media platforms and online marketplaces. While many of these online services take steps to prevent and remove scams on their sites, scams are still getting through. There is currently no formal regulation to stop online scams and we are calling for a legal responsibility on online services to take greater action to prevent scams from appearing on their platforms.