Stay one step ahead of scammers by getting to know the warning signs, from showing off excessive luxury to asking you for money
In recent months, streaming platforms have launched a lot of content about scammers, with psychologically complex characters based on real events. However, these shows focus on revealing what happened and do not expose the root of these personalities.
In The Tinder Swindler, Inventing Anna and Bad Vegan there are identity changes, scams, manipulation, theft and grand deceptions surrounded by lives of luxury. As viewers, we thought we might be immune because the warning signs seemed clear—how did they let themselves be scammed? we asked. But, according to studies, people tend to trust because of social implications. This trust allows today's world to function as it does.
Throughout our lives, many of us have come across this type of person. A few years ago, I met a man with similar traits, but not on the scale of Anna and the Tinder swindler. He usually talked about his professional achievements, and depending on the victim, his career changed. His best method was to repeat information he learned from others and wrap people up in his verbal skills.
How can we avoid being swindled? What traits can we observe that awaken our alarms?
The financial cost of scams
Victims may doubt victimisers at different stages, but scammers often have talent for creating mirages. "It is not so easy, because these people are very intelligent and agile to deceive, generating a strong bond before committing the scam," says Sabrina Carrasco, clinical psychologist.
It is important to be alert to personality traits, as well as "look for valid and reliable information about the person who presents themselves, either on Tinder or in person. Generally, they will use excuses related to money, that is an important warning sign," points out Carrasco.
"Romantic fraud increased by 91 per cent during the pandemic, according to research by TBS Bank"
Romantic fraud increased by 91 per cent during the pandemic, according to research by TBS Bank. Women accounted for 66 per cent of victims of bank-related scams, losing an average of £6,300 over approximately eight payments. Facebook was the main platform where these crimes were committed, followed by Tinder, Plenty of Fish and Match.com.
In the United States, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 56,000 complaints of romance scams during 2021. Monetary losses amounted to $547 million during that year. Meanwhile, the individual loss in people over the age of 70 was $9,000 on average. "More than a third of people who said they lost money to an online romance scam in 2021 said it began on Facebook or Instagram," the report adds.
Can we avoid being victims of scams?
Anyone can be a victim of a scam, according to experts in behaviour and the human mind. However, information is power and by knowing the traits and practices of scammers we can move in the right direction.
"We have tools that can alert us in time to stay away, to avoid being victims and getting hurt," explains psychiatrist Robert Morales. He lays out a series of signs to identify a potential scammer before they do further damage:
- A person who, after little interaction, professes deep feelings about you and strives to maintain contact with you through other methods
- A person who shows no consistency between what they tell and what they show (whether on social media or otherwise)
- A person who after a while tells a well elaborated story full of details, ending with a request for money, favours or something similar
- Regularly this type of scam is accompanied by very generous offers, many of them too good to be true, as in the case of the Tinder swindler
How can you tell if you are being scammed?
Scammers can be very charismatic, personable and self-confident, which helps them attract people and gain their trust. However, much of what they exhibit is not real. "They are able to lie about their power, studies, money and origin to charm the other person with luxuries and status," Carrasco remarks.
Their capacity for manipulation involves showing vulnerability in order to generate empathy in their victims. Their charming personality is not the only striking feature—they are also very intelligent. "They are experts in observing and studying others and then using their attributes, characteristics and insecurities to their advantage," says Carrasco.
"'They don't see the other person as a suffering human being, they see them as an important piece to their puzzle,' explains Carrasco"
According to psychiatrist Robert Morales, the warning signs are "frequent use of lies, lack of empathy for their peers, lack of remorse for their deeds and repeated inability to maintain a coherent behaviour."
Due to their self-centred and narcissistic personality, fraudsters lack remorse and empathy. They use people to achieve their purposes. "They don't see the other person as a suffering human being, they see them as an important piece to their puzzle," explains Carrasco.
Swindlers in TV shows
Anna Sorokin and Simon Leviev, protagonists of two of today's most watched series, fulfill many of the psychological traits described by experts. "Their profile fits perfectly into what the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines as: antisocial personality disorder, also known as psychopaths, sociopaths or dissocial," Morales indicates.
"In Anna's case we can observe how life is a game for her, and others are tokens to achieve her goals." The lack of empathy and dehumanisation of the victim are other aspects highlighted by psychologist Sabrina Carrasco. "Anna is very intelligent and has an incredible ability to read others, that's probably why being so young she managed to swindle such important people."
Carrasco emphasises the way Anna belittles, emphasises insecurities and denigrates others: "She makes comments to make others feel inferior, and herself more powerful."
Meanwhile, Simon uses charisma and luxury to infatuate the victims. At first, he is charming and detail-oriented, and later he shows vulnerability so the women he deceives will have greater attachment and empathy. "Once he knows there is a strong enough bond, he moves into the scam through lies related to putting his life at risk," Carrasco points out.
What to do if you get scammed
Traumas do not occur in the same way in all people, but Carrasco says, "For all, it will be a very hard and difficult event to overcome because of the emotional, psychological and economic consequences of the scam." The bond with the scammer can complicate the acceptance process, because of their inability to understand how this person could have been deceiving them for such a long time.
Initial reactions may include exhaustion, confusion, guilt, anxiety, deep sadness and insecurities. "We can talk about emotional, psychological or psychiatric damage. Depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress are just some of the psychiatric conditions that may result from these events," says Morales.
Experts recommend going to therapy within 90 days after the incident. Once the trauma has been evaluated, the specialist can guide the emotionally affected person and assess the effect of the scam in the short and long term.
Read more: How to travel with friends and stay friends
Read more: 5 Books about real-life scammers
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