Thursday, November 15, 2018

There should be no shame in discussing fraud

Many fraud victims, when defrauded, feel intense shame and embarrassment and this often stands in the way of them reporting the fraud to the authorities.
In my own research I heard victims tell me they ‘felt like a fool’, that it was their fault, that they didn’t want to go to the police because what would the police tell them - that they were stupid or greedy?  Even when the fraud is extremely sophisticated victims tend to blame themselves.  And they are not alone.  Fraud is an organised crime, which annually claims billions of victims, but people still erroneously believe that scams only happen to gullible people, people who deserve to be taught a lesson, and that it could never happen to them. 

Humans are very good at pretending that they can control their environment or the events that happen to them.  By blaming the victims, we retain an illusion of control over our own lives.  If we think bad things only happen to those who somehow deserve it, then it means that if we do the right thing, we could prevent bad things happening to us.  This belief, that people somehow get what they deserve is known as ‘belief in just world’.  But bad things frequently happen to good people and fraud is no exception.  Fraud can also happen to those that are careful and cautious.  Many types of fraud (e.g. whale phishing) are so sophisticated that it’s difficult to tell them apart from a genuine situation.  Therefore we should strive to make fraud something we openly talk about.

Research has found that fraud victimisation can be incredibly harmful to the victim, even leading to suicide, yet it is vastly under reported and this is often down to feelings of shame and humiliation. This is especially true of repeat victims.  Those with good social ties as well as victims that have lost larger sums of money tend to report more frequently than other victims.  But reporting fraud when the amount lost is relatively insignificant is also very important.  Scammers frequently keep the amounts low to avoid detection and prosecution.  By targeting a large number of victims with small amounts scammers make it more likely that people will take the risk and see if the offer is genuine and will be less likely to report it to the authorities when they realise they have been defrauded.  This ensures the scam can be successful over a longer period of time.  

Reporting fraud every time if happens, even if it doesn’t lead to police investigation is important because the data gathered will allow the government to see the bigger picture and record levels of fraud more accurately, which leads to more funds being allocated for fraud prevention.  It also makes it more likely that a prolific scammer will be caught and prosecuted and ensures that, once they are prosecuted, there is more evidence against them, leading to tougher sanctions.  Being open and honest about fraud victimisation also makes it more likely that others will avoid the same type of scam in the future. There is no shame in being defrauded.  It’s a crime.  Let’s make perpetrators ashamed instead.

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