Victims of online fraud are being laughed at and blamed for being defrauded when they report their misfortune to government agencies, a survey by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) uncovered has found.
The reporting experiences and support needs of victims of online fraud, published yesterday (Tuesday) reveals that many victims of fraud feel deeply ashamed and embarrassed after being cheated out of their money online but this is aggravated by the way they are treated when they report their experiences to government agencies and the police.
The study followed the experiences of 80 victims of online fraud, each of whom were swindled out of at least $10,000, who lodged complaints to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch website or hotline in the last four years.
The study reveals the emotional and psychological impact fraud can have on victims. The most common reactions being shame, embarrassment, distress, sadness and anger. Some people were tipped into depression and even contemplated suicide.
One person said “it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up and the last thing I thought of before I went to sleep” and another said they felt humiliated for being fooled: “People are going to look and think ‘How did such an intelligent person [become a victim of fraud]?’ I mean I’ve got a PhD for God’s sake!”
While some said they could afford to lose the money, the fraud had a long lasting financial impact for other people.
One person said they were forced to return to work at 65 after previously retiring.
Other comments included:
“I have had to get a boarder in and the kids are not comfortable with that, so I am sort of restricted with how much I see them now.”
“Because I got into such trouble financially I can’t get credit. I can’t get loans so I will never have my own place again even though I am working full time.”
Most disturbingly, some fraud victims said they were treated with contempt when they tried to report what had happened to them and many had poor experiences with government agencies.
The report said: “Many of those who were able to disclose to family, friends or authorities were met with judgement and blame, highlighting the importance of education for both those to whom victims report and the broader community.”
One person who had been lured into an online romance received harsh treatment from the police.
“I expect [the police] to be sympathetic, but these two police guys—they just laugh[ed]. I was humiliated.
“They tell me, I submitted a police report, and I made a statement and they tell me, ‘we cannot do anything about this with you and your lover boy in [overseas country], you just write to Scamwatch’.”
Most participants in the study felt they received an unsympathetic response from the agencies they had turned to for help and that they not been listened to.
Victims said they were constantly being passed onto other agencies, given excuses for inaction and sent cold, unofficial letters and that “being blamed for their own victimisation were almost as damaging as the fraud itself.”
Those that had suffered fraud stressed the need for a clear, definite answer to their requests for help, even it was unfavourable, rather than being offered false hope.
The report noted that treating victims with care and proper attention made a big difference.
“A small number of victims had a positive reporting experience, with an employee taking the time to acknowledge the victim and listen to their story in an empathetic manner. While this did not alter the outcome of the complaint, the victim’s experience of reporting was vastly different.”
The AIC said agencies needed to do a better job of responding to fraud victims, to treat them with more respect and listen to them while acknowledging a crime had been committed against them.
The report also recommended that public servants be better trained to deal with victims of fraud so that they outlined the range of support services available to them and gave them clear channels of reporting, while directing them to the right agencies.
“Some victims cope better than others, owing to their individual financial and psychological resources, but all could be helped by better responses from those they report to and from family and friends, who are sometimes unsympathetic and critical in their responses,” the AIC concluded.
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