Another victim refused to use a cellphone any longer, and another, upon learning she had been scammed, hid in the closet with her dog.
Losing money or your identity to fraud is “a traumatic experience,” says Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “In all of the conversations we have about scams and identity crimes, we’re very focused on the dollars that are lost, and we’re not necessarily focused on other harms.”
A survey of identity theft victims by the resource center last year showed 84% were worried or anxious following the crime, while 76% said they felt violated and angry. Ten percent said they were left feeling suicidal – the highest response since 2003, when the center started asking such questions.
“That’s trauma,” Velasquez says. “We tend to think it has to be a violent crime to traumatize someone. And it’s not true.”
That’s part of the reason there is much less support for victims of scams who may have seen their bank accounts drained or their identity stolen, says Amy Nofziger, victim support director of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network.
To make matters worse, the victim is often blamed for what happened, she says.
“It doesn’t matter the age, the blaming is always there, whether it’s from family or the victim themselves,” she says. “They get blamed, they get shamed. Adult children worry about their ability to make financial decisions.”
For example, friends or family might respond by saying, “‘Why did you give them money? Why did you click that link?”
And that just shows the accuser doesn’t understand a fundamental of fraud: “We don’t acknowledge that they (scammers) hijack our brain. They know how to use fear tactics,” Velasquez says.
Offering a support system that deals with the emotional toll is the purpose of AARP’s Fraud Watch Network Helpline, free and open to all, regardless of AARP membership. Trained specialists and volunteers offer practical instructions on what to do in the aftermath of fraud, as well as emotional support from peers who have been scammed themselves.
Often, callers are “in a state of panic because they feel they don’t have control,” Nofziger says, so those answering walk them through next steps, listen to their stories and assure them they are not alone and it is not their fault.
“Based on all the research, it has nothing to do with your intelligence or common sense,” she says. “It’s where you are emotionally at that time.”
The AARP hotline also is open to family members, to whom Nofziger offers a warning: “In society, we do like to blame people. It’s a way of saying that wouldn’t happen to me. But if it hasn’t happened to you or a family member yet, just wait. We’re all going to be targets.”
Contact Ellen Marks at email@example.com or (505) 823-3805 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1 (844) 255-9210, prompt 5. Complaints can be filed electronically at nmag.gov/file-a-complaint.aspx