Ryan Gregory, CFE
As investigators, we have all reached the point in the span of our interviews of what can be said or suggested next in support of fraud victims. With all the busy work of report writing, speaking to law enforcement, preparing for court and filing examination findings, we do not always remember the trauma a financial loss can be to the victim. As trained as we are, we may not have experienced fraud in our own lives to understand the emotional impact it can have.
To say fraud is pervasive would be an understatement. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2021, losses related to romance scams were valued at $547 million dollars, more than six times the reported losses in 2017. The FBI reports that business email compromise (BEC) saw a 65% increase of both actual and attempted loss between July 2019 and December 2021 as fraudsters continued to target both large and small businesses through compromised email accounts. The FBI’s 2021 Elder Fraud Report states, “the number of elderly victims has risen at an alarming rate,” and victims over the age of 60 reported losses of $1.7 billion.
There is a victim behind each of these numbers: some were able to recover funds, others may have seen arrests and then there are the unfortunate victims who lost it all. An article worth re-reading is the ACFE’s January/February 2019 Fraud Magazine entitled, “Who’s More Susceptible to Fraud?” by Donn LeVie Jr., CFE. It covers the psychology of the fraud attack and the psychological damage a victim may feel. LeVie offers the following statement towards the end of the article: “Victims often carry scars that transcend the loss of funds. Fraudsters can permanently bruise vulnerable souls with their deception and deceit.”
Romance fraud victim Jeanne Aikens shares her story in the New Hampshire Business Review. It’s a story of money gone, a scammer that wasn’t caught and the shame felt in being misled. This article also discusses the misconceptions surrounding romance fraud, how it is targeting all age groups and how difficult prosecution is. In the end, Jeanne tells us she has found love and gotten married but still carries emotional bruises from this ordeal.
As an investigator who speaks to victims on a weekly basis, I wanted to bring attention to the following groups in the hope that victims can get help or support.
This site offers a peer support program for victims of romance scams. Those who are interested can sign up or refer someone for a 10-week virtual program that includes a counselor.
AARP Fraud Watch Network and Volunteer of America (VOA) have created a program that offers scam/fraud victims emotional support that includes peer discussion groups.
A network of coalitions across the country that deliver identity theft and cyber-crime victim assistance training. Training is provided to coalition members on how to provide direct victim assistance services.
As my wife Dr. Neera Malhotra (Professor with Portland State University) reminds me, the accompaniment of others helps in understanding, accepting and releasing trauma.
SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners