‘I ask myself why I’m so stupid’: Scam victims face serious mental health issues, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

‘I ask myself why I’m so stupid’: Scam victims face serious mental health issues

For three months, a 52-year-old part-time bakery worker had problems sleeping. She would cry in bed, a million thoughts on her mind.

In September, Ms Lie had chanced upon a Facebook advertisement for a $28 durian day-tour ticket to Malaysia, which turned out to be a scam.

She ended up downloading a third-party app, which scammers used to siphon over US$81,000 (S$111,000) from her two DBS bank accounts.

The episode left Ms Lie, who only wanted to be known by her surname, riddled with shame, fear and guilt.

Recalling the incident, she said: “I ask myself why I’m so stupid. I don’t know who can help me anymore. My heart does not have the strength to cope with this.”

The example shows how scam victims could continue to experience emotional trauma and turmoil, months after they have been swindled out of large sums of money, said mental health experts.

Some could go on to develop serious conditions such as depression or an anxiety disorder.

Malware scam victims such as Ms Lie are particularly susceptible since large sums of money are involved.

Police statistics show that more than 1,400 victims fell prey to malware scams between January and August, with total losses amounting to at least $20.6 million.

Ms Lie’s son, Mr Teo, who wanted to be known only by his surname, said that his mother has been suffering from irregular sleep and low self-esteem since the incident, and is also overly paranoid of others after her traumatic experience.

“I feel very sorry for her. My two siblings and I decided to take turns to work from home so we can watch and care for her,” he said.

Another victim, Ms Jacqueline Khoo, 58, said she became paranoid and wary of trusting others after falling prey to a malware scam in August.

She lost $44,487 from her two credit cards and three bank savings accounts from POSB after she clicked on a link to download a third-party app. Scammers used the app to increase her credit limits and siphoned out her money.

Ms Khoo, who works as a merchandiser at book stores, said: “(After being scammed), I don’t trust people easily. I’m scared of picking up calls on my phone and using Facebook.”

Mental health experts said the shock of being scammed causes victims to experience emotional upheavals, when confronted with their anger, guilt, shame and helplessness.

Dr Lim Boon Leng, psychiatrist from Dr BL Lim Centre for Psychological Wellness, said victims may face denial and anger with oneself, their family and the scammers.

In the beginning, they go through a “bargaining stage”, where they try to appeal to higher powers or authorities to undo the transactions or recover their losses, he added.

Dr Lim said victims can also lose their trust of others and of themselves, grapple with thoughts like “how could I have been so stupid” and may develop low self-esteem.

Given their emotional distress and financial difficulties, they may develop depression or an anxiety disorder, he added.

Support from loved ones, professional help in terms of financial counseling and psychological therapy can be beneficial for victims, Dr Lim said.

“Having some time to grieve over the loss, accepting the reality and to move on with their lives is key to recovery,” he said.

The amount of time it takes for victims to recover can vary; it can range from weeks to up to about six months, he added.

Dr Annabelle Chow, clinical psychologist at Annabelle Psychology, said that victims, especially those who are older, may suffer “intense guilt and shame”, and also face difficulty talking about their emotional problems.

“This difficulty has often been linked to the concept of loss of face or reputation, particularly strong in Chinese or Asian cultures,” she said.

Victims can emotionally recover by giving themselves permission to grieve and feel the range of emotions including anger, shock and betrayal which arise after a devastating experience, Dr Chow said.

“We need to be kind to ourselves. If our loved ones were in the same shoes, would calling them a burden be helpful? ... Focus on what can be done,” she said.

Dr Chow advised family and friends of victims to listen without judgment, validate their emotions, and reassure them that their feelings are valid, adding that doing so provides a safe space for them to express their pain and their disappointment in themselves.

Secondly, they can help the victims with practical matters like reporting the scam to the relevant authorities, contacting their bank or credit card companies to alleviate some of the stress they are facing.

Thirdly, they should avoid downplaying the victims’ experiences or tell them to “just move on”.

“Show compassion and validate their emotions without judgment. Their pain and struggle may be deeper than can be put into words,” Dr Chow added.

Lastly, they should steer clear of any blame or shame towards the victim.

“Placing blame, even unintentionally, can intensify their feelings of guilt or shame. They are already feeling the pain and shame. They don’t need to hear it from people they love as well,” she said.