I've Never Been Scammed...but My Friend Has: Understanding the Aftermath of a Friend's Scam
by Soraya Grant
Your friend has something to tell you. For the past several months, he or she has been chatting via Yahoo Messenger, text message, and phone conversation with a woman or man. They met on a website. Your friend believed they had found the love of their life, but recently realized the other person was not who they claimed to be. Your friend is the victim of a romance scam. As your friend goes through the process of healing, you may notice some odd behaviors.
He or She May Want Revenge
You may find your friend intensely angry, even if they were never the type to be consumed by rage before. Avoid scolding the person, telling them to calm down, or coaxing them to see things from the scammer's point of view. This only sends the message that the victim has no right to be upset.
At the same time, encourage your friend to channel their anger in a safe way. The right way to get revenge against a scammer is to educate yourself and others about scams, their warning signs, and aftermath. Education about scams will help people to recognize scammers right away and avoid communicating with them at all. Every time you help someone avoid engaging with a scammer, you ruin a scammer's attempt at victimizing one more person. Taking away their targets is the only thing that will truly hurt a scammer.
Never under any circumstances should you encourage anyone to confront a scammer directly. It doesn't matter if you've seen a television show or special where a scammer was confronted and nobody was hurt. Click over a few channels and you can also find about ten times as many shows about people being kidnapped, assaulted, and killed by individuals and gangs of people in their own country and abroad. If the scam was run by a gang in Nigeria or another country in that region, there is no way your friend even knows who they were talking to at any one time, and would only be confronting a random group of very dangerous criminals. Even if the scam was run by someone in your friend's own country and they have a real name and a few real details, they still have absolutely no idea what type of person they were actually talking to, or who else was involved in the scam. Never encourage anyone to confront a scammer directly either online or offline.
Your Friend Might Behave as Though the Online Persona is Real At Times
One minute your friend is telling you about a scam. The next words out of their mouth are something along the lines of "We were planning a trip to the Grand Canyon this summer." or "I had my heart set on decorating the entire house in white when we moved in together." This is to be expected, especially early in the scam. Your friend has been brainwashed into believing this created character was not only a real person but the love of their life. It is going to take some time to fully accept that this was just a character created and playacted by someone who didn't care about them at all. You should start noticing larger and larger gaps between the times your friend talks about the scam as though it were real as time goes on.
Your friend may also behave as anyone else would if their beloved boyfriend or girlfriend died. This is probably a bit confusing to you. This was just a character somebody created to trap them, so you would think they'd react about the same way they would react to their favorite television character turning evil and then dying. While it is true that the characters created by scammers are no more real than the ones you read about in books or see on television, there is one important difference. You knew your favorite character was made up from the start and did not interact with them as though they were a real person. The scammer didn't just create a character and allow your friend to watch it or read about it. That scammer or group of scammers used brainwashing tactics to convince your friend this character was a real person, and engaged in further emotional manipulation to make your friend believe this person loved them. For your friend, somebody they loved just ceased to exist.
They will likely come to accept that this person never existed as they heal. In the meantime, it is important to strike a balance in talking to them. Don't play along and behave as though the fake person were real, but don't snap at them to stop being ridiculous or scold them for not moving on fast enough.
If your friend says, "BoyfriendX and I were going to go to the Mall of America for my birthday," a gentle "You mean the scammer wanted you to believe you had a trip planned with BoyfriendX for your birthday" is much more effective than either "Oh cool. What stores were you planning to visit?" or "Knock it off. You know that wasn't real."
There Could Be Some Changes in Your Friend's Attitude about Flirting, Dating, etc.
Some people became overly interested in the opposite sex right after a scam. They seem to need to "prove" that their are real men or women out there who will be attracted to them. Whether this is a good idea or a bad idea depends entirely on your friend's temperament, personality, situation, and specific behaviors. Treat this situation the way you would treat your friend behaving this way for any other reason, just remember there is a lot of pain driving it, and avoid adding to that pain.
Others do not want to have anything to do with attracting people, dating, or anything in that area. These scam victims do not even want a happily married opposite sex friend to tell them they always thought they were attractive and should meet their spouse's single cousin sometime or have a same sex friend tell them they wish they looked like them. If it has anything to do with being attractive or dating, they just don't want to be a part of it. Again, treat them the way you would treat them if they lost their interest in men or women for any other reason, keeping aware of the situation behind it.
Your Friend May Have Renewed Interest in an Old Hobby or Topic
This is a sign of healing. Scammers mentally and/or physically isolate their victims to prevent them from talking about the "relationship" to a person who might point out all the holes in their stories and red flags in their behaviors. It is very likely your friend had to give something up to devote all their time to online chats with this person. It is also common for scammers to give their victims little tests to gauge how willing the individual is to do what they say or believe their words. It could be something as simple as telling them they hate white tee shirts, just to see if the victim logs on to cheerfully announce they donated all their white tee shirts to the thrift store today or the scammer may have created a character who loves golf, and delighted when the victim gave up gardening and took up golf. They don't really care what the person wears or does for fun, they just want to make sure they'll be willing to go with what they say when it's time to ask them to reship a package or send items or money. If your friend is taking back a style, hobby, interest, or habit they gave up for the person they believed to be their boyfriend or girlfriend, this is a sign that the scammer's hold is lessening.
They Might Want to Perform Some Type of Ceremony to Say "Goodbye."
Your friend wanting to say "goodbye" to the person they thought they knew is something that may seem absolutely bizarre, but is another sign of healing. Allow them to do what they need to do, within the bounds of safety and reason. Some people need to have a traditional "funeral" for the person they thought loved them. It is okay to decline to participate in any kind of ceremony or religious act that goes against your own spiritual beliefs, but avoid making fun or or making light of your friend for doing this. He or she may need it in order to let go.Others may need to simply take a day to gather up the clothes they bought to wear on their first date, the cell phone they bought to talk to the one who turned out to be invented, and the stuffed animal they were sent and get rid of it all. Help with this as much as you can and as much as the person wants you to. Offer to go with them to pick out a new cell phone or clothes, but don't take it personally if they refuse. They might need to do this alone.
The Friend May "Need" to Do Seemingly Trivial Things
As long as the person is being safe and reasonable, this is a good sign. Your friend could need to do a few things to reclaim control over their life. Perhaps they need to take some of that time they spent chatting online with the scammer back for themselves and have a few afternoons hiking, golfing, gardening, playing tennis, or visiting the mall or the spa instead of cleaning the house or meeting for coffee as they normally would. One scammer arranged an elaborate first date with the victim as part of the scam, leaving the place up to the victim to make it seem real and keep the victim involved in planning a trip that would never happen. The victim chose her favorite building in her city. After the scam was discovered, the victim needed to visit her favorite building just to show herself that it was just a pretty building in her city, and that she still had the right to enjoy it and make new, genuine memories there.