It may be hard to believe, but there just might be a feeling worse than that of being the victim of a scam: sitting on the sidelines while someone you care about is victimized.
The feeling of helplessness when a friend or family member is being taken advantage of can be almost as bad as falling into a scammer’s hands yourself. Whether it’s a romance scam or a work from home scam, or any other type of fraud, it hurts to know you can’t protect your loved one once they’ve been taken in.
One victim who contacted the Identity Theft Resource Center reported that an elderly woman he knew had fallen victim to a social media romance scam. After looking back through her posts, he discovered that she’d actually had several different online “boyfriends” to whom she’d given money. More than likely, they were all the same person who would sweet talk her into sending outrageous amounts of money, break off the relationship or “disappear,” and then start fresh with a new name.
Unfortunately, the victim was unwilling to believe she’d been scammed. It was hard enough to think the people who’d claimed to love her were lying, but then to think that she’d lost tens of thousands of dollars on top of it was too much to admit. Instead, she doubled-down in her belief that the relationship was real. The end result was that she cut off her friends and relatives who’d tried to help her.
What steps can you take if you know someone who is being scammed?
The very first thing you must do is understand how scammers operate. It’s too easy to think you can simply point out the truth and hope your loved one sees reason. Scammers spend a lot of time and effort grooming their victims, and the innocent people who get hurt will not be helped by stern warnings and condescending advice.
If your loved one is not receptive to the news that this relationship, friendship, or even employment offer isn’t real, try searching for this scammer’s name or their phony business name online. You might turn up previous accounts from prior victims, and that could be the proof your loved one needs. Showing the victim tangible evidence of others who’ve already been a victim might be all that it takes to make the see the truth.
You may have to reach out to law enforcement.
On the more drastic end, if you know that someone you care about is a victim of a scam, you may have to reach out to law enforcement. Some victims have simply been cheated out of their money, which is bad enough, but others have inadvertently handed over their identifying information. Start by reporting the scam to the Federal Trade Commission.
A police report may be necessary to prevent culpability if the scammer steals their identity.Worse still, some victims of these kinds of scams have even been duped into participating in criminal activities themselves. It might be money laundering, receiving stolen property, shipping stolen goods to other recipients, or any combination of the above. Once the victim is complicit in the scammer’s activities, your loved one may face criminal charges; if past victims are any indication, the courts don’t always overlook the victim’s part in the crime just because they were taken advantage of by a scammer.
Being supportive and understanding is crucial to helping the victim acknowledge the crime and move forward from it.
One of the most important things you can do for your friend or relative is to not judge. Many victims don’t speak up—and in some cases, they actually keep the scam going by continuing to send money or communicate with the scammer—because they can’t face the pain of knowing they’ve been lied to. They can end up feeling foolish and embarrassed at having believed the scam. It’s important to help the victim understand that scammers are good at what they do and that anyone could have been taken in by their efforts. You can also seek legal advice from the National Association of Consumer Advocates at www.consumeradvocates.org
If you need additional help, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530.
For on-the-go identity theft assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.