Thursday, March 6, 2014

Why Do I Feel Separated From the World?

by Soraya

The aftermath of a scam can leave the victim feeling separated from the world. This may be one of the eeriest, most uncomfortable sensations you will ever experience, but there are ways to work through it and feel connected to others again.

Reason # 1: You snapped at a friend or several friends, fought with them over whether or not the situation was a scam, or picked a fight due to the stress the scammer's stories were putting you under.

This is one of those situations where you are going to have to face being wrong about something and make amends. The way to do this will depend entirely upon the details of your specific situation. Some people take an "apology" better if it is left unsaid. They appreciate it when you simply start talking to them in a friendly and calm manner again, and things work themselves out best if you make sure to avoid bringing up the topic you fought about again, at least for a while. Other people feel better when you apologize to them directly. In these situations, a simple and direct "I shouldn't have spoken to you like that and I am sorry" often works wonders. You may want to tell them a bit about the scam, but who you tell and how much is always for you to decide on a case by case basis. Someone who has been your best friend for years may be able to handle hearing the entire story in detail, while that person you always see around your hangout but don't know as well might only need to be told "I am sorry I snapped at you/brought up such a touchy subject/got upset over nothing. I was going through some things and I took it out on you. I apologize." Once you have made amends, make yourself a mental note to step back and think about the impact of your words on the other person before you say them from now on. Nobody is perfect at this. We all blurt, lose our tempers, or get snippy when we're stressed, but sometimes pausing for a few seconds can save a few months or years of hurt.

Reason #2: The scammer kept you glued to the computer and involved in their projects for so long, you feel like the world went on without you for the weeks, months, or years you spent talking to them.

The sensation of the world moving past you can be disorienting. The diner where you used to get your coffee every morning before work got new booths. Your friend you used to always see when you stopped to get gas or buy your bus pass works across town now. The summer festival that used to always be your favorite local event has come and gone for this year, and you barely took note of it. Nobody can get time back, but there are ways to catch up and reconnect with the world around you. Sometimes people will be happy to literally meet up and catch up with you. Friends and old colleagues may have been wondering where you've been, and might welcome the chance to have coffee or lunch or go for a walk and tell you what you've missed. If you are no longer that close to anyone, then take advantage of those times when you run in to people and ask them how they and any mutual friends you may have are doing. As you slowly begin reconnecting with people, you will find your overall sense of belonging in your community will strengthen as well. One scam victim found that pushing herself just a tiny bit helped tremendously. She was never much of a "community spirit" or "hometown pride" type, but after the scam she nudged herself to go out and attend a single community fair. On the surface it didn't look like much, but it represented the first time the victim allowed herself to focus on something that was not a part of the false world created by the scammer.

Reason # 3: Being scammed embarrasses you. It feels like everyone would laugh at you or blame you for the situation if they found out you have been scammed.

We can't promise that everyone you know will be understanding and supportive, but you don't have to tell everyone you know. Deciding who to confide in is always a delicate decision to make. The Scams of the Heart chat room is available for anyone who feels they don't have anyone to confide in about the scam, or for those who are contemplating telling someone in their life, and are not sure if or how to go through with it. No matter what you decide, remember that the scam was not your fault and is nothing to feel ashamed about, regardless of what anybody who hears about it might think. Another thing to keep in mind is that everyone has been in a situation they find embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about. You are not alone in that, nor are you alone in having been scammed.

Monday, March 3, 2014

SOTH Stepping Stones: Reclaiming Control of Finances

by Soraya

Scam victims are often left with their finances is disarray. Most scams are run for money, and many scam victims send large amounts of money before realizing the situation is a scam. Scam victims also tend to neglect their work or school for the scammer, risking jobs, client bases, or academic scholarships. It is also common for scam victims to spend money on their appearance, home, travel, or other things in preparation for the life they think they will soon lead. This may mean that finances need to be completely overhauled and a brand new personal budget might need to be made. Keep in mind that this is just a basic outline. We fully understand that things are not always so simple following a scam, and that often, people lose their entire savings accounts or retirement funds, sometimes even their homes. The following steps are intended only as the beginning of a process of reclaiming your control over your money, and starting to rebuild your funds if at all possible.

Step 1: Write down the amount of money you can count on coming in each month.

This can be heartening or it can be depressing, but it is important to focus in on this amount. No matter what it is, write it down. Even if it's only fifty dollars from the two photos you sell to a web page each month, write that down.

Step 2: Make a list of all the things that absolutely MUST be paid out of this money.

Sometimes this step is the hardest one of all. We often come to think of things we want and like a lot as things that must be paid for, but the basic expenses are:

#1: Rent, mortgage or other housing payment

#2: Electric bill (add a third for gas bill if necessary)

#3: Water bill

#4: Groceries

#5: Transportation costs (bus pass or car upkeep)

#6: Medical expenses

#7: Internet (as a lifeline for many)

#8: Phone (one phone, landline or cell..if only to keep for emergencies)

#9: Television (if free channels do not come in well in your area. This isn't an absolute necessity, but it is an important window on the outside world for many)

#10: Children or elderly parents' additional expenses, if applicable (school supplies, medical supplies not covered by benefits or insurace, etc)

#11: Your other necessary expenses, such as existing credit card debt or loan payments.

Write this list out and note the maximum amount you must spend for each of these items on the sheet. If you have this area paid for outside of the income you can count on, note that next to the item. For example, if you get $300 a month, but you have moved in with your son or daughter and they only ask you to contribute $100 toward the groceries each month, write an x or the work "ok" next to the rest of the household expenses and then write $100 next to the groceries.
As you write this out, you will either notice things falling into place, with your income being more than your expenses, or you will notice gaps. Write down ideas for filling in the gaps, note them with a mark on the paper, and then write them down on a separate list. For example, suppose you know that your food budget is a bit short. You might want to write down "EBT Card?" and then add "EBT Card Application" to your list. If you have credit card bills you absolutely cannot pay, you may want to look into filing bankruptcy.

Step #3: Make your new budget

Write your income on the top of the page, list your individual necessary expenses, noting areas where you may need to fill in gaps, then subtract the amounts. The money left over is your "extra" money.

Step #4: Decide how to manage your extra money

Many people use all or part of this money to begin the process of replenishing their savings account. Others use it to treat themselves. Make another list like the one above, only instead of those bills and expenses that must be paid, write out what you would like to do with your money. It might look like this:

#1: Books

#2: Music:

#3: Movies

#4: Rebuild savings account at Bank of America

#5: Save for trip to Spain

Once this list is written out, allot portions of the extra money to each category. For this step, it might be helpful to find ways to get certain things for free. If you need to read several books each month, you may want to write $0.00 in the slot, and make a rule that you will visit your local library and book exchanges for reading material. Many people also find points programs such as "swagbucks" a good way to get small items such as songs, movies, or a book or two for free. You can even make it a rule that you will ask for bookstore, music service, and/or movie rental gift cards for your holiday gifts from family and friends and use those for these purchases.

Step # 5: Look over your budget as a whole.

This might be heartening, as you realize you can pare down expenses and make it on a limited income. Or it might be terrifying as you realize you have several gaps and most of your "ok" sections are only "ok" because someone else is now paying for them. This does not mean you failed or that you are doomed to always have this as your budget or your life. It is just a portrait of where your finances are right now. Writing it out in a simplified manner is a first step in making the needed changes. It is also a way to regain control. No matter how bad it looks now, you are the one making the decisions about where your money goes once again.