How to Help Someone Who Repeatedly Falls for Scams: It’s Not Just a Money Issue, It’s a Psychological One

help someone who repeatedly falls for scams

Have you been scammed before?

If it’s a resounding yes, then shame is the dominant feeling you’ve felt immediately. “Why didn’t I see that coming?” You sighed.

But what if we switch hats and instead you find out that a family member, friend, or colleague has been willingly falling into these scams? How would you respond?

A Reddit user poured out her heart on the forum about her concern for a family member who keeps falling for scams, which sparked conversations among many users as they shared opinions and personal experiences with scammers.


Sadly, Singapore has seen a disturbing surge in scams, with cases surging by 49.6% to 50,376 in 2023 from 33,669 the previous year. The numbers highlight a concerning uptick in scams and cybercrime activities. Perhaps one of your friends or family members has become part of the statistics.

In this article, you’ll learn essential knowledge and strategies for helping those repeatedly caught in scammers’ webs despite prior warnings. It’s written to protect vulnerable loved ones—family, friends, or colleagues—from these malicious schemes.


  1. Understand the psychological appeal of falling for scams
  2. Examine mental factors and diseases influencing susceptibility
  3. Identify behavioural patterns contributing to scam vulnerability
  4. Recognise and address addiction

1. Understand the psychological appeal of falling for scams

Scams, in their many forms, are not just attacks on our financial well-being but also sophisticated manipulations of human psychology.

By dissecting scams’ underlying psychological appeals, you can gain insights into why they can be convincing and how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Here’s why.


The lure of quick wins

Humans are naturally inclined towards options that promise rewards with minimal effort. This desire is rooted in our survival instincts—conserving energy while maximising gains.

Scammers exploit this by presenting opportunities offering substantial rewards for little input. They tap into the universal dream of sudden wealth or success.

It’s because the promise of quick wins bypasses our logical processing and appeals directly to our desires, making it a powerful tool in the scammer’s arsenal.

Trust and persuasion techniques

Trust is the foundation of all social interactions, and scammers are adept at creating a facade of trustworthiness. They use social engineering tactics that mirror legitimate business practices, making it difficult for you to distinguish between genuine and fraudulent offers.

Some of these techniques include:

  • Professional-looking communications. Using official logos, language, and sophisticated websites to create an air of legitimacy.
  • Authority figures. Impersonating bank officials, government agents or institutional experts to exploit our tendency to comply with authority.
  • Testimonials and social proof. Presenting fake reviews or endorsements to validate their claims, leveraging the psychological principle that we are more likely to trust something if others do.

The manipulation of trust is central to the success of most scams, preying on our natural inclination to believe in the credibility of what appears to be legitimate and authoritative sources.

Psychologists call this phenomenon “authority bias.” People are more likely to comply with requests from perceived authority figures. That’s why scammers often impersonate authoritative figures, as mentioned above.

Using Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) tactic

FOMO, or the Fear of Missing Out, is an anxiety many experiences over the idea that others might be having rewarding experiences from which they are absent.

Scammers use FOMO to create a sense of urgency around their schemes. Suggesting that an offer is for a limited time only or available to a select few triggers our natural fear of being left out.

This urgency pressures individuals to act quickly, often bypassing rational evaluation and due diligence that might expose the scam.

Victims fall into the trap of the “scarcity heuristic,” the perception that something in limited supply increases its perceived value, and are compelled to act quickly without thorough thinking.

These psychological triggers—our desire for easy gains, the exploitation of our trust, and the manipulation of our fears of missing out—are potent levers that scammers use to lure people into their schemes.

Now you’re asking yourself, “So, I’ve repeatedly talked about these tactics, yet willingly, my brother, sister, relative, or friend keeps getting scammed. What am I missing?

The following section will give you a different perspective.

2. Examine mental factors and diseases influencing susceptibility

The vulnerability to scams often intersects with various mental health factors and cognitive conditions. You might be thinking that they’re just gullible and delusional. What you see at the surface level is only the tip of the iceberg, which is the behaviour.

However, examining these influencing factors in depth may help you better understand what the victim is going through and why they keep on repeating the behaviour many times.


Cognitive decline and age-related diseases

Cognitive decline and age-related diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia, significantly impact someone’s judgment and decision-making capabilities.

These conditions lead to difficulties in the following:

  • Processing complicated information
  • Recognising the signs of a scam
  • Recalling past interactions that might serve as a warning

The deterioration of cognitive functions makes the elderly prime targets for scammers, who exploit their decreased ability to discern trustworthiness and evaluate the legitimacy of offers or threats.

Unfortunately, seniors aged 60 and above accounted for approximately 11.7% of the total number of scam victims in Singapore’s first half of 2023.

The gradual nature of this decline might not be immediately apparent to the individuals themselves or their families, increasing their risk of being exploited.

Mental health issues

Mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and loneliness, can heighten susceptibility to scams in several ways:


Depression often leads to decreased energy and motivation, impairing an individual’s ability to conduct due diligence on suspicious offers. It can also affect judgment, making it harder to identify scams.


Anxiety can cause individuals to act impulsively, especially if a scam is framed as a solution to their worries (e.g., financial insecurity). The urgency created by scams can exacerbate anxiety, leading to rushed decisions.


Loneliness increases the desire for connection, which scammers exploit by offering fake relationships or pretending to provide attention and care. Lonely individuals might overlook red flags in their craving for interaction and relationships.

For example, a 34-year-old professional, Grace (not the real name), fell victim to a love scam, losing S$60,000 to a man she met on Tinder. The scam left her with severe emotional distress, including depression and difficulty sleeping, which affected her work performance.

These mental health challenges can weaken the psychological defences generally in place to scrutinise and reject too-good-to-be-true propositions.

Seeking professional help is a huge step. But it will unravel the mystery of repeated behaviour and lift the burdens off your shoulders instead of trying to fix the victim.

3. Identify behavioural patterns contributing to scam vulnerability

Behavioural patterns are essential in identifying one’s susceptibility to scams. By analysing impulse control disorders, the impact of past experiences and learned behaviours, and the effects of social isolation, we can better understand how these factors contribute to vulnerability.


Let’s go through each one briefly:

Impulse control disorders

Impulse control disorders encompass a range of psychiatric disorders characterised by impulsivity — the tendency to act on whims without consideration of the consequences.

This lack of foresight can significantly increase the likelihood of falling for scams. Individuals with impulse control disorders may find the immediate gratification offered by scams irresistible, unable to pause and reflect on the legitimacy of the offer.

Scammers often create scenarios that induce fear or urgency, such as threats of legal action or account closure. This tactic triggers the fight-or-flight response, impairing rational decision-making and leading to impulsive actions. The thoughts are often subtle. They could be like the urge to save money or to accumulate wealth and resources.

When combined with financial decisions, this impulsiveness can be particularly alarming. It often leads to hasty engagement with fraudulent schemes without proper verification or caution.

Past experiences and learned behaviours

An individual’s past experiences with scams and their learned behaviours from upbringing can influence their current vulnerability to scams.

Depending on their response to the trauma, those who have been victimised in the past might become either overly cautious or desensitised to potential red flags.

On the other hand, certain aspects of upbringing, such as a sheltered or overly protected environment, may leave individuals ill-prepared to recognise and deal with deceitful tactics. Conversely, growing up in an environment where scepticism and critical thinking are not valued can make one more susceptible to scams.

Social isolation

Social isolation, or the lack of meaningful interactions with others, can dramatically increase one’s susceptibility to scams.

Isolated individuals may lack the social support necessary to help them discern or discuss the legitimacy of suspicious offers. Furthermore, isolation can lead to loneliness, which scammers manipulate by offering attention and seemingly genuine care. A local journal corroborated this notion.

Some scam victims have described themselves as lonely or introverted, potentially making them more vulnerable to scammers’ manipulation tactics.

The emotional void created by social isolation makes the false sense of belonging provided by scammers much more appealing, clouding judgment and making scams seem more credible.

But what’s more interesting is that despite the behavioural patterns mentioned above, you will also have to dig deeper — and explore other factors, including addictions.

4. Recognise and address addictions

Addictions heighten one’s risk of falling for scams, making them more prone to scams. Recognising these addictions helps you identify vulnerabilities and explore protective measures.


Can you spot gambling addiction?

​​Gambling addiction is an uncontrollable urge to gamble despite the negative consequences it may cause. This addiction mirrors the risk-taking behaviours seen in scams, where the allure of high rewards for little investment is tempting.

People with a gambling addiction are drawn to the same high-risk, high-reward scenarios presented by scammers. Scammers make them particularly vulnerable to schemes that promise easy money or guaranteed returns.

Recognising this tendency is crucial in providing targeted support and therapy intervention that addresses both the addiction and its implications for scam vulnerability.

Can you spot shopping addiction?

Compulsive shopping, or an addiction to shopping deals, involves an overwhelming desire to make purchases, often driven by the thrill of finding bargains.

This addiction makes individuals susceptible to scams offering products or services at unbeatable prices, as the excitement of securing a “deal” can lead to impulsive decisions without proper filtering and consideration.

People who shop uncontrollably may also be prone to scams offering ridiculously low prices. The scarcity heuristic plays a pivotal role in this situation, where scammers present extremely amazing offers available in limited time or quantities.

Can you spot digital addiction?

Digital addiction is excessive internet use that interferes with daily life. The amount of time spent online increases exposure to scams. Constant connectivity provides more opportunities for encountering scams, from phishing emails to fraudulent online marketplaces.

Combatting digital addiction involves setting boundaries for online activity diversifying interests beyond the digital sphere. Simply put, less internet means less exposure.

Final thoughts

If you want to help someone who willingly continues to fall for scams, begin discussions from a place of understanding, not judgment.

Remember, today’s scams are cleverly designed to fool anyone, regardless of age, education, or status. Scammers use professional materials and plausible stories that mimic real businesses or authorities or pretend that they want to get to know you more for a next-level relationship.

The fresh perspectives mentioned above are given so you can approach the person in the right place with compassion and empathy.


✅ Make sure to share this article with anyone who’s struggling with this concern.