In addition to financial hardships, scams carry emotional and psychological repercussions. It is often common for victims to fall into a state of depression or feel great shame and embarrassment, making it harder for them to ask for or accept help. Some victims may contemplate suicide and remain withdrawn and untrusting, afraid to meet new people or venture back on the internet. Still others want to believe they did not make a mistake. They resort to such attitudes as,‘Well, I already spent this much. Let’s see what happens,” and decide to continue hoping the ‘scam’ will end well, even while admitting it may be fraudulent.
To heal fully and properly, victims must find ways to replace the relationships they have developed with the criminal scammers with something else.
They may need a ‘coach’ to assist in avoiding revictimization or to fill in for the sudden loss of a fictitious partner who vanishes after the fraud is revealed. Family members should encourage the victim to engage in other social interactions, such as attending events at a local senior center, developing new hobbies, or finding peers in person or perhaps online or on the phone. Scheduling regular visits or phone calls from family members can provide a safe alternative and fill the void created when a relationship with the fraudster is ended.
For most victims, finding meaningful activities and connections with people and/or projects can make a great difference. These victims want “a reason to get up in the morning’ and something to look forward to. The challenge is to help them find that sense of purpose in their own lives, rather than give that power again to predators who will manipulate and exploit them.
Numerous social services exist to support victims as they embark on this challenging journey, including Adult Protective Services, Victim Counseling, and local community services.
Adult Protective Services
Adult Protective Services (APS) is a state-mandated service program charged with investigating situations involving elderly or dependent adults who are reported to be in danger due to abuse, neglect, exploitation, or hazardous or unsafe living conditions. The goal of APS is to allow a victim to remain as independent as possible. The elder or dependent adult may refuse services at any time. If an adult accepts assistance, social workers may design a plan with the client to meet his or her needs. Every case is different, with some needing day-o-day help with running a household and others requiring protection from financial or physical abuse. APS does not provide long-term case management but attempts to link each individual with appropriate community resources.
APS can help by:
- Providing 24-hour emergency response services, though requests may take several days before a worker can respond.
- Mobilizing emergency personnel such as paramedics or law enforcement in high-risk situations.
- Securing linkage and referrals for other county and community services, such as in-home supportive services or legal assistance.
- Advocating for clients in a variety of situations, including negotiating with landlords, doctors, hospitals, treatment programs, and other social services.
- Arranging for direct services such as meal delivery or transportation.
- Coordinating and consulting with other providers to ensure the best possible service is received.
- Providing referrals for services related to money management, out-of-home placement, conservatorship, home care, and more.
Counseling has been found to help some victims, particularly when the emotional attachment to a scam predator is strong or the shame/embarrassment impairs daily living. It can also be invaluable if a victim is depressed or expressing suicidal thoughts or actions. If a referral has been made by a doctor, counseling may be covered through medical insurance.
Call 2-1-1 to request referrals to local counseling programs, many of which are available on a sliding-fee scale or through an insurance copay.
If a victim of fraud expresses suicidal tendencies, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255.
Victim Support Groups
Using online, phone, and in-person support groups can be a very effective way for victims to ‘reconnect’ and find hope again.
Victim support groups are still very new, so they are not yet offered across the nation, but such groups are available in select regions:
- Los Angeles: Phone support groups are available for victims of internet romance scams who are age 50 and over. This group is facilitated by a social worker.
- Ventura County: The Coalition for Family Harmony offers 10 free counseling sessions and access to a phone-based support group for victims of romance scams (cyber intimate partner exploitation).
Local Community Services
Visit http://www.211us.org to connect victims with essential human services, including assistance in findingaffordable housing, applying for a job, accessing food pantries, and accessing other government benefits.
The U.S. Department of Justice has a one-stop website for information, referrals, and resources related to elder abuse and financial exploitation: www.elderjustice.gov. The DoJ also has have a page for finding help: https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/find-support-elder-abuse
We would like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Scam Working Group and Bet Tzedek, whose research informed this article.