Being a victim of scams can be very distressing, given the financial, social, and emotional impact it has on us. With statistics showing a marked increase of scam cases in 2021 and the recent arrest of over 157 suspects linked to nearly 500 cases of scam, it is clear that scam is on the rise in Singapore. Recently, our team has contributed to a media article on the psychological impact of scams. As such, this article serves to highlight the threat of scams and support you if you have been a victim.

Here are some helpful things for you to know:

  • Understanding scams — Common types of scams
  • What are some common psychological impacts of scams? (You’re not alone!)
  • What should I do from here?

Common Types of Scams in Singapore

  • SMS Phishing Scams

Scammers impersonate a bank (such as DBS, POSB, or OCBC), and direct recipients to rectify issues such as errors or accounts being suspended through a link, usually requiring them to key in their bank details. In doing so, scammers gain access to victims’ bank account details withdraws from their accounts.

  • e-commerce Scams

Scammers employ a variety of methods to cheat victims on e-commerce sites.  Some of the scams involved are such as:

  1. Selling popular goods at a low price, such as Nintendo Switches, before disappearing with the payment
  2. Listing “jobs” that require a victim to make advance payment to a non-existent e-business to boost sales; victims instead transfer money into the scammer’s bank account
  3. Sending out messages to users awaiting delivery, informing them that their packages have been lost and asking for recovery payment
  • Loan Scams

Scammers send out messages via SMS or WhatsApp while impersonating licensed moneylenders. Loan scammers often require victims to place multiple deposits into a bank account as “set up” processes for trial loans. However, borrowers never receive the loan amount promised as the scammers disappear with the deposit.

The Psychological Impact of Being Scammed

Upset Scams

It is common for victims of scams to feel shame and helplessness. Being scam also might lead to lower self-esteem and isolating behaviour. The degree to which you find your mental wellbeing affected usually depends on the degree of loss experienced.

  • Self-Esteem

The loss of self-esteem that comes with internalised shame may cause victims to isolate themselves and choose not to disclose their struggles. As inherently social creatures, the presence of social support is very important in helping humans recover from major losses in life; the acceptance and presence of friends and family protect individuals from spiralling further. When one is feeling down, impulses towards unhealthy coping are strong. Isolation then breeds further behaviour and thought spirals that culminate in more serious mental health concerns such as depression.

  • Lack of Sense of Control

The let-down of financial or emotional lifelines may cause victims to feel out of control of their life circumstances. Having their money and pride taken away from them against their will, victims may begin to believe that they have no control over their life and future. Feelings of not being in control are tied to struggles with anxiety or depression. In severe cases, helplessness and hopelessness lead to suicidal ideation in victims who are in very trying life seasons or who might already have faced multiple losses prior to the scam incident.

What can I do if I am a Victim?

  • Talk to Loved Ones

It is important that you talk about what happened to you with trusted family members and friends. While this can be a vulnerable step, having someone know about what happened and walk with you through the difficult emotions, thoughts, and consequences would be very helpful in the long run.

  • Forgive Yourself

Allow yourself space for self compassion and regulate your self-talk. Everyone makes mistakes, and while you might feel responsible for the plight you’re in, remember that your emotions, however negative, are valid. Acknowledge your emotions and the reasons why you are feeling this way; give yourself the permission to engage in hobbies or distractors to take space away from this matter if you need it. While processing the pain and grief, learn to encourage yourself as well. While your emotions are valid, they might not be helpful in helping you move forward. Recognise that no amount of self-beating can change the past and all you can do is to take the next best step forward.

  • Plan Things Out

Work on a plan to recover financially, emotionally, and/or relationally. Remember that it will be a long journey, but everyone has to start somewhere. Find out what your next step towards recovery is and take it, be it doing research on the process of recovering the money, making reports, or attending counselling sessions to work on personal trauma.

If you are a family member or friend of a scam victim, be mindful not to engage in victim blaming. While there are always “should have”s and “could have”s, remember that scam victims are, after all, still victims. A large part of fault still lies with the scammers themselves.

How Do I Avoid Being Scammed?

Stressed Scam
  • Healthy Online Practices

More and more scammers are taking their operations online, making use of online tools like social media and messaging apps to pull off their schemes. Hence, it is important for one to practice caution while accessing online services. Simple habits like double checking website addresses or being more cautious about handing out personal details will go a long way in protecting ourselves from scammers.

  • Don’t Be Greedy

In e-commerce scams, scammers will try to entice you with a deal that promises very disproportionate financial rewards. While discounts and promotions are common in commerce, learn to sieve out bogus deals by not being blinded by the prospect of earning easy money or getting a product at a rock-bottom price.  Always remember – if a deal appears too good to be true, it probably is not.

  • Use Official Resources

Scammers will reach out to you first – approach instead of respond. Official and credible organisations will rarely contact you directly via your phone number or email, and at the very most will rely only on advertisements targeted at the general public. For example, if you are in a tough position financially, try to approach a licensed moneylender instead of responding to a suspicious online advertisement.