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Missing in Action: Mental Health Community Fails Fraud Victims

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Major fraud cases grab the headlines for a few days or weeks, then forgotten until the next one comes along. We never have to wait long. Media typically focuses on following the money, the colorful perpetrator and occasionally on the victims. Because no violence is used, there is some sort of collusion, and sometimes insurance, fraud appears to be a victimless crime. On the contrary, fraud victims are often devastated by their loses, blamed for their perceived collusion, secrecy, greed, lack of foresight, gullibility, stupidity and so on. Is that why is there so little support for fraud victims from the mental health community?

Google help for victims of fraud and you will find various resources from police forces, governments, lawyers, accountants, and third parties who will help you navigate the legal system. Google psychological help for fraud victims and you get pretty much the same results but more along the lines of how to prevent people from falling for scams. Missing from these results are any psychologist, psychotherapists, agencies, or help lines that will help victims deal with their trauma. Where are those mental health professionals who can help victims deal with their pain and loss? You don't even want to know what you get when you Google psychotherapist fraud. Sadly, there are many more psychotherapists accused of fraud than those who specialize in helping the injured party.

Fraud is a global problem that is increasing. You will become a victim of swindlers at some point unless you live in a monastery in Tibet. Often it is small: being over-charged for work done on your car or giving money to a charity that funnels it to offshore accounts. Scams exist in every type of transaction from foreign trade to adoption to human smuggling. It may well be the second oldest profession. Some of the first writing ever found was on Sumerian clay tablets from 3000 BC. They were itemized lists of goods in jars used in trade to prevent loss.

It's estimated that fraud costs the U.S. economy $400 billion each year. You find it in every country of the world. Many of the instances of it is small potatoes, like in the two example above, but what really adds up are the major frauds like Madoff and Worldcom, where billions are lost and many lives are ruined. This cohort variously suffers from PTSD, inability to trust others or themselves, depression, suicide, divorce, strained relationships, low self esteem, and anger. It's curious to me that professionals aren't stepping over themselves to help these people.

A report by the School of Psychology at the University of Exeter on why people fall for scams reports that:

Scams cause psychological as well as financial harm to victims. Victims not only suffer a financial loss, but also a loss of self-esteem because they blame themselves for having been so 'stupid' to fall for the scam. Some of the victims we interviewed appeared to have been seriously damaged by their experience.

A British charity wants us to recognize that it is the most vulnerable people, often isolated elderly and those with mental health issues are most at risk of being scammed. The Think Jessica organization is lobbying to have Jessica Scam Syndrome (JSS) recognized as a disorder to help prevent this vulnerable population from being victimized. But it's not just the vulnerable who fall victim. Intelligent, skeptical people who think they would never fall for anything suspicious can also become victims.

Anyck Turgeon, an international fraud expert, who has compiled a dictionary of over 500 types of fraud, likes to call fraudsters "financial serial killers." Perpetrators are a high risk to reoffend even when they get caught and serve time. The chances of getting caught is slim and the payoff so large that most fraud artists make a career of it. Perhaps if and when vulnerability to fraud appears in the DSM will the mental health community swing into action? Of course the best thing we could do as a society would be to educate citizens to stay away from anything suspicious and drastically increase monitoring and penalties for those who ruin lives.

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