Emotional toll on fraud victims worse than financial impact, research shows

The emotional impact of online fraud for victims is worse than the financial hit, even when the loss was tens of thousands of pounds, according to new findings from a study speaking to victims of online fraud.

May 16, 2024
By Paul Jacques

The new report from Crest Insights, funded by the Dawes Trust and in partnership with Birkbeck University and the Police Foundation, was based on a series of one-to-one interviews with victims of different types of fraud such as bank, identity, and romance fraud and, as well as focus groups with members of the public.

In interviews and focus groups with over 90 participants, members of the public described online fraud as “part of everyday life” and “background noise” and saw being on the receiving end of online fraudulent attempts as normal and expected.

Many of the victims interviewed experienced feelings of shame, self-blame, and isolation, particularly those who considered themselves ‘tech-savvy’.

Some felt they were less likely to receive sympathy compared to if they were the victim of more ‘traditional’ crime types, like being burgled.

One victim said: “[I felt] humiliation, embarrassment, stress, anger, sadness, like, every emotion going really. And then once you start telling people, you either get like, ‘oh, my God, you okay?’ or you get, ‘oh, I didn’t think that would happen to you’… Like my Dad has no idea it happened.”

Romance fraud victims spoke of damage to their personal relationships, becoming more suspicious of people, and in some cases, losing friendships.

Victims also told researchers that reporting online fraud at times exacerbated the emotional impact. Processes which involved having no dedicated point of contact, victims having to personally follow up their case and having to repeatedly re-explain their situation, and a lack of compassionate and empathetic communication, made victims feel worse about what had happened to them.

Participants did not feel empowered to report online fraud, attributing high rates of underreporting to a lack of confidence in the police’s capacity to effectively investigate the crime and a lack of awareness of Action Fraud.

Other findings included:

  • Knowledge of online fraud was gained through word-of-mouth information sharing through friends and family, with the public and victims displaying little knowledge of governmental awareness or educational campaigns; and
  • There was a disconnect between the myths participants held about online fraud (for example that the elderly or those are less tech-savvy are more likely to be victimised) and their experiences of it (and the reality).

Report author, Crest Advisory senior manager Manon Roberts, stressed the need for change:

“Our study highlights the urgent need to rethink how we tackle online fraud.

“False beliefs and a lack of trust in the authorities creates a landscape which is overwhelmingly favourable to the perpetrators of online fraud rather than its victims.

“Together with Birkbeck University and the Police Foundation, we’ve created a series of recommendations with practical steps to make a real difference.

“As we face the growing threat of online crime, it’s crucial to remember the human cost. By working together and taking action, we can create a future where online fraud isn’t just accepted as part of life but actively fought against.”

In a separate report, Crest Insights has made recommendations to encourage prevention, better reporting, and improved support for victims.

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