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Commentary: Resisting the urge to say ‘I told you so’ to scam victims

SINGAPORE: “Possible Unauthorised Access to Your PayPal Account,” read the SMS alert. I paused mid-step, called out to my family asking if anyone had used my account and – instinctively, anxiety rushing in – I tapped the link.

Now, I consider myself a savvy person, well-informed and guarded against new varieties of phishing scams (such as a recent one using fake WhatsApp Web sites) or malware scams. Luckily for me, my internet service provider had blocked the link and flagged it as potentially harmful. I felt embarrassed that I had immediately assumed that a family member must have compromised my account when I was the one who was careless and had been duped.

Online scams have left many grappling with financial losses. In September, at least 43 victims lost S$1.2 million (US$875,000) after being lured by travel package ads to download malware. More than S$330 million in scam losses were reported in the first half of 2023.

In my practice, I see the aftermath – often a harsh and painful reality, not only for the victims but also their families.

Related:

Every day, half a million malware apps are created for scamming. Who’s behind them?

FEELINGS OF GUILT AND SHAME

It’s easy for us to judge scam victims as gullible. Victims themselves would be the first to agree – the immediate feelings of guilt and shame are always palpable. They often obsess over the “if only” that may have averted them from this grim reality.

But the psychological impact on victims can be more profound than that.

Victims who believed they found the love of their life and soulmate lost not just money but their trust in the world around them, scarred by betrayal and ridicule from those around them.

Retired seniors who fell prey to easy money-making schemes lost the savings they toiled for their entire working lives, and now have to deal with the financial uncertainties of the days ahead.

The many more who were victims to credit-for-sex, lottery and recruitment scams would have kept their experience quiet and under wraps, if not for having seen me for their anxiety, hopelessness and anger.

The consequential financial hardship is a constant reminder of their ordeal, making it hard for them to move past the scam.

Related:

Commentary: Singapore banks’ latest anti-scam measures may be inconvenient, but would you rather lose your life savings?

Commentary: As scams get more sophisticated, young and digitally savvy individuals are more likely to fall prey

“I TOLD YOU SO” IS NOT HELPFUL

Family support plays a pivotal role in the healing process for victims. In many cases, families unite, providing both emotional solace and assistance with financial setbacks.

Yet, the dynamics within families can sometimes be complex and challenging, especially if prior warnings about potential scams went unheeded. Telling them “I told you so” doesn’t help; instead it can intensify feelings of guilt and self-blame in the victim, complicating their path to recovery.

Worse, if family members themselves endure financial setbacks because of the scams, the tension in relationships can escalate dramatically.

It’s essential for family members to adopt an empathetic stance, steering clear of blame, and concentrating on constructive solutions – even if it proves challenging.

Consulting with financial advisors to craft a recovery strategy can alleviate stress and apprehension. Engaging with mental health experts like counsellors and psychologists can equip victims with effective coping mechanisms.

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