By Soraya Grant
Learning a friend has been the victim of an online romance scam is a shock. While you and your friend are both adults and perfectly capable of choosing your own words and monitoring your own behavior, there are times that the shock of learning a friend or family member has been scammed causes a person to misunderstand, blurt, or panic. Continue to speak to the person as you always have, but remember that there are some things it is important not to say to a scam victim.
1...."How could you be so naive? Couldn't you tell this was fake?"
Why This Hurts: Scammers of all types devote a great deal of time and effort to convincing their targets that the online persona and the relationship is real. Much of this time and effort is channeled into the same type of mind control techniques used by cult leaders and domestic and dating violence perpetrators. Scam victims span the range of personality types, and even the most cynical can fall victim to an online romance scam.
2...."You made a commitment to somebody online? What were you thinking?"
Why This Hurts: The scammer used the same brainwashing techniques described above to convince your friend that this relationship was special and unique. If your friend was unfamiliar with scams before their own scam, they saw the early and intense declarations of love as something magical that happened to them, rather than as the common red flag they are.
3....."Well this was bound to happen. You flirt with every guy (or girl) who puts up a hot picture of themself on Facebook."
Why This Hurts: No matter what type of scam it was, how long it went on, or what the person lost in the scam, it was not their fault. The only people who are at fault during a scam are the people who are running the scam. Being scammed is not punishment for flirting or any other dating or social behavior.
4..."My ex boyfriend/girlfriend/former crush turned out to be a real jerk too."
Why This Hurts: No matter what happened during your last relationship or the last time you were interested in somebody, it was not the same thing as being scammed. Being scammed is a different experience from real dating and real relationships.
5..."Let's work on setting boundaries and establishing supports.."
Why This Hurts: Now is not the time to play therapist and speak in psychobabble. That is unhelpful and off putting to a lot of people at any time, but your friend especially needs real-life, down to earth, ordinary friendship right now. Speak to them in your normal voice using everyday words.
6..."Sit down. First we're going to make you a new budget. Then we're going to go through your stuff and throw out everything you bought during the scam, then we'll have dinner and come back and .."
Why This Hurts: The scammer has had control over your friend for the duration of the scam. Your friend needs to take back control over his or her own life. Do urge your friend to take safety precautions; delete, block, and ignore every piece of communication from the scammer, cancel any credit or debit cards they've given out to them, refuse any packages the scammers sends...but beyond that, your friend needs to be allowed to make their own decisions again.
7..."That's too bad. Let's go have one of our fun Friday nights and forget all about it."
Why This Hurts: It sounds like you think being the victim of an online romance scam isn't anything more than a bad day. If your friend is the type who really would be helped by doing something fun right now, make sure you let them know you understand how serious the scam is first, and ask them if they would like to have a Friday night like you guys used to rather than brushing things off.
8..."Well no wonder they went for you. You're hot!"
Why This Hurts: Complimenting a friend is sweet, but remember that many scam victims want nothing to do with any form of flirting, dating, or attractiveness for a while. This type of statement also shows a serious misunderstanding of scammers. Nigerian scammers, American money scammers, and American revenge scammers who target random people do not even form opinions of what the victim looks like. They pick anybody who will serve their purpose and say anything they need to say to get their way. If the scam was carried out by an American who targetted your friend for personal revenge and that revenge did have something to do with them being attractive, the scammer certainly wasn't acting because they were charmed by that observation. Scamming, no matter what the goal, is a cruel thing to do to someone. It isn't a form of flattery.
9...."Well it's over now. Just drop it and move on."
Why This Hurts: Phrases like "get over it," "move on," and "just drop it" tend to have the same result as "don't look down." They make the person want to do the exact opposite. Yes, your friend will need to move on from the pain of the scam, but you can't make it happen by commanding them to do it.
10..."How are you going to get your money back?"
Why This Hurts: If your friend was the victim of a money scam that lasted long enough for them to be persuaded to send money, that money is gone. It doesn't matter if it was a Nigerian scam or an American money scam. Any money they sent is gone. Your friend is also not going to get back any gifts they sent.