Looking after yourself

Ideas on how to cope emotionally if you’ve been scammed

Our experts share tips on how to cope if a scam or fraud happens to you – and how to help others deal with the after-effects, too.

Fraud prevention service Cifas thinks that cases of fraud in the UK could soar to their highest ever this year, as hundreds of millions of pounds are stolen from unsuspecting individuals. These range from ‘money mules’, whose bank accounts are taken over by fraudsters, to increasingly sophisticated romance scams.

In 2022, more than £1.2 billion had been stolen via fraud and scams, according to a report from UK Finance, which represents the banking and finance industry. However, reassuringly, a further £1.2 billion was prevented from being stolen, thanks to the advanced security systems our banks now have. But these huge numbers come with an emotional cost, too.

“Fraudsters rely on the fact that we’re all human and behave in predictable ways”

- Dr Anna Koczwara, Head of Behavioural Science & Applied Psychology at NatWest

We’re all vulnerable to being scammed. “Fraudsters know that we’re busy and at times distracted, and they deliberately create a false sense of urgency so that we react quickly. For example, you might get a text while you’re making dinner, asking you to click here to prevent your wi-fi from being disconnected,” explains Dr Anna Koczwara, Head of Behavioural Science & Applied Psychology at NatWest.

Fraudsters take advantage of how our minds work

In longer-term scams, fraudsters will look to build trust, using established relationship techniques to create a personal connection by finding things in common with their target, or providing expert advice.

“Research has even shown that if a fraud involves something you’re familiar with – playing the lottery, for example – the risk of being scammed might be higher, because you tend to do familiar activities on autopilot,” says Anna. This means that having knowledge or experience in a certain area doesn’t make you less susceptible.

Anneloes Hak, Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology Manager at NatWest, also points out: “People can be too quick to blame victims of fraud and assume this would never happen to them. We need to keep in mind that the individual has been specifically targeted and professionally manipulated into this position.”

“Anger and shame are common reactions”

- Anneloes Hak, Behavioural Science and Applied Psychology Manager at NatWest

Reporting fraud is important

If you feel able, reporting the scam or fraud is a big help. It could prevent the same thing happening to other people, because it helps banks, technology companies and law-enforcement organisations understand how scams happen. Your piece of the jigsaw is part of a wider picture of organised crime. It can also help protect your money or your personal data from further consequences down the line, because the full effects of fraud don’t always happen straight away.

Be kind to yourself

“People can be embarrassed that they let themselves be scammed, particularly when they’ve given away personal information,” says Anneloes. It’s natural to feel this way, especially where trust has been broken, but please don’t let these emotions stop you from reporting the crime.

Seek support from friends and family

Another common reaction can be to not want to talk to friends or family about the fraud because we feel ashamed. “Embarrassment can lead to isolation, which potentially makes the psychological impact worse,” says Anna. “At a time when we’re feeling low, reaching out to others can help us feel better. And you will probably be surprised at how many other people have experienced a similar situation.”

If someone confides in you, take the time to listen to them and support any action they want to take. “There are lots of ways to take action, including reporting to Action Fraud through the bank [in England, Wales and Northern Ireland], Police Scotland or through the national Take Five campaign,” says Anna.

As a final thought, fraudsters want us to act quickly. But it’s OK to slow things down. It’s OK to say, “No, I’m not comfortable with this.” A legitimate organisation will never penalise you for stopping to check credentials. Playing on our emotions and creating pressure to act are the top tactics in a scammer’s playbook.

How to protect yourself from fraud

Our fraud expert, Catherine Livesey, talks us through the latest - and most common - scams and how to avoid them.

How to spot impersonation scams

How to spot purchase scams

How to protect yourself from romance scams

Aileen Scoular

Aileen is a freelance journalist who specialises in lifestyle.

Worried about scams?

For more advice on keeping your money safe, visit our Security Centre.

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