SINGAPORE – Although friends and family members have warned scam victims about the dangers of trusting complete strangers, their advice has often gone unheeded.
This is because victims have an unmet emotional need the scammer can fill and there is a limit to how much well-meaning loved ones can intervene in the private lives of these individuals, counsellors told The Sunday Times.
Ms Teo Puay Leng, clinical director of O’Joy, which provides seniors with counselling services, said: “Scammers may be offering victims something they have always wanted in their lives but felt they were not getting, like love and respect.”
What the scammer is promising may be a way to fulfil the victim’s dreams and needs.
Ms Teo added: “Continuing to trust the scammer means they can still keep their hopes and dreams alive, especially if they have invested a lot of time and money into it already.”
Mr Praveen Nair, senior consultant at Raven Counselling and Consultancy, said victims who do not feel adequately loved and respected by family members may find it harder to listen rationally to them.
Mr Nair said: “There could be poor communication patterns in the home environment that pre-date the scam, such as a lack of intimate sharing of life experiences between family members.”
Sometimes, victims may also be looking to accumulate wealth or be independent and to fulfil those needs outside the family unit, he added.
Scammers also employ psychological tactics to gain the trust of victims to make them dependent on the scammers.
For instance, scammers may reference official-sounding sources and claim to be representing famous organisations or experts, Mr Nair said.
This can be seen in scams involving the impersonation of officials from China, and phishing scams, where scammers have posed as employees of banks and e-commerce platforms.
The Singapore Counselling Centre (SCC) noted how scammers also make use of the principle of reciprocity by appearing to be helpful.
SCC said: “This causes the victim to feel indebted to and inclined to return the favour, by complying with what the scammer requests subsequently.”
Ultimately, what causes victims to trust scammers over their loved ones could be a mix of emotions and cognitive biases.
Dr Annabelle Chow, principal clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said: “When you trust and are committed to a person, there is no reason to disbelieve them.
“You would think that because you have known them (scammers) for a longer time than your family members do, you are in a better position to assess the relationship, but you may not see the warning signs.”